As you may be aware, there are several types of Japanese garden and a certain amount of traditional hard and fast rules BUT there is absolutely nothing wrong with merging a couple of different types of Japanese garden into one area. Japanese garden snobs may frown upon it, but don't let it cloud your desires or vision. There is NOTHING wrong with this at all.
Perhaps, the best way forward if you are interested or about to start designing Japanese gardens is to visit a good example near where you live (there are excellent designs of Japanese gardens in most countries in the world) OR have a good rummage around on the internet for photographs of gardens that catch the eye and are great examples of this form of 'garden art'. The oriental garden in Portland Oregon in the United states is a good place to start. They have a very good web presence and a friendly guys into the bargain!
There are many styles to choose from when planning and designing. You may want water- i.e. a central pond, bridges, rocks, a relaxation or viewing area, dry water... the list is endless. A first thing to do would be to identify exactly how much space you will have for your Japanese or Zen garden. Designing this type of garden always seems easier and less stressful when you can plan your design on paper before actually preparing your space and deciding on the 'ingredients'
Average sized yards or gardens are ideal for a Japanese garden. For a realistic and true to the 'rules' design you have numerous choices with many historical and design facets. These are easy to grasp and simple to execute but you must acquire knowledge first! There are for example 5 types of Japanese gardens and depending on which type you prefer will dictate it's location and make up. You may be keen on copying a landscape- this is very common. Or you may wish to go a more 'spiritual' route with a miniature Tea House, a bridge and a stone wash basin. That's the great this about designing this style of gardens, the choice is yours based on your knowledge and appreciation of what you have seen and imagines.
If you have a smaller area a 'Zen' garden may be more in keeping with the aesthetics of your space. You can design and build one in your garden or yard, put one on a roof terrace or even buy a miniature one for indoor appreciation- although clearly you will not have the joys of designing one of those! Zen gardens were designed and used by Buddhist monks and in general comprise of boulders and rocks and gravel/ or sand. A rake is used to mark the sand for a water effect. Zen gardens are supposed to be places of tranquility and help 'clear' the mind. Meditation is common and effective in a Zen garden which should be viewed from one place. Meditation is a common feature of both varieties of these gardens.
The only time a Zen garden is entered is to rake the gravel or sand.
Even in the dead of winter, it is possible to recall the sights and sounds of spring in your home. Just close your eyes and listen to the peaceful trickling water as it cascades down the side of your Japanese water fountain. Then look up and see the fresh blooms in your Ikebana vase and you may think you slept right through the winter doldrums.
Japanese water fountains make it possible to add a beautiful touch of nature to your home surroundings. It is amazing how a room that includes one of them together with some Zen garden supplies can change the moods of everyone in it. Natural elements like these are a surprisingly simple and inexpensive way to make your home into a peaceful retreat and they offer the perfect complement to your indoor Japanese decor.
Most traditional Japanese gardens feature at least one fountain and can be used outdoors in warmer climates, but during the winter they are an elegant reminder of spring.