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Iwagumi Layout Tutorial for Beginner Aquarists

iwagumi style fresh water aquarium aquascape

Welcome to the serene world of Iwagumi aquascaping!

I remember the first time I stumbled upon an Iwagumi layout; its simplicity and natural beauty instantly captivated me. It was like a tranquil piece of nature residing within the glass walls of an aquarium.

As a beginner in the aquarist community, the idea of creating something so harmonious yet minimalistic was both intriguing and daunting. Through this blog post, I aim to demystify the art of Iwagumi and provide a clear, step-by-step guide to help fellow beginners.

iwagumi aquascape with frodo stone

Understanding Iwagumi Aquascape

When I first approached aquascaping, the Iwagumi style stood out to me for its serene beauty and deep roots in Japanese aesthetics.

This style emphasizes the importance of simplicity and balance, guiding a beginner like me to create a tranquil underwater landscape that’s not just an aquarium but a representation of natural harmony.

Simplicity and Minimalism

I’ve learned that the core of Iwagumi aquascaping is minimalism. It’s about more than just lacking clutter; it’s an expression of the natural world through the most basic composition.

Originating from Japan, Iwagumi embodies a philosophy where each element has a purpose and excess is avoided.

For me, finding the beauty in simplicity meant focusing on just a few elements that work together to represent tranquility and harmony.

iwagumi aquascape layout rock positions with name
Iwagumi Aquascape Layout – Rock Positions & Their Names

Role of Rocks as the Central Element

Choose your rocks carefully—they are the soul of your Iwagumi layout.

See also  How to Make Iwagumi Style Bonsai Aquascape?

The principal rock, called the Oyaishi, dictates the flow and the feel of the aquascape.

I learned from Takashi Amano, a master of aquascaping, that this rock should be the largest and most impressive.

Arranging the smaller Soeishi and Suteishi rocks around the Oyaishi, I established a sense of balance and order, following the minimalist principles that underpin this art form.

Each rock placement should not only appear natural but also enhance the overall sense of peace within the aquascape.

Essential Components of Iwagumi Aquascape

Before diving into creating an Iwagumi aquascape, it’s important for me to understand the core elements that make up this beautiful style.

Iwagumi is more than just an aesthetic; it’s a thoughtful process where each component plays a critical role in achieving a harmonious and minimalist layout.

Now, let’s look at the essential components.

golden ratio iwagumi aquascape
Golden Ratio In Iwagumi Aquascape

Types of Rocks Used

In Iwagumi layouts, rocks are the stars of the show. 

The oyaishi stone is the largest and is considered the main stone, pivotal in creating balance and flow within the tank.

I pay attention to the color and texture of rocks as these should mimic natural landscapes.

An odd number is typically used to prevent symmetry, which aligns with the principle of the golden ratio, a guideline that helps create natural-looking beauty.

Aside from oyaishi, fukuishi, soeishi, and suteishi are supplementary rocks that provide depth and perspective.

Selection of Substrate

The substrate is vital not just for aesthetics but for the health of the plants. It’s where my carpeting plants will take root.

I go for a substrate that has a rich nutrient profile, which is essential for the growth of plants like glossostigma or hemianthus callitrichoides.

See also  Can You Use Driftwood In Iwagumi Aquascape Setup?

I choose a color that contrasts well with the stones to enhance their features and also one that is fine enough to encourage the rooting of carpeting plants without being too compact.

Appropriate Plant Selection

Selecting plants for an Iwagumi aquascape is about finding species that enhance the hardscape without overwhelming it.

Typically, I opt for carpeting plants like glossostigma or hemianthus callitrichoides because these create a lush foreground while maintaining the minimalist approach.

Plants need to be placed in a way that complements the stone formations and adheres to the principles of scale and balance.

When considering fish, I go with species that do not distract from the layout’s tranquility. 

Harlequin rasboras are an excellent choice because they offer a subtle color that complements the greens of aquatic plants and the neutral tones of stones.

The fish should be small enough to maintain the scale of the layout while adding to the sense of depth and movement.

Fish with calm swimming patterns and schooling behavior are ideal to support the peaceful energy of an Iwagumi aquascape.

rule of third iwagumi aquascape
Rule of 3rd In Iwagumi Aquascape

Designing Iwagumi Layout

When I approach designing an Iwagumi layout, I focus on simplicity and natural beauty. The layout should convey a sense of calm and balance, primarily using stones and carefully selected plants to create a serene underwater landscape.

Arranging Rocks

In my Iwagumi aquascape, I start by positioning a main stone which serves as the focal point.

This practice is influenced by the Japanese-style rock garden and aims to portray spirituality and elegance.

The main stone is often the largest and is complemented by smaller stones, maintaining a sense of scale and natural strata.

See also  Can You Use Moss In Iwagumi Aquascape?

Their placement should follow the rule of odd numbers, typically three, five, or seven, which I find creates a more natural and less contrived appearance.

The technique is named Sanzon Iwagumi when three stones are used, and it’s important that they vary in size and texture for visual impact.

Planting Technique

With the stones set, planting follows. I prefer using a limited variety of plants to maintain the style’s minimalism. 

Eleocharis parvula (Dwarf hairgrass) and Glossostigma elatinoides are my go-to for creating lush, green carpets that don’t detract from the stones.

The substrate should be nutrient-rich to promote healthy plant growth.

I plant in small clumps, spacing them enough to allow them to spread and eventually form a dense carpet.

Lighting and Filtration

Proper lighting is crucial.

An overtank luminaire with T5 lamps ensures the plants get enough light for photosynthesis without encouraging excessive algae formation.

Regarding filtration, I opt for an external canister filter for a clean tank profile. It’s powerful but doesn’t disturb the minimalist aesthetics of the Iwagumi layout.

I also use CO2 injection to support plant growth and maintain a balanced aquascape.

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Muntaseer Rahman

About Author

Hello, I’m Muntaseer Rahman, the owner of AcuarioPets.com. I’m passionate about aquarium pets like shrimps, snails, crabs, and crayfish. I’ve created this website to share my expertise and help you provide better care for these amazing pets.


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