Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Japanese Garden celebrates 50 years

The Japanese Garden in the Arboretum is about to end its winter hiatus, reopening on Sunday, February 14, for its 50th Anniversary season. Rated by a garden journal as one of the ten most favorite Japanese gardens in the country, Seattle’s Japanese Garden was inaugurated in July 1960, after only four months of construction. It’s now ready to celebrate a half century of giving pleasure to visitors seeking sanctuary and a connection to nature.

The concept of adding a Japanese Garden to the Arboretum goes back to 1937, but it took another twenty years for the idea to gain enough popular support to enable fundraising to begin for the project (a war against Japan had intervened). In 1959, with funds in hand and the design completed, Juki Iida and Nobumasa Kitamura were hired to build the garden, which originally was scheduled to take up to three years to complete. Using heavy construction equipment, a somewhat scaled-back design, and a capable crew of mostly Japanese-American gardeners, the builders transformed an Arboretum ravine into a colorful and tranquil garden, offset by boulders, water features and formal elements. And they did it all in record time. (That’s Juki Iida in the photo below, standing on the site during the construction).

The original design of the Garden was by the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Department, and Iida carried out the scheme by installing in a combination of traditional Japanese plantings, such as maples, gingko and bamboo, and Pacific Northwest natives, such as rhododendrons, azaleas, and cedars. In 1959, a hand-built teahouse was added to the Japanese Garden, the gift of the people of Tokyo. A fire destroyed the teahouse in 1973, but it was rebuilt in 1981 with the help of the Arboretum Foundation and Urasenke Foundation of Kyoto. The Garden itself was significantly renovated earlier this century, after over forty years which saw little change. Koichi Kobayashi, who undertook the renovation, called the Arboretum gem “one of the finest Japanese gardens to be constructed outside Japan.”

You will get an opportunity to view the Japanese Garden for the first time this year when it reopens one week from this Sunday (on February 14), at 11:00 a.m. There will be formal tours of the Garden at both noon and 2:00 p.m. on opening day, as well as a Shinto/Buddhist Opening Blessing at 1 p.m. Information on the Japanese Garden, including hours and scheduled events, is available here. There is also a nice, short video about the Japanese Garden available from Lonely Planet TV . The narrator sums up the Garden as an example of one of the “few places left in which you can approach nature in a small area and have it serve as a kind of textbook on life and how to live.”

[Upper photo by jamec199 on Flickr. Lower photo of the Japanese Garden in Winter by Spiral Cage on Flickr. Middle photo of Juki Iida courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives. Information included in this posting was obtained from “Legacy of the Japanese Garden of Seattle” by Prof. Koichi Kobayashi of the University of Washington, available here.]

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