Sapporo, Japan became the sister city of Portland, Oregon in 1958 which spurred an interest in Japanese culture throughout the city. Business leaders in the community and the Mayor of Portland came together to create a traditional Japanese garden to honor their relationship with their Japanese Sister City.
The garden was plotted for the grounds of the old Washington Park Zoo in 1962 and in 1963, the design of the garden was conceived by Takuma Tono, a professor from the Agricultural University of Tokyo. He was the most internationally acclaimed expert on the traditional style of Japanese gardening and spent four years landscaping and cultivating the garden.
Finally, in the summer of 1867, Portland Japanese Garden was open to the public for the first time. There were five separate gardens over 5.5 acres of land for visitors to stroll through or meditate for a while at. The following year the tea house was brought to the garden. This tea house was built in Japan, disassembled and shipped to Portland. Traditional Japanese teas were once frequently had in the tea house.
Ten years later the Portland Japanese Garden added a pavilion in order to host an array of rotating art exhibits. All of the exhibits related to Japanese lifestyle and culture. In 1994 the service center was added on to house the nationally acclaimed garden gift shop. Japanese Ambassadors have visited the garden and remarked at how beautiful and exact the garden was to those that could be found in Japan.
Portland Japanese Gardens is run entirely by volunteers and is a non-profit organization. Over 300,000 visitors explore the gardens every year and in Washington Park.
Portland Japanese Gardens is made up of a series of five distinct styles of Japanese Gardens. Each garden is designed deliberately and in reflection of several traditional Japanese spiritual philosophies such as Buddhism, Shinto, and Taoism. The gardens are also alike in that they incorporate all three elements of a traditional Japanese Garden—stone, water, and plants. Stone is a prominent feature and the most important in the composite of a Japanese Garden. Many of the plots at the Portland gardens feature stone bridges, pathways, benches, basins, and other designs.
The Flat Garden strives to find harmony between the ground and elements of stone and low clipped plants. This design creates a sense of depth with the garden being built around two specific viewing points, the pavilion and the veranda. Sliding Shoji doors frame the garden making the gardens resemble a vivid painting if viewed from the inside.
This garden is particularly unique because of the incorporation of elements represents all four seasons. A Japanese Lace-leaf maple tree that is over a century old represents fall, a cherry tree is spring, and black pines are there for winter. The raked sand gardens resemble waves in the water to represent summer time. The Flat Garden also has many elements of harmony and enlightenment through the use of circle and gourde islands.
The Strolling Pond Garden is meant to be a display of grandeur, representing the wealthy and elite homes that this garden is styled after in Japan. Divided into two parts, the upper and lower ponds are connected by a stream. The upper pond features a large stone bridge while the lower level pond has a bridge that zig zags through beds of Irises. There is also a beautiful waterfall in the lower level.
These types of gardens are specifically meant for strolling through and feature stone paths lined with many different plants, flowers, fountains and other art to see. The Strolling Pond Garden is great for taking a relaxing walk in the shade and feels more like a nature sanctuary than a structured and meticulous garden landscape.
The Tea Garden is more rustic and in set throughout a wooded area. Meticulously placed stepping stones lined with lanterns, wind through the woods to the tea house. This area is meant for quiet contemplation and reflection. The tea house is meant to be a place of tranquility and visitors are encouraged to separate themselves from anything that causes anxiety or stress before entering.
The Tea Garden is divided into an outer and inner garden. Separated using a simple bamboo fence with the tea hour in the center of the inner garden, the garden is two distinct settings. Upon entering the inner garden, visitors are asked to rinse off their hands to symbolically rid themselves of the world outside the garden.
The Tea House is located in the center of the inner plot of The Tea Garden. Built in Japan by master craftsmen, the entire house is made of wood. Not even a nail was used in the construction of this house. Wooden pegs hold the entire thing together such as in traditional Japanese tea houses. Some rooms of the tea house require that guests crawl through a tiny door to enter where they will sit of mats on the floor for their tea ceremony.
The Natural Garden is the most contemporary of all the Japanese garden designs and also the newest addition to Portland Japanese Gardens. This garden is the only one that allows native species of plants, not traditionally found in Japanese Gardens to coexist. The Vine Maple is a particular indigenous plant to Oregon that is used quite frequently in this space.
This garden was originally named the hillside garden because it has a rougher and steeper terrain that may pose slight walking difficulty for some visitors. The garden is specifically designed to have a restorative energy flow through the use of the water ways and the trees that lean into it to direct the energy.
Sand and Stone Garden is exactly what the name suggests, a raked sand garden and large stones. This style of garden has also been called a Zen garden and relies on the beauty of a blank space to foster tranquility and creativity. The purpose of this garden is to allow visitors to contemplate rather than relax, fill their minds rather than release it.
There are several different events throughout the year that Portland Japanese Gardens presents as well as many educational activities for adults and students alike.
Art in the Garden is a program that welcomes artists to display their Japanese inspired or related art. Currently, the themes of Art in the Garden is Bending Nature. This program introduces several artists who use bamboo in different ways in their art works. There have also been demonstrations on splitting bamboo as part of this series and hands on activities for visitors to learn how to work with the plant themselves. Past events have included the themes of Bonsai, Architecture, ceramic, lacquer and many other traditional Japanese art forms.
Garden Workshops and Seminars are offered throughout the year that aim to teach visitors the basics of Japanese and western gardening styles. The workshops are part lecture, part hands on and participants go home with printed materials for reference. There is a lunch break half way through each workshop.
Lectures are typically held in the gardens and cover a variety of topics from art such as calligraphy and ceramics, to Japanese spirituality, architecture and ancient practices.
Haiku Alive! is a program for students who are part of classrooms that appreciate what harmony between self and nature can have on learning experiences. Students are immersed in the art and beauty of the gardens and learn to translate that experience to paper in the form of Haiku, Japanese poetry. Students will engage in three different lesson plans while at the gardens and also receive a guided tour of the property.
Public guided tours are included in admission to the Portland Japanese Gardens. Throughout the warmer months, these tours are offered all day starting at noon. In winter months one tour per day is offered at noon. Tour typically last an hour but visitors should plan on at least two hours of total visiting time in the gardens for parking, visiting the gift shop, and taking a leisurely stroll through favorite spots.
Private tours are offered for groups of ten or more but must be planned at least three weeks in advance to ensure a dedicated volunteer guide for the group. There are discounts offered for groups that pay in advance with a single payment. Private tours are also offered for school field trips.
The Gift Shop is not only for picking up mementos related to your garden experience, but is a great place for shopping Japanese art, calligraphy, jewelry, sake and tea sets, houseware, chopsticks and many other Japanese inspired gifts and accessories.
Donations are always appreciated, but visitors can also take part in a tiered program of membership which give them exclusive access, guest passes, photography passes, free admission for a year, and many other benefits like discounts at other local attractions. The higher the tier, the better the benefits. There are also several members only events that are planned throughout the year.
611 SW Kingston Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97205, Phone: 503-223-1321