One of Must See spots in Portland for Carlos and me is the Japanese Garden, one of the most peaceful, beautiful, calming spaces I’ve ever seen.
Overlooking the city, the Garden sits high in the West Hills of Portland and provides a sort of urban oasis for locals and travelers alike. Designed in 1963 with the idea that the experience of peace can contribute to a long-lasting peace, it encompasses 12 acres with eight separate garden styles, meandering streams, intimate walkways, a spectacular view of Mt. Hood, and an authentic Japanese Tea House.
Back in Miami, we had several small stone Pagodas in our garden and so we love to see these stone temples spread throughout the gardens.
The garden was inspired in the late 1950s by growing cultural ties between Oregon and Japan. Mayor Terry Schrunk and members of the Portland community conceived the idea of building a Japanese garden on the site of the old zoo in Washington Park. Their reasons were twofold: providing Portland with a garden of great beauty and serenity, while forging a healing connection to Japan on the heels of World War II.
At this time in U.S. history, Japanese gardens were founded across the country as a way to build cultural understanding. Needing no translation, an American could experience firsthand Japanese ideals and values, communicated simply through nature.
The site was dedicated in 1961, and Professor Takuma Tono of Tokyo Agricultural University was retained to design the Garden. Professor Tono’s plan included five different garden styles laid out on 5.5 acres. This was quite a departure from gardens in Japan which typically follow one singular style. His intention was to represent different historical developments in Japanese garden architecture and through that communicate Japanese culture to create a cultural exchange.
Being that it’s Portland, and on a hillside, there are steep waterfalls, and ponds and streams everywhere. The sound of trickling water is just one more tranquil note.
In 1967, the Garden formally opened to the public for the summer. Admission was $0.50 for adults and $0.25 for students. That year, more than 28,000 people came before the Garden closed for the winter.
One of the great things about this visit, was the display of Bonsai, some as old as three-hundred years. Carlos had purchased a Bonsai in Coconut Grove years ago, that we still have in our sunroom today and he loved seeing these far more ancient specimens.
In 1968, the Kashintei Tea House was constructed in Japan, shipped in pieces, and reassembled in the Garden. Other structures were added as the five gardens evolved. The Pavilion Gallery, which sits at the heart of the Flat Garden, was in Professor Tono’s original plan. However, it was not completed until 1980.
When the garden was expanded the old Tea House structure was turned into an exhibit space, and a new, modern, glass-walled Tea House was set near the entrance to overlook the hillside.
In the winter of 1981 it was decided that the Garden could be open year-round, and in 2015 the Garden partnered with architect Kengo Kuma to expand its footprint to accommodate its rapid visitor growth, as well as its ability to immerse visitors in Japanese arts and culture. In April 2017, the Garden’s new Cultural Village opened and featured three new structures—each one LEED-certified—that exist harmoniously with nature both inside and out.
My favorite spots are the Zen Gardens, and the graceful placement of stones, and the raking of designs into the sand. It’s just so calming.
Throughout the Garden’s history, it has been acclaimed by several visiting Japanese dignitaries as one of the most beautiful and authentic Japanese gardens in the world outside of the island nation, as well as one of the foremost Japanese cultural organizations in North America. When His Excellency Nobuo Matsunaga, the former Ambassador of Japan to the United States, visited the Portland Japanese Garden, he proclaimed it to be “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.”
I’d have to agree.