Life is busy. We’ve got technology and constant communication at our fingertips at any given moment, plus schedules that would have driven anyone mad a century ago. Wouldn’t it be great to run off somewhere quiet and peaceful for just a few days? Somewhere you could step out of that frenetic pace temporarily for a relaxing,introspective escape? Here’s an idea.
Head to a Japanese garden. Simple, asymmetric designs settle the mind. Elegant natural forms create a sense of balance and purpose. Gently flowing water imparts peace and tranquility. Together, these elegant natural elements recite nature’s environmental poetry in visual verse, calming the mind and soothing the senses.
A hunger to explore the sparse beauty of niwa, or the Japanese garden, is thoroughly satiated with a trip to Japan, where pleasant, peaceful gardens are built to inspire reflection. You don’t really have to book passage to Asia, however, to find such bliss. Many gardens here in the United States offer authentic, refined reproductions of Japan’s most exquisite garden destinations. The best of these gardens have been designed and built by Japanese hands, steeped in tradition and raised in the Japanese aesthetic so essential to creating a niwa masterpiece. East, west, north or south, there are spectacular U.S. destinations with incredibly beautiful plans patiently awaiting your visit.
Inside Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, there are 6 acres dedicated to the art of Japanese gardening. In 1894, a Japanese-born San Francisco landscape designer, Makoto Hagiwara, designed, funded and built the first example of Japanese gardening in the United States for the Midwinter Fair. Designed as a traditional Japanese village,the exhibit was complete with koi ponds, an arched drum bridge, Zen gardens, stone lanterns, pagodas, tea house and stepping paths.
A visit to these exquisite gardens is rewarded with strolling paths, tea ceremonies and lovely mementos from a stylish gift shop. Open daily, with no holiday closures, from (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) during the summer season (March 1 to October 31), and 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. the remaining winter season, admission is affordable with discounts for seniors, children and military.
Take either the bus from the Fulton line, the North Judah Streetcar or the F Trolley from Fisherman’s Wharf connecting to the North Judah, and eliminate the challenge of navigating as a tourist, as well as any problems finding a parking space. If you’d prefer to drive, access the Golden Gate Park through the 9th Avenue entrance from the south, or 8th Avenue to JFK Drive from the north, leading to a garage under the de Young Museum adjacent to the gardens.
Another highly-acclaimed Japanese garden is located in Portland, Oregon. Located in the hills to the west of the city, the Portland Japanese Gardens command 5.5 acres presenting five distinct garden styles. The Sand & Stone, Natural, Flat, Strolling Pond and Tea Gardens each deliver peace and tranquility in their own way, playing with stone, water and plants in a seasonal game of harmony. Simple, asymmetric designs influenced by Buddhist, Taoist and Shinto philosophies create one of the world’s most beautiful examples of Japanese gardening outside of Japan. While you experience the tranquil wash of the gardens, you will also find that the intentionally uneven stepping stones and rough surface transitions keep you physically aware and focused on your presence.
Every third Saturday from April to October, at 1 and 2 p.m., “The Way of Tea” presents the four principles of Chado tea ceremony. Additional events focused on Japanese art and culture are scheduled at the beautiful Kashintei Tea House, constructed without the use of nails, employing only the pegs used in Japan for traditional construction. Please note that food and drink outside of what is provided in the Tea House are not allowed. Public tours last 45 minutes and are offered three times daily in summer between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. and from in winter between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. To get there, take the TriMet bus #63 on weekdays from the Oregon Zoo and Jeld-Wen Field or the TriMet shuttle in summer from MAX light rail station and the zoo. The gardens are also accessible by car from I-405 exiting at Oregon Zoo, bearing right past the Forestry Center and turning right onto Kingston Drive through Washington Park.
Tickets are affordably priced, with children under 5 years old admitted free of charge, noting that some paths are not navigable via stroller. Occasionally, local businesses sponsor free days, so check the Portland Japanese Garden website for special events. If you’re headed to the South, don’t miss the Fort Worth Japanese Garden, located inside the Botanic Garden grounds, featuring 7 acres of pure serenity. Designed to calm and reduce stress, and featuring koi ponds, bridges, pagodas and stepping stones, these gardens will enchant all ages, as the beauties of rock, leaf, earth and water work their magic in stunningly blended arrangements.
Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through March, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. April through October, there are frequent special events. Summer Concerts in the Garden are an exceptional value, with fall offering a lovely mosaic of maples in full color-changing splendor.
These are just a few of the Japanese gardens located around the U.S. Check you’re your local visitors’ bureau to see if there’s a garden near you! Regardless of the season, your visit will be rewarded with stunning visuals and a sense timelessness away from the pace of daily life.
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