All Japanese garden have a unique design but they all use common elements that are found in traditional Japanese landscaping. The most common elements include water, rocks, plants and ornaments, all of which serves a explicit purpose.
The first element in a Japanese Garden Design that we will consider is rocks.
Rocks are considered to be the foundation of Japanese garden design. There is great care taken in placing the stones, which may be tall and vertical or long and horizontal. Some arching stone pillars and reclining rocks are also used to contribute to the design. Needless to say, stepping stones and rock pathways are also created. The placement of each stone and rock is crucial in a traditional Japanese garden, but in the U.S. of A. people usually place these wherever they think that they will look best.
The plants that are to be used in Japanese garden design are secondary to the stone and water. Nonetheless, they are still quite critical to the garden's design. They must be in harmony with the stone and so you will need to truly think about their placement. Usually bamboo and Japanese maple are used, but the actual type of plant that you use is not as critical as is the harmonious placement. For this reason, you may wish to choose plants that are easy to use such as ornamental grasses, evergreens and many deciduous trees.
The next element that is very important in Japanese garden design is water. Water is symbolic of the passing of time. The water could represented by either a pond or a waterfall or it could even be a suggestion of water. In this case you could rake the stones in such a way as to resemble a stream. However, using real water running over surfaces such as stone will add a peaceful sound, thus creating serenity in your garden. Regardless of how you choose to do it, you should always remember that water is an important feature of a contemplative garden design.
The last but not the least element of Japanese garden design is ornamentation. These are not meant to be focal points, but simply to enhance the garden's critical elements. For this reason, they need to be strategically placed in such a way as to accent a bridge, stream or stone. Lanterns, shallow basins and small sculptures can be used here. The garden should be positioned in such a way that it can take advantage of its surrounding features. For instance, an open gate can frame a distant tree or mountain; a stone stream can be placed in such a way as to appear as if it is meandering off into a distant shore line. There are many good books available on Japanese Garden Designs.