Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco – I

Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. Check. This Japanese attraction had been on my list of places-to-visit ever since we did a five-hour city tour of San Francisco, back...
Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea GardenJapanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. Check.

This Japanese attraction had been on my list of places-to-visit ever since we did a five-hour city tour of San Francisco, back in 2010. I remember that September evening when a good chunk of the time allotted for De Young Museum and Japanese Tea Garden was eaten up by some vehicular gridlock that is not new to SF. Even walking a few blocks did not buy us the time needed to be fair to this Japanese garden. We used the few minutes we had, to step into De Young Museum’s Sculpture garden and promised to do justice to Japanese Tea Garden, another day.

That day came and went so now I’m taking you on a tour of the oldest Japanese-style garden in the United States. Called Japanese Tea Garden, this place has all it needs to make it a typical Japanese garden: the miniature trees, the water pools, the sand pools, the bridges, the stone lanterns, the Koi (fish) ponds and traditional Japanese plants to name a few essential elements.

Before I take you into this green oasis, let me tell you that the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco was created way back in 1894 as an exhibit for the California Mid-Winter International Exposition. It was initially a one-acre piece of land that served as a sample of a Japanese Village with a tea house pavilion, shoronomon (belfry gate), ni-kai-yashiki (two-story house) and an exemplary Japanese garden.

Japanese Tea Garden

According to the recorded history of the Tea Garden, the original belfry gate and the two-story house was purchased by San Francisco’s Park Commissioners after the exposition was over. Then some of the village-structures were also dismantled and removed from here. However, Makoto Hagiwara, the landscape designer who is also considered the architect of this garden was allowed to play caretaker of this one-acre area. In the 30 years that he lived there, he is said to have expanded the original village to a five-acre community and making it very Japanese in character.

After he passed away, this place was maintained by his son-in-law Goro Tozawa Hagiwara and later by Goro’s wife (and Makoto’s only child), Takano Hagiwara. However in 1942, the Hagiwara family and the other Japanese people who lived in this village were asked to evacuate and move into internment camps. It is believed that they were not allowed to return to this village even after the end of the war and that several traditional structures were destroyed around that time. Apparently the anti-Japanese sentiment even led to the removing of ‘Japanese’ from the name of the park and labeling it ‘Oriental Tea Garden’ instead.

In the decades that followed, this place saw a lot of changes, thanks to the maintenance by the Park Department and reconstructions of the main gate, the two-story building that is now the gift shop, and the tea house. That apart, several lanterns have been placed all over the garden, a zen garden was created and a pond was redesigned. A miniature Mt. Fiji also came into being here. Today these 5-acres, which are landscaped to impress, not only showcases a Japanese garden but also tells many a tale from Japanese- American history.

Come by Tipsy from the Trip again and I’ll walk you through the oldest Japanese Garden in the US, in my next post. You’ll be fascinated; of that I am sure.

Japanese Tea GardenSee also:

Next post: Japanese Tea Garden- II (Features and Symbolism)
A park so prim and proper – pictures from Japanese Friendship Garden in San Jose, CA.

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41 Comments on this post.
  • Raghav
    14 April 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Great write-up

    • dNambiar
      16 April 2012 at 1:00 am

      Thank you, Raghav.

  • umashankar
    15 April 2012 at 3:48 am

    That was a fascinating narration backed up with perfect photographs.

    • dNambiar
      16 April 2012 at 1:01 am

      Thank you USP, there's more to come. 🙂

  • Abhinav
    15 April 2012 at 4:20 am

    Beautiful photos, and well narrated too !

    • dNambiar
      16 April 2012 at 1:02 am

      Thanks, Abhinav. Your dragonfly photograph is amazing.

  • Sujatha Sathya
    15 April 2012 at 6:31 am

    lovely garden and an equally good post on it

    • dNambiar
      16 April 2012 at 1:03 am

      Hey Sujatha, Thank you so much.
      There's a lot more to see, come by again. The next post is going to be even better. 🙂

  • Seema
    15 April 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Avery informative post with beautiful pictures

    • dNambiar
      16 April 2012 at 1:03 am

      Thank you, Seema.

  • sunil deepak
    15 April 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Looks like a wonderful place to spend some hours in, may be doing zen meditations

    • dNambiar
      16 April 2012 at 1:12 am

      It's beautiful. I guess all Japanese Gardens are :). This one has a Zen garden too; only I didn't get to see anybody doing some meditation there.

  • debajyoti
    16 April 2012 at 4:49 am

    i ll come by again to read about the oldest Japanese garden. lots of information. nicely narrated 🙂

    • dNambiar
      17 April 2012 at 1:24 am

      Please do, you're always welcome. Shall put it up soon, Deb.

  • AmitAag
    16 April 2012 at 4:54 am

    A great write coupled with awe inspiring pics…wish I were there:)

    • dNambiar
      17 April 2012 at 1:26 am

      Thank you. 🙂
      Don't worry, Amit. I show you some California. Just keep coming by this blog 🙂

  • Harsha Chittar
    16 April 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Beautiful it looks so neat enjoyed reading this post and love the pictures 🙂

    • dNambiar
      17 April 2012 at 1:26 am

      Thank you Harsha. I wish I could take pictures like YOU 🙂

  • Shrinidhi Hande
    16 April 2012 at 1:37 pm

    nice pics

    • dNambiar
      17 April 2012 at 1:27 am

      Thank you, Shrinidhi. Visit again, ok 🙂

  • Team G Square
    16 April 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Nice to see this place …. Lovely pictures .

    • dNambiar
      17 April 2012 at 1:28 am

      Thank you so much, Team G Square.

  • Arnab Maity
    16 April 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Wow, this looks like a mini Japan in SFO

    • dNambiar
      17 April 2012 at 1:34 am

      Quite. There's a Japan town in SF. I should check it out sometime. I'd been to Chinatown once and was so impressed. I'm hoping Japantown will also be very Japanese. There's more to this Japanese Garden. Do come back and see it.
      BTW Arnab, I'm waiting for part III of your Munnar Travelogue.

  • Ashwini
    16 April 2012 at 11:30 pm

    This place is on my wish list too. I couldn't make it here during my list trip to SFO. Now your amazing pics made me more anxious. Lovely write-up!!!

    • dNambiar
      17 April 2012 at 1:36 am

      YOU made me want to see Niagara Falls. 🙂

      There's so much to see in SF; so much to do too. Did you like what you saw of SF?

  • Subhorup Dasgupta
    17 April 2012 at 2:04 am

    It was really nice reading about this and seeing the pics. I have read about this garden ages back, both in my reading about gardening, and in my reading on Buddhism in America. Will be looking out for the next post.

    • dNambiar
      18 April 2012 at 11:11 pm

      Wow, so you are into gardening as well? That's so cool.
      Thank you so much Mr. Dasgupta. I'll put up the next post soon.

  • Rahul Bhatia
    17 April 2012 at 10:09 am

    Thoroughly enjoyed the narrative with some very enticing pictures:) You did full justice to the Japanese Tea Garden!

    • dNambiar
      18 April 2012 at 11:12 pm

      Thank you Mr. Bhatia. 🙂

  • Suchi
    17 April 2012 at 10:39 am

    I love Japanese Gardens…this place looks awesome 🙂

    • dNambiar
      18 April 2012 at 11:13 pm

      Very pretty, aren't they, Suchi!

  • Deepu George V
    18 April 2012 at 7:29 am

    The third picture of the Pagoda reminded me of Kungfu Panda II, Kunfu Panda is my son's favorite animation which he watches 24×7 until unless we give him company to play something else…

    • dNambiar
      18 April 2012 at 11:15 pm

      Ha ha! I like the idea: either play with me or get bored watching Kungfu Panda again and again and again. :)So cute.

  • magiceye
    20 April 2012 at 1:29 am

    thank you for a wonderful virtual tour!!

    • dNambiar
      23 April 2012 at 6:23 pm

      It's my pleasure, Deepak. Thank YOU. 🙂

  • Megumi
    14 December 2012 at 3:12 am

    Thanks for the post, wonderful japanese design.
    Here, a gallery in Paris, which has nice japanese art pieces.

  • Japanese Tea Garden – II (Features and Symbolism) |
    5 December 2016 at 11:37 pm

    […] 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 […]

  • Japanese Garden — Features and symbolism | Tipsy from the TRIP
    31 January 2017 at 9:06 pm

    […] Previous post: Japanese Tea Garden – I (A Brief History) […]

  • Cherry Blossoms at the Japanese Tea Garden | Tipsy from the TRIP
    31 January 2017 at 9:35 pm

    […] Posts: Japanese Tea Garden (SFO)- a brief history Japanese Tea Garden (features and […]

  • Japanese Friendship Garden |Tipsy from the TRIP
    1 February 2017 at 12:06 am

    […] Japanese Tea Garden (SFO)- a brief history Japanese Tea Garden (features and symbolism) […]

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