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.
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.