The Toowoomba Japanese Garden is the largest, most complex and traditionally designed Japanese Garden in Australia. It was named Ju Raku En by the designer - roughly translated it means long life and happiness in a public garden.
The Garden is a joint project of the University of Southern Queensland and the Toowoomba City Council and was opened in 1989. It was designed by Professor Kinsaku Nakane - renowned as the modern day master of Japanese garden design and famous for the restoration of many of Japan's old gardens and the design and construction of gardens in Japan and throughout the western world.
The Central Lake represents the celestial sea from the Buddhist legend where believers dwelt in bliss amongst fragrant flowers, lotus blossoms and sounds of celestial music. The northern edge of the lake is lined by a large pebble beach to remind viewers of a seascape.
Other parts of the lake edge are rocky and jagged just like the sea coast of Japan. The skill of miniaturising real life features and reconstructing them in a garden is a highly sophisticated garden form unique to Japanese gardens.
Approximately 2,500 full sun Azaleas are planted on the northern face of Azalea Hill as a representation of hillsides in Japan where Azaleas grow wild. The pruning of these shrubs will eventually provide a wave like massed green mat which will burst into vivid colour in Spring.
When fully grown the hedge behind the Azaleas, in combination with the uneven and irregularly spaced stepping stones will not allow the visitor a view until they reach the summit where the total garden unfolds before them.
The Rock Island is the pivotal point of the garden representing the sacred Mt Sumeru which is the centre of the Buddhist universe around which all life rotates. The remaining two islands are where it is said that immortals dwell who possess an elixir capable of giving eternal life.
It can be viewed that the outer edge of the lake is the material world where we all live and crossing over the bridges to the mystical islands is symbolic of a religious journey from one world to the next. Over 450 tonnes of rock were used to create the five metre high waterfall. Both the mountain stream and waterfall were made to recreate a natural environment or to imitate nature.
The dry or Contemplation garden is a very important element in a Japanese Garden. The design of the dry garden makes suggestions to the viewer rather than spelling out the obvious. The dry garden is an abstract design depicting a seascape although no water is present - raked gravel constantly changes shape from the moving shadows.
To sit and view the dry garden for a period of time is a form of meditation and to a Buddhist this exercise can clear the mind of all preconceived worldly ideas to reach what is described as "pure thoughts" or "nothingness". Behind the dry garden, shrubs and trees are being planted to eventually form a thick forest area to give an illusion of great height copying the steep mountains of Japan.
The three kilometres of stroll paths meander around the garden and when all plantings are completed will constantly unfold new vistas and a gradually changing perspective of the garden. The path material is decomposed granite which when walked over produces a pleasant rhythmic sound allowing the visitor to feel part of the garden.
The outer edge of the garden contains many quick growing trees, both Australian native and exotic species which were planted to form a buffer from the harsh winds of Toowoomba. These plantings will also aid in creating a microclimate within the garden - virtually its own ecosystem.
Toowoomba's climate has sufficiently distinctive seasons allowing an excellent range of Japanese plants to grow. Eventually 230 species totalling over 20,000 individual plants will be planted. Some of these include Cherry Trees, Japanese Maples, Azaleas, Camellias, Bamboo, Japanese Black Pine (the delicate pruning and pinching of candles of the Black Pines has already commenced), Iris, Lotus Lilies and Moss.
Upon completion of the plantings the garden will contain the largest and most important collection of Japanese plants in Australia.