Japan’s Sacred Spaces

By on November 26, 2017

The art of Feng Shui aims to consciously create a level of natural balance in man-made environments. While it is originally a Chinese practice, the Japanese are clearly experts at creating settings with a sense of balance and sacredness.

Throughout Japan, one can see how even in the smallest spaces, residents aim to create little pockets of poise and beauty – look at even the smallest entrance to a home and you might see some delicately placed plants or objects that produce a sense of grounded presence.

Tatami rooms that feature large closets can enable residents to feature but the bare essentials of a space to give an air of more peace. (This might change when you open the closets.) Let’s explore some of the places where the Japanese have demonstrated their mastery at creating sacred space.


Chionin Temple, Kyoto photo by Akiko Morita

Throughout the entire city of Kyoto you can find temples and other magnificent places that have a harmonious design and energy. Among my favourites are the various Zen stone gardens, featuring arrangements of pebbles raked around larger stones. It is popular to sit and watch the scene in a meditative state (perhaps thinking “How did they rake all of this without leaving footprints?”) These stone gardens create an unusual sense of balance in that they create ordered streams of randomly shaped objects (pebbles) around seemingly random rock arrangements and occasionally around mounds of grass and other vegetation, thus bridging chaos and order. Seeing order in randomness can be the sign of having reached a high level of consciousness. It’s easier to do observing a Zen Garden than when gazing at the chaos of your child’s room.

Other Zen gardens feature beautifully trimmed plants and vegetation of different varieties surrounding meandering pathways. In general there are no straight lines in nature, and the meandering pathway symbolizes the flow and change that is the only constant in life – a radical change from the barrelling expressways we call roads (which interestingly enough get clogged, despite being built for speed). While some of the bushes and trees are trimmed in ways that are not natural, the intention is to break the linear in favour of the curved. There can be a certain level of artifice in the creation of these sites. I recall being at a temple in Kyoto with my father when we witnessed a groundskeeper shaking a tree in order to help it shed leaves so that he could rake them up; I had to hold my father back to prevent him from shaking the groundskeeper’s neck and raking him up. And yet the finished result is one that radiates balance and peace.


photo by Gansan

This magnificent Shinto Shrine located in the water speaks volumes to the balance of elements. Painted a brilliant red, the colour of fire, the Miyajima Torii is particularly striking, as it stands surrounded by water. Water and fire are, naturally, opposing elements and so the fiery gates rising out of the water demonstrates a degree of contrast that is remarkable.


This is my favourite place in Tokyo. Sure, there are the Imperial Gardens and all kinds of other wonderful settings, but this marvelous shrine is deservedly a favourite with residents. As soon as you walk through the gate just behind Harajuku station and place your feet on the pebble road, the hustle and bustle of Tokyo begins to fade away. A mere few minutes in, and the noise of the city has been virtually silenced, replaced by bird calls and scrunching stones under your feet and only very rarely someone tactless enough to be talking on their keitai. There are numerous stops you can make on the temple grounds with its meandering pathways and charming trees. The gift shop is a stunning example of how to market tackiness surrounded by majesty and is best avoided unless you have a desperate craving for Dorayaki or other Japanese sweets.


Spend time in some of the country’s serene locations to reconnect to that spaciousness within so that you can bring that into your home. Create a simple arrangement of contrasting forms. Have one object occupy a space to draw attention to itself and the emptiness around it. Allow each space to radiate.

Meiji Jingu www.meijijingu.or.jp/english/index.html

Kyoto www.kyotokyoto.jp

Miyajima www.miyajima.or.jp/miyakan2/index.html

About Mark Ainley

Mark Ainley is a Contemporary Feng Shui Consultant and Emotional Stress Consultant living in Vancouver. A former 5-year resident of Tokyo, Mark consults with clients internationally to help them design living and work spaces in alignment with their goals. He also provides consulting in emotional stress management, as well as in the connection between facial structure and innate behavioural and communication patterns. He can be reached through his website: www.senseofspace.com and www.markainley.com.

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