Written by David Kowalsky / Photos by Mary Nagan
The Japanese gardens in Portland and Seattle offer a great way to spend a few hours outside in the fresh air enjoying a Japan-related experience without actually traveling to Japan.
Located within the Washington Park Arboretum, the 31/2 acre formal garden was designed and constructed in 1960 by Kiyoshi Inoshita and Junki Iida. Iida is known for having designed more than 1,000 Japanese gardens throughout the world. The garden contains the features of stroll-through gardens of the formal (sn-style) type, built during the Momoyama (late 16th Century) and early Edo (early 17th Century) periods. The stroll garden style aims to create the illusion of several landscapes within a garden, which reveal, suggest and disappear along a path. Some of the highlights are:
Zig-zag (Yatsuhashi) Bridge: A great spot to observe the multicolored Japanese carp (koi) and turtles swimming and sunning themselves on the “Tortoise Island.” The bridge is built in the zig-zag manner to avoid evil spirits, which are said to travel in a straight line.
Tea ceremonies: From April through October, visitors to the garden can experience an authentic tea ceremony in the Shoseian teahouse. Visitors who would like to enjoy a bowl of tea and sweets can purchase a $5 tea ticket at the Garden ticket booth. Tea tickets are limited to 20 persons per session. Call the Japanese Garden for schedule information: 206-684-4725.
Maples and native plants of the Northwest: Enjoy the sheer beauty of very old Japanese lace leaf (Acer palmatum) and paperbark maples (Acer griseum). A challenge unique to this garden is to try to see if you can identify the native plants of the Northwest that are also employed, such as rhododendrons, azaleas, cedars and firs.
Stone lanterns: The Kasuga-doro lanterns mark divergences in the path. These types of lanterns often mark the entrances of many important Shinto shrines. Look carefully to notice the three-legged lanterns (Yukimi-doro) that have two legs in the water and one on land.
This garden lies in the heart of Washington Park on a 5 1/2 acre site 10 minutes from downtown Portland. The garden was designed in 1963 by Takuma Tono, a well-known authority on Japanese gardens who was a professor at the Tokyo Agricultural University. The garden is composed of five separate gardens, each with a distinct style::the Flat Garden (hira niwa), Strolling Pond Garden (chisen kaiyu shiki teien), Tea Garden (cha-niwa or roji), Natural Garden (shizen shiki teien), and Sand and Stone Garden (karesansui). Some of the highlights include:
Strolling Pond Garden: The Wisteria Arbor was designed to frame the view of the granite pagoda, and even farther away, the Celestial Falls. This place perfectly illustrates the landscape principle of “hide and reveal.” The cobblestones under the arbor (Belgian block originally brought to Portland as ballast on ships and later used to pave some Portland streets) point to the practice in Japanese gardens of using older materials in a new and interesting manner.
Sand and Stone Garden: The perfectly raked gravel in this abstract garden evokes a simple beauty and illustrates the aesthetic principle of “the blank space” (yohaku no bi). I’m happy to be reminded of my visit two years ago to the dry landscape (karesansui) rock garden on the grounds of Ryoan-ji, the Zen temple located in Kyoto.
Tea Garden: Visitors can try the ritual washing of the hands and rinsing of the mouth at the tsukubai (small water basin).
Special thanks to my volunteer tour guides — Dee Wenger in Portland and Michele Malo in Seattle — for taking the time to share their amazing knowledge and infectious love of the gardens!
Seattle Japanese Garden
1075 Lake Washington Blvd. E, Seattle, WA 98112
Portland Japanese Garden
611 SW Kingston Avenue, Portland, OR 97205