Though I do not myself have a Japanese garden, I love them and I have a newly planted grove of Japanese maples. In anticipation of their fall foliage soon, here is an excerpt from The Art of Japanese Gardens: Designing and Making Your Own Peaceful Space, by Herb Gustafson.
The traditional Japanese garden brings to the viewer a vast array of symbolic representations…. The Japanese “niwa” is special because of its double meaning as both “garden” and “place.” It is not merely an artistic arrangement of rocks, trees and water. The very shape of these elements cries out for recognition on a higher plane. We see the combinings of the primitive earthly elements: the air above and the water below. The earth is represented by the skeletal structure of stones protected by the integument of topsoil. Our origin in fire is seen as beacons to our future placed in the stone lanterns to guide us among the “rati”, or path. Our gardens can become a profound representation of the universe as a whole.