If you have ever been to a Japanese Garden, chances are that you will recognise one the next time you see one, just about anywhere. With their signature bridges, lanterns and Koi ponds, these gardens have ‘Japanese’ written all over them.
The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco also showcases Japanese landscape and all the design elements that lend it its ‘Japaneseness’. A booklet I purchased from the souvenir shop says:
In Japanese culture the garden is considered one of the highest art forms. The garden expresses in a limited space, the essence of nature by the use of specially selected plants and stones arranged in harmony with the landscape. Often plants and stones are placed to express a traditional symbolic meaning, or to display the beautiful seasonal colours of trees and shrubs.
Now let me take you around San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden and show you all that I saw, and share all that I learnt here.
The main gate
This is the present main gate, which was reconstructed in the April of 1985. The original one (of 1894) had to be removed because it had begun decaying. This ornamental wooden gate owes its creation to Kensute Kawata, a temple builder who designed it and supervised its construction.
NOTE: A Japanese Garden is almost always fenced. The idea is to create an enclosure that serves as an oasis of peace and natural beauty. As such, the ‘gates’ play a major role and act as the exit from the outside world and entry into the green paradise.
The Hagiwara gate and Sunken Garden
The Hagiwara gate leads to what is now a Sunken Garden, which lies in the site of the the former home of the Hagiwaras (read about them here). This part of the Tea Garden that is set on a lower level is now home to some miniature trees and a clear pond with fish in it.
Tea House and the ni-kai-yashiki (two-storey house)
|Tea House and Gift shop|
All though they have undergone some restoration, the Tea House Pavilion and the two-storey house are original structures from the Japanese Village that was built for the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. The Tea House continues to serve traditional Japanese Tea and Japanese snacks while the two-storey house has been converted into a souvenir shop.
Long Bridge and Stepping Stone
Bridges and Stepping stones (as seen in the picture on the right) are other inevitable features of a Japanese Garden. Bridges denote the path to immortality and the Stepping Stones symbolise the journey of life.
Zen Garden and Dry (sandy) Ocean
Almost always these gardens have a Zen Garden to facilitate meditation and contemplation. The Zen Garden here in the Japanese Tea Garden, have a miniature mountain with a waterfall and a dry ocean. If you are wondering what a dry ocean is, here is the explanation: since Japan is surrounded by sea waters all around it, the Japanese are said to have an affinity to water. The sand pool, which is raked to create a ripple effect symbolises the ocean and the grassy patch in the middle, an island.
Temple Gate and Pagoda
|Temple Gate and Pagoda|
The Pagoda in San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden is a tall structure you just cannot miss. Having come up to it from the behind, I was hoping that I would be able to get some full-length pictures of the Pagoda. When I got close to it, I couldn’t stop photographing it. I’m sure I’ve got pictures from all angles and close ups of some of the architectural features of this brightly coloured traditional building. A plaque beside it said:
Pagodas are Buddhist shrines usually made of stone, brick or wood. They are derived from the Stupa of ancient India, a funeral mound erected over the remains of a holy man or king. Japanese Pagodas were based on Chinese prototypes introduced into Japan in the 6th century. The first storey in larger pagodas was generally furnished and contained an altar. The upper storeys were plain and unfurnished.
It went on to say that this particular pagoda is a Japanese exhibit from the Panama- Pacific International Exposition of 1915.
The stucture beside the Pagoda is the Temple gate. This temple gate was also a reconstruction by Kensuke Kawata in the mid 1980s.
Bronze Lantern and Peace lantern
|Bronze Lantern (left) and Peace Lantern (right)|
The Tea Garden has two Bronze lanterns near the Pagaoda. These lanterns that have been here since 1912 are said to date back to the Meija era (1868-1912). However they have had some restoration work done on them when the Japanese Tea Garden completed a 100 years.
The Peace Lantern (on the right, in the picture) also had a plaque placed to its side and it read:
This 9000 pound bronze lantern was purchased with contributions from school children of Japan as a symbol of friendship to the United States. Yasusuke Katsuno, the Japanese Consul General, formally presented the Peace Lantern on January 8, 1953. The gift was a commemoration of the US-Japanese Peace Treaty signed in San Francisco in 1951.
Main pond and stone sculptures
Water as a design element is a quintessential one in a Japanese Garden. If there is no water, there will at least be some sand pools to make up for it. Koi (fish) ponds with colourful fish in them is another common feature in a Japanese Garden. Stone sculptures are another commonly used garden decoration as far as the Japanese are concerned.
This bronze Buddha near the Tea house is said to have been cast in Tajima in Japan in 1790. It was presented to the Japanese Tea Garden by S&G Gump Company, an SF based mirror and frame shop.
|Maple Lane and Cherry Tree Lane|
The plants and trees in Japanese a Garden are said to be chosen with great care. These Zen-influenced gardens usually have traditional plants like the Bamboo and lantern plants. You will find miniature trees too. They also have a fine mix of evergreen plants, and seasonal plants that lend other colours to the scene. That explains the Maple and Cherry trees here in the Japanese Tea Garden. I should go back in the Fall to see what these Maple trees would look like then but since I visited this garden in spring, I have enough pictures for a full photo feature on Cherry blossoms. That next.