Birds Enjoying Japanese Garden. Until the 20th century, Japanese gardens were seldom open to the public. They were built by the ruling elite to create a mood appropriate to worship and contemplation. Most of today's famous gardens owe much of their development to the influence of Zen Buddhism. Japan is a group of islands surrounded by oceans and seas. From ancient times, the Japanese people had an affinity for the sea. Water as a design element in the garden is crucial. One of the most popular styles of garden is called chisen, in which a pond or lake occupies the most significant portion of the garden. A Japanese garden helps place the visitor in his or her center.