The earliest of the gardens is the Shinden, which represents the Heian period, circa the 9th to 12th centuries, when Japanese aristocrats adopted Chinese garden-design concepts that featured lakes and islands, often viewed from a boat. The Paradise Garden represents the Kamakura and early Muromachi periods of the 13th and 14th centuries, when gardens were the earthly representations of Buddhist heaven. The Early Rock Garden also represents the early Muromachi, expressing nature in a more abstract manner by eliminating water though still suggesting its presence. This area features rocks placed upright that were meant to be seats for the gods in the original gardens of the period.
Representing the later Muromachi era is the Karesansui ("dry landscape") Late Rock Garden, from the 15th Century. It is a completely abstract garden, enclosed by walls of rock arrangements and coarse gravel. This is where Zen Buddhists would have meditated. The Hiraniwa Flat Garden, from the Edo period, 17th to 18th centuries, makes liberal use of plant material in open spaces. And finally the Modern Romantic Garden of the late 19th- to early 20th-century Meiji Restoration is the least abstract, its inspiration coming from a direct observation of nature.
The six gardens are seamlessly connected by bridges and pathways, with benches in places that feel just right. The Roji-en also contains a bamboo grove and a contemplation pavilion, where one can "listen with your eyes and see with your ears."
The gardens' designer, Hoichi Kurisu of Portland, Oregon, says that his goal was to transport people away from the materialistic world and closer to their real selves. The gardens, he says, are meant to be body-and-soul restorative. He has placed every plant (chosen for detail and delicacy), every tree (easily 30,000 of them), every rock (3000 pounds of them, flown in from North Carolina and Texas), and every waterfall (the largest circulating 1400 gallons per minute) in order that a visitor's every step can be meditative.
Children are welcome, especially if they can learn to respect the tempting rocks and not see the mile-plus journey as a playground. Cell phones also are permitted... though they shouldn't be.