Understanding Your Asian-Style Fountain’s Symbolism

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  • Author Chris Gill
  • Published June 8, 2009
  • Word count 533

Whether as part of a general Asian décor style or for the practice of feng shui, Asian style water fountains are among the most popular varieties today. The water fountain specialists at Water Fountain Place have extensive experience with Asian-style fountains, and offer this quick guide to three traditional styles

Koi Water Fountains

Koi (a Japanese ornamental carp similar to goldfish) are probably the most popular Asian influence on modern water fountain design. They are especially popular in outdoor fountains. Many people think of the koi as an ancient symbol due to the West’s fascination with Eastern mysticism, but in fact, koi were first bread in Japan in the 1800s. As koi are often kept in Japanese gardens, a koi fountain evokes the idea of traditional activities such as poetry, contemplation and relaxation with one’s friends.

Note that Zen gardens are dry (not an easy environment for a carp!), so koi are not strictly a Zen symbol, but represent the "floating world" ((Ukiyo) of artistic, pleasurable living that came to prominence after the end of Japan’s bloody civil wars. This is the age and environment that inspired famous woodblock prints of geisha, samurai and sumo wrestlers. So as you can see, a little fish on your fountain might mean a lot!

Raku Ware and Tea Ceremony Style Water Fountains

Raku Ware refers to a pottery style used in Japanese tea ceremony (chaonyu) vessels. Classic raku ware consists of a shiny black finish, the artistic imperfections (real or simulated) of handcrafted work. It’s a very popular style to transfer to water fountains. There are also a few fountains inspired by the modern style, which uses more color and symmetry.

Many indoor and outdoor fountains are even designed to mimic the appearance of tea ceremony vessels. This is fitting; in the Way of Tea (chado) the implements of the scoop, whisk and caddy are treated with extreme reverence. These elements can be incorporated into a fountain’s spout. Sculptures of flowers may also be present to acknowledge the role of a special flower arrangement in the actual ceremony. The Way of Tea is associated with meditation and skill in action. By practicing the tea ceremony with total devotion, one attains mushin ("no-mind") or freedom from conscious distractions, so that the simple act of brewing tea becomes a form of meditation.

Chinese Coin Water Fountains and Zennigata

Old Chinese coins can serve as a decorative element in a water fountain or as the basis for the whole fountain’s design. Old Chinese coins have a square hole in the center. This allowed people to tie them together in strings. For centuries, Chinese folk religion has equated coinage with special power. Old coins were made into charms to ward off bad luck and of course, attract wealth and fortune. Coins are incorporated into amulets, clothing and even swords. Coins connect to water because water is a symbol of prosperity in feng shui.

Coin symbolism (and the designed of Chinese coins themselves) also made its way to other Asian societies, including Japan and Korea. Japanese coin-shaped basins called zennigata contain water used for misogi, the practice of ritual purification in the Shinto religion.

Water Fountain Place sells an extensive line of indoor water fountains and outdoor fountains, along with table top fountains, solar fountains and custom fountains. Dedicated to maintaining a full range of water fountains for all budgets, Water Fountain Place offers free shipping on orders over $75 throughout the continental US.

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