During the 8th century garden designers and story tellers in Japan were inspired by the tale of a fisherman named Urashima Taro. Urashima saved the life of a sea turtle and in return was taken to one of five immortal islands. Gardens began to take on the nature of the five island concept.
Then during the Heian Period (8th – 12th century) inspiration began to come from Japanese natural landscapes and Buddhism. The idea of death and rebirth was embraced and use of elements and colors that changed with the seasons became more prominent. Dry rock landscapes also began to emerge.
Later in the 14th century, the Muromachi Period, Muso Soseki, a Zen monk, brought great popularity to Zen landscaping with his technique and designs. The use of rock and sand became widespread and the idea that rocks, pebbles, and gravel could represent elements in nature like water, animals, mountains and islands was adopted. Gardens and gardeners of this period left a legacy that is used in garden design and development to this day.
In the 21st century, Japanese Zen gardens continue to be built around the word.
Information taken from: “The meaning behind the mystery of Japanese Zen gardens”
by Robin Lane Fox