The art of creating Japanese gardens dates back to around 592 AD, during the reign of Empress Suiko. These early Japanese gardens were very well developed, and contained artificial hills, ornamental pools, exquisite bridges and many other features still found in this style of garden today.
In Japanese gardens, a bridge is much more than just a functional structure that allows garden visitors to cross a pond or stream. A Japanese garden bridge symbolizes an important transition, or a crossing from the known to the unknown. The Japanese have an expression similar to the American “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” which says, in essence “I’ve made it this far. Do I want to turn back, continue on the same path, or change direction?” The bridge represents the opportunity for philosophical contemplation.
For most Westerners, however, the appeal of a Japanese garden bridge is the graceful touch it brings to the landscape. Placed over a pond or dry river bed, this ornamental garden structure adds oriental flair to your backyard oasis. It provides a nice place to admire the view, meditate, or just relax and reflect on your day while looking at your own reflection of the water below.
Many people consider a bridge to be the most important landscaping element of a water garden, and this is especially true when creating a Japanese-style garden. Though there are many individual elements that all add to the serene scene, a garden without a bridge looks somehow incomplete and out of balance.
A Japanese garden bridge can (and should be) a focal point for creating a peaceful backyard setting. But before you begin a landscaping makeover, there are choices you need to make concerning the bridge style, size and materials, as well as its purpose in your garden. A small footbridge is ideal for short spans, while a more elaborate arched bridge could support climbing plants that will reflect in the surface of the water.
The design can be of formal shin, semi-formal gyo or rustic so style. The bridge can be made from wood or stone, have clean lines or very decorative lines, and be covered or uncovered. A good example of a formal Japanese garden bridge is the dramatic “drum” shaped bridge which is based on a section through the traditional Japanese Taiko drum. A semi-formal stone bridge might consist of simple, cleanly cut beams of flat stone, sometimes gracefully curved to soften the line.
A popular choice in many gardens is the highly-arched Moon Bridge which gets its name because the bridge looks like it forms a circle when you see the reflection in the water below. The covered Japanese garden bridge is both beautiful and functional. It offers the garden visitor a lovely view over the water, sheltered from the hot sun or the rain.
Building a Japanese garden bridge
You can pay a contractor to build you a bridge for your Japanese garden, but it’s actually not too hard to build this type of bridge yourself. Internet websites sell pre-cut, pre-drilled, wooden bridge kits that the average handyman/woman should be able to assemble in half an day. Easy-to-follow instructions, photographs and all hardware are included. The only tools you need are a Phillips screwdriver and a crescent wrench. These kits range from around $500 to $1500 depending upon the length of the bridge.
Another option is to download attractive, inexpensive garden bridge woodworking plans that include simple do-it-yourself instructions and a complete list of the materials you need to purchase.
Whether it crosses over a small stream, a pond, or even a dry creek bed, a Japanese garden bridge carefully placed in your yard and lovingly maintained, will bring you years of enjoyment.