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The composition of Japanese gardens is given such meticulous planning that even the last pebble is granted attention. There is not a single grass, flower, or water fountain out of place. With its mossy rocks, gnarled roots and pathways, Japanese gardens paint a picture of both fiction and reality.

Shakkie (borrowed scenery), such as distant hills or the rivers, is incorporated in the gardens of Japan. For example, the garden in Shugaku-in Imperial Villa in Kyoto uses mountains that are 10 km away as elements in its composition.

There are four types of gardens in Japan: funa asobi (pleasure boat style), shuyu (stroll style), kansho (contemplative style), and kaiyu (many pleasure style).

The funa asobi garden is centered on a large pond with boat rides that present excellent views. The garden in Byodo-in Temple, Southern Kyoto, is a fine example of a funa asobi garden from the Heian period.

Shuyu gardens are catered to strollers; the garden will thus unfold into various stages along windy paths that surround the land. Like the funa asobi, shuyu gardens are also found in noble mansions as well as temples. This garden was extremely popular during the Heian, Kamakura, and Muromachi periods. A famed example is the garden in Ginkaku-ji Temple in Kyoto.

While the funa asobi and shuyu gardens are best observed and enjoyed at different angles, the kansho garden is best viewed from one place. It is designed to facilitate contemplation with various interpretations, depending on each individual's views. Zen rock gardens and kare sansui or dry mountain stream gardens are examples of kansho. One of the most noted kansho gardens is Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto.

The final type of garden is best explored on foot as it provides 'many pleasures', hence its name. The kaiyu garden feature several small gardens that surround a central pond, as well as a teahouse on its grounds. The garden is also designed with a variety of scenes to emulate a miniature landscape. Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa in western Kyoto is home to the most famous kaiyu garden.

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