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Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Zen garden secrets revealed
Ryoanji Temple garden in Kyoto
Thousands visit the famous gardens
Creating the perfect Zen garden is now possible, thanks to the work of a team at Kyoto University in Japan.

They used computer analysis to study one of the most famous Zen gardens in the world, at the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, to discover why it has a calming effect on the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come every year.

The researchers found that the seemingly random collection of rocks and moss on this simple gravel rectangle formed the outline of a tree's branches.

Click here to see a diagram of the Zen garden

Viewed from the right position, this empty space created the image of a tree in the subconscious mind.

Enigmatic appeal

The Ryoanji Temple garden was created sometime between the 14th and 16th Centuries by an unknown designer.


We believe that the unconscious perception of this pattern contributes to the enigmatic appeal of the garden

Kyoto University researchers
No explanation was ever provided for the layout of the garden.

Instead the rocks were seen as symbols, representing a tigress crossing the sea with her cubs, or the Chinese characters for the heart.

The team from Kyoto University used image analysis to calculate the symmetry lines of the minimalist garden.

They found that the points halfway between the rocks formed the outline of a tree's branches.

The researchers experimented with random layouts on their computer model to see if they could get the same result, only to find these destroyed the structure of the tree.

"We believe that the unconscious perception of this pattern contributes to the enigmatic appeal of the garden," said the team of Gert Van Tonder, Michael Lyons and Yoshimichi Ejima.

"There is a growing realisation that scientific analysis can reveal unexpected structural features hidden in controversial abstract paintings," they wrote in the journal Nature.

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Zen garden explainer
The spacing of the rocks forms the outline of a tree's branches

See also:

24 May 00 | UK
27 Jun 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
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