It used to be that aquarium décor meant treasure chests and plastic mermaids, or a profusion of underwater plants arranged the way one might style formal gardens, the residing fish chosen out of whim or according to the owner’s preferred decorating scheme without any thought for compatibility. In a word: artifice.

Man traps nature and bends it to his will. In the 1990s, a new style of aquascaping emerged, inspired by nature’s majestic sights. In it, plants, rocks, and fish are chosen with care, each element playing an integral role in the mini ecosystem. Nature is allowed to run its course, with a little help from human hands.

Dubbed “Nature Aquarium” by its creator Takashi Amano, this method of aquascaping has gained traction with hobbyists from all over the world, including the Philippines. Recently, an Aquarium Channel was launched on local cable television (on SkyCable HD Channel 244), featuring model nature aquariums designed by ADA Nature Aquarium (ADANA) Philippines. Animal Scene spoke to the founders of ADA Nature Aquarium Philippines, Joseph and Justin Uy, about this growing movement in aquascaping.

Can you tell our readers what a Nature Aquarium is, and how this differs from the usual aquarium? What are the benefits of such an aquarium for its owners? The goal of Aqua Design Amano in designing Nature Aquariums is to recreate nature. We use natural materials and live aquatic plants to make aquascapes that bring nature indoors. We get inspiration from landscapes and natural scenery like the Amazon forest, mountain ranges, or sprawling meadows. By recreating a natural environment, our customers are able to forget about the stress and problems in the office or city. The aquascapes are much more relaxing and pleasing to the eyes.

ADANA’s founder is “(the) first person in Philippines to have been personally trained by Takashi Amano himself.” Can you tell us more about Mr. Amano and the aquarium philosophy he espouses? Sensei Takashi Amano is a nature lover. He is a well-known landscape photographer and it is from his photographs that he draws inspiration for his aquascape designs. Takashi Amano is the pioneer of the planted aquarium hobby and developed the art and science behind it. He is also very particular about quality and presentation, which is a known trait of the Japanese. In the end, his goal is for Nature Aquariums to give people a better understanding of nature and how to care for it.

The Nature Aquarium philosophy is the guiding principle behind the Aqua Design Amano’s aquariums and related accessories range. What advantages do aquarium owners derive from your equipment? Aqua Design Amano’s products are a blend of form and function. The design is simple but the quality is very superior. ADA glass aquariums are made using ultra clear low iron glass, which is crystal clear, and does not have the green tinge seen in ordinary glass. They are also [assembled] without braces or dripping silicon on the edges. Glass is used for filter pipes and diffusers, and clear acrylic for LED lighting for obstruction-free viewing of the enclosed aquascape.

Unlike other suppliers, you offer regular maintenance visits to your clients. You also offer to educate them on how to design and maintain their nature aquariums. What made you decide to offer this service? Given the busy schedules of our customers, time is truly gold for them. We understand this and wanted to create a worry-free Nature Aquarium experience for our customers. It is also part of our thrust to educate people about responsible fish keeping.

Can you share practical aquarium advice for those who are looking into setting up a nature aquarium? In the end, do what your heart desires. It’s human instinct to keep things natural. If it doesn’t look and feel natural, then there must be something out of proportion or out of place in the aquascape. Remember that nature is not perfect, and imbalance is actually a good thing. Trial and error is the best teacher.

The founders of ADA Nature Aquarium Philippines, father and son Joseph Uy, Jr. and Justin Uy, have both trained with Takashi Amano.

The Golden Rules of Nature Aquariums

• Rule of Thirds: When designing an aquarium, visualize the tank in sections of three—both horizontally and vertically—and place a focal point in one intersection.

• In ikebana (traditional Japanese flower arrangement), flowers are positioned according to three heights, each representing God, Earth, and Man. A Nature Aquarium layout can also be designed in terms of background, midground, and foreground.

• Wabi-sabi: Derived from Zen Buddhism teachings, this Japanese aesthetic is centered on the beauty of transience and imperfection. Objects of art must reflect these imperfections, and allow for the quiet contemplation thereof.

This appeared in Animal Scene’s June 2015 issue.