When visiting Japan is not an option, the wanderlusting American can always return to the time-honored road trip. The nearest Japanese tea garden is an oasis, designed for lingering in a carefully curated landscape where one can let their mind wander to their dream trip abroad. There are so many places to visit a famous Japanese garden! We’ve decided to commence a strange car trip, in which the most attractive Japanese tea garden will serve as our guide, again and again. It’s one-way from Texas to Washington—who can know what the future holds? What we do know is our starting point: the Japanese garden Houston officials, business interests, and landscape architects which opened 1992, after just two years of development.
To enter this Japanese garden, Houston visitors must pass through the sprawling Hermann Park, one of the oldestin the city. The Japanese Garden is a kind of kayushiki teien, or stroll garden, built to celebrate US-Japan friendship and Houston’s many Japanese residents.
This Japanese garden is a kind of Japanese tea garden-stroll garden hybrid, designed by acclaimed Japanese landscape architect Ken Nakajima. Thanks to Nakajima’s vision, this Japanese tea garden includes such features as the sharp slabs of locally quarried rock. As with any Japanese garden, Houston’s is a place of contemplation. Winding stone walkways make for easy passage through a meticulously constructed five acres. Thoughts pass through the mind like clouds as the eye takes in living art. Japanese maples and dogwoods are planted in the fore; at the edges of the garden, a tall grove of oaks and pines offer solitude.
Eventually, the path leads to a small teahouse which overlooks a pond. Framed by the sliding doors of the teahouse, a pond reflects the surrounding foliage. Framed thus, the scene is a living painting to the visitor indoors.
About 100 years ago, when choosing where to build the city’s Japanese tea garden, San Antonio officials turned to a rock quarry. Designers made remarkable use of existing shapes and materials to create walkways, bridges, a pavilion, and even the foundation for a grand waterfall. Their primary collaborator was Eizo Jingu.
Jingu soon began to serve a king of Texas-style matcha—lightly sweetened, poured over ice, and served with a slice of lemon. Traditionalists might balk at the drink, but today such blending (and bending) of cultures has helped the space to become a Japanese tea garden San Antonio residents can enter and experience as a part of regular life. A full service cafe offers meals and catering. Visitors can linger over the horizontal movement of maple leaves across a tall grey rock...with their dog! The Pavillion, as with other structures in The Japanese Tea Garden, can be reserved for as many as fifty guests. While some festivities might be a bit less contemplative than the original spirit of the Japanese tea garden recommends, the stone columns of the pavilion, darkened in the foreground, still create a “frame” for a living picture: lily ponds, a waterfall, and carefully shaped plants from the world round.
This leg of the road trip was a long one, but well worth it. This Japanese tea garden was originally created as part of a “Japanese Village” 1894 exhibit in Golden Gate Park. Soon after the exhibit, Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara began his development of a “Japanese style” garden, eventually dedicating all of his resources into what is now a five-acre expanse containing familiar figures of the Japanese garden: stone paths for strolling, cherry blossoms, koi ponds, and a zen garden.
Though the principal topic at hand is the Japanese tea garden (and arguably the stroll garden), visitors must pay a visit to San Francisco’s rock garden, karesansui. Though it is only sometimes directly related to Zen Buddhism, this Japanese garden is based on ideals in keeping with a Zen emphasis on inner simplicity. Ripples around rocks represent the water feature in every Japanese garden. Moss and other small trees suggest plant life. The stone garden, composed of ideas, is the perfect subject for meditation.
In 1942, the Japanese Tea Garden San Francisco officials once put into the hands of the Hagiwara family was stripped away during the forced removal and internment of Japanese Americans. Caretaker and architect Makoto Hagiwara never returned to his garden. Perhaps it is something to meditate on.
The Portland Japanese Tea Garden may just be the finest outside Japan, but it hasn’t been easy to build. When Garden Curator Sadafumi Uchiyama was tasked with designing the Portland Japanese tea garden, he used a great deal of creative thinking to manage six months of rainfall while maintaining beauty. Beyond its sheer beauty and careful maintenance, the Portland Japanese tea garden boasts a café, Art in the Garden exhibitions, multiple art galleries, and a Cultural Crossing Village for visitors to experience seasonal arts, community classes, demonstrations, and performances.
The Portland Japanese tea garden is composed of many of tree and plant donations by local residents. Unfortunately, all locals were not so generous. Kinya Hira, the primary garden planter, faced violent anti-Japanese attacks while he helped to transform a former zoo into this extraordinary Japanese garden. He vowed never to return to Portland, but after witnessing decades of the community's love for his project, Hira attended the 2017 opening of the Cultural Crossing Village.
Thanks to the beloved 60-year-old Japanese garden, Seattle draws an additional 100,000 visits annually. This garden is a stroll garden, with stone paths winding through landscapes of islands, mountains, and waterfalls, all crafted with local and Japanese plants and trees. Through the teahouse of the Japanese garden, Seattle residents can explore the Western aesthetic concept of wabi-sabi, an affinity for the imperfect, asymmetrical, unpretentious, and even ugly. At this tea house, visitors can participate in a 40-minute tea ceremony, a rare opportunity outside Japan.
Thus we conclude our one-way trip. There is surely a Japanese garden or two between our stops that we accidentally passed. Wherever you are, dear reader, seek out your local Japanese tea garden. Take a stroll, sit with emptiness, and see where your mind can take you!