The Japanese rock gardens "Karesansui" or "dry landscape" gardens, often called "Zen gardens" were influenced mainly by Zen Buddhism and can be found at Zen temples of meditation.
Japanese gardens are a living work of art in which the plants and trees are ever changing with the seasons. As they grow and mature, they are constantly sculpted to maintain and enhance the overall experience; hence, a Japanese garden is never the same and never really finished. The underlying structure of a Japanese garden is determined by the architecture; that is, the framework of enduring elements such as buildings, verandas and terraces, paths, tsukiyama (artificial hills), and stone compositions. Over time, it is only as good as the careful maintenance that it receives by those skilled in the art of training and pruning. Part of the art is to keep the garden almost still, like a painting.
Karesansui gardens can be extremely abstract and represent (miniature) landscapes also called "mind-scapes". This Buddhist preferred way to express cosmic beauty in worldly environments is inextricable from Zen Buddhism.
Unlike other traditional gardens, there is no water present in Karesansui gardens (or the karesansui compartment of a garden). There is gravel or sand, raked or not raked, that symbolizes sea, ocean, rivers or lakes.
The act of raking the gravel into a pattern recalling waves or rippling water has an aesthetic function. Zen priests practice this raking also to help their concentration. Achieving perfection of lines is not easy. Rakes are according to the patterns of ridges as desired and limited to some of the stone objects situated within the gravel area. Nonetheless often the patterns are not static. Developing variations in patterns is a creative and inspiring challenge.
Stone arrangements and other miniature elements are used to represent mountains and natural water elements and scenes, islands, rivers and waterfalls. Stone and shaped shrubs (karikomi, hako-zukuri topiary) are used interchangeable. In most gardens moss is used as a ground cover to create "land" covered by forest.
Other, mostly stone, objects are sometimes used symbolically to represent mountains, islands, boats, or even people. Karesansui gardens are often, but not always, meant to be viewed from a single vantage point from a seated position.