Japanese gardens may be "stroll" gardens or "viewing" gardens. Through the former, one walks along a path and enjoys a series of carefully planned landscape pictures from various points of vantage. The viewing garden is designed to be seen from one place only, perhaps through a window, and is often quite small.

A stroll garden may include one or more hills to represent mountains. Usually associated with the hills will be a stream or miniature lake or both, and perhaps a waterfall. A rocky island, planted with a low juniper or picturesque pine, may occupy an off-centre position in the lake; sometimes, two islands of varying size are used. From the chief viewing point, the hills are background to the water features. The path is contrived to lead the stroller naturally from vantage point to vantage point. Or the garden may be without hills or even water. Representations of these may be achieved by the skilful use of bold rocks and stretches of mowed turf, fine gravel, coarse sand or, possibly, "pools" or "streams" of flat waterworn, oval or circular black stones. When gravel or sand is used, it is often raked to produce surface patterns, straight and placid or swirling to suggest flowing water.

Viewing gardens are often gems. They are, in fact, three-dimensional pictures achieved with living plants and rocks and, sometimes, water, with perhaps a lantern or other artefact added. Every line, every mass, each particular texture is carefully studied and related to the whole. They are
sculptured gardens, showing minimum change from season to season and with plant growth carefully controlled. The smaller the garden, the more important becomes the detail. To a perfect viewing garden nothing can be added, nor can anything be taken, without detracting from its effect.