Yesterday we covered Iwagumi aquariums, so today’s the perfect time to tackle a subtype of the Iwagumi aquarium, the Sanzon Iwagumi. Both aquarium layouts focus on large stones as the dominant features, but Sanzon Iwagumi aquariums are distinct in that they always feature one large stone flanked by two smaller stones.

Such a unique stone formation might seem odd to westerners, but much of the reason why it’s so popular is that it has roots in Buddhist teachings. Ancient Asian art often features a dominant Buddha figure with smaller Bodhisattvas on either side. The word “Sanzon” roughly translates into “three pillars.”

Buddhist Triad as inspiration for Sanzon Iwagumi aquarium

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The Japanese adapted the Buddhist triad with Sanzon Iwagumi rock formations in their gardens. As you might expect, they developed precise rules and aesthetic guidelines for creating a beautiful arrangement. The central stone is known is as the chuusonseki, and the side stones are called kyoujiseki.

Once the aquarium craze took off in Japan, it was only a matter of time before someone created the first Sanzon Iwagumi aquarium. People from Eastern cultures should be able to appreciate the meaning behind these aquariums, but you don’t have to be a Buddhist to like Sanzon Iwagumi arrangements.

Sanzon Iwagumi Aquarium

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Like so much other Japanese art, Sanzon Iwagumi places a heavy emphasis on stark, humble beauty. The three stones are unremarkable on their own, but they work together to create an interesting balance and an almost regal scene.

One popular strategy is to arrange the two kyoujiseki rocks so that they are both angled towards the larger chuusonseki. Not only does it help to emphasize the chuusonseki as the dominant centerpiece, but it also tells a miniature story – almost as if the two kyoujiseki are bowing in reverence to the beloved chuusonseki.

Sanzon Iwagumi with Tetras and Carpet Plants

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Amano shrimp (appropriately named after Takashi Amano) are popular in Sanzon Iwagumi aquariums because these tiny, translucent shrimp will fastidiously eat the algae off of your gorgeous rock garden without distracting from the scene. A single school of small, eye-catching fish can tie the scene together with a bit of life and movement. Emphasizing a single species of fish adds to the feeling of simplicity.

But don’t let the simplicity fool you! Sanzon Iwagumi can be one of the most challenging aquascape projects. Because you will have only one or two species of plants, it can be particularly difficult to balance fertilizer and CO2 levels without causing an algae bloom. If you’re determined to set up a Sanzon Iwagumi aquarium, you should probably hire the services of expert aquarium maintenance professionals to ensure that your aquascape maintains its sense of serene beauty. A gorgeous aquascape like this is well worth the effort!