The Nara Period is named after its capital city Nara. The first authentically Japanese gardens were built in this city at the end of the eighth century. Shorelines and stone settings were naturalistic, different from the heavier, earlier continental mode of constructing pond edges. Two such gardens have been found at excavations, both of which were used for poetry-writing festivities. One of these gardens, the East Palace garden at Heijo Palace, Nara, has been faithfully reconstructed using the same location and even the original garden features that had been excavated. It appears from the small amount of literary and archaeological evidence available that the Japanese gardens of this time were modest versions of the Imperial gardens of the Tang Dynasty, with large lakes scattered with artificial islands and artificial mountains. Pond edges were constructed with heavy rocks as embankment. While these gardens had some Buddhist and Daoist symbolism, they were meant to be pleasure gardens, and places for festivals and celebrations. Recent archaeological excavations in the ancient capital of Nara have brought to light the remains of two eighth-century gardens associated with the Imperial Court, a pond-and-stream garden—To-in—located within the precinct of the Imperial Palace and a stream garden—Kyuseki—found within the modern city. They may be modeled after Chinese gardens, but the rock formations found in the To-in would appear to have more in common with prehistoric Japanese stone monuments than with Chinese antecedents, and the natural, serpentine course of the Kyuseki stream garden may be far less formal than what existed in Tang China. Whatever their origins, both the To-in and Kyuseki clearly anticipate certain developments in later Japanese gardens.
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