Japanese gardens seek to bring out the balance of the natural world. A key intent of Japanese gardens today is to replicate the natural world in smaller spaces; re-creating miniaturized versions of serene natural landscapes. In that re-creation, there are a few principles that bring across that image of balance, such as boundaries and regions that reflect the natural world.
Boundaries include regions divided by grass areas, or dry gravel areas. These can be divided by pathways, borders, or water. These borders can be rounded or straight edged, but remain consistently one or the other within the same region. These also include water borders, such as waterfalls, dry creek beds, flowing streams, ponds, and lakes.
A common number to create balance in the garden is the use of threes- three stones or three clumps of grasses. As a general rule, taller trees and plants are placed in the background, while shorter plants such as ornamental grasses and flowering plants are placed in the foreground.
So long as the plants create a natural flowing space, the garden can be minimalist with very little foliage, or it can be lush with carefully placed grasses and flowering plants and shrubs. Both can be accented with lanterns in the foreground, or off to the side.
A taller Japanese maple tree is always a good background for either approach, as are tall pogodas.