Even in Japan, it would be difficult to find a garden of this quality, says Sadafumi Uchiyama, a national garden consultant.
It’s not just the ability to stroll though five formal garden styles, contemplating raked-sand and an authentic tea house built with pegs, or the unique hillside setting bound by Old Growth Doug firs.
It’s not even the “borrowed scenery” of Mount Hood or the “hide and reveal” philosophy scattered among winding pathways, plantings and stones.
What allows this garden to exist here, in this form, has more to do with Portland's subdued culture, the moist climate and a commitment to livability.
“Let me say it like this,” offers Uchiyama. “Can you imagine, finding this in Texas?
Portland's internationally recognized Japanese Garden beckons visitors from home and abroad to enter its unique confines. Little more than fifty years old, it represents a melding of Japanese traditional garden forms with American hurry. When measured against its inspirational precursors in Japan, many of which are hundreds of years old, the Portland garden has come to a maturity with blinding swiftness.
Japanese gardens have an ancient history influenced by Shinto, Buddhist and Taoist philosophies. The combined emphasis of plants, stones and water are the essence of our Japanese Garden.
There are a number of concepts at work. Much is made of "borrowed scenery", principally the surrounding old-growth forest and remarkable vista across the city of Portland toward the Cascade Mountains and Mount Hood.
Also the concept of "hide and reveal”.
Plantings, placement of stones, and the route of pathways all give the Garden wanderer constantly changing views. The visitor does not gasp in awe of the Garden; the visitor instead is made reflective. The Garden is meant to calm, to soothe.
The Japanese Garden in Portland has its own personality reflected in five formal garden styles set on 9 acres: the Strolling Pond Garden, the Natural Garden, the Sand and Stone Garden, the Flat Garden and the Tea Garden, described below.
Go and take a stroll with them . . .
And you can view the self-guided tour of the Garden HERE.
You are welcome to view the tour on your phones.
Docent-guided Tour times are subject to volunteer availability.
Please note: for the cost of admission and parking fees, your tour driver/guide will go inside with you, if possible, and conduct the self-guided tour for you, if a Garden docent-guided tour is not available, or if you just want a private guide. Your driver/guide will follow the self-guided tour described above, with interesting additions here and there.
pause, pause, pause, before the individual garden descriptions.
Zeze Gate -
Centuries-Old Gate found a New Home at Portland Japanese Garden. The Zeze Gate Will Be the Only Tokugawa (徳川)-Built Gate in the U.S. The Garden has been selected as the recipient of a significant cultural property from Japan - a castle gate originally built at the turn of the 17th century just a few years before the beginning of Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). The Zeze Castle Korai Gate by Tokugawa Ieyasu, or “Zeze Gate” for short, once stood as the southern-most entrance to Japan’s Zeze Castle in Ōtsu.
Aside from being physical protection to fend off enemies, gates in Japan have always had special cultural significance. Geomancy, or the art of arranging buildings within a site, was introduced to Japan from China. Incorporating tenants of feng shui, ancient rulers and feudal lords would place symbolic and decorative gates in spiritually important locations. For example, gates that embodied guardian angels would be situated in northeastern and southwestern quarters as they both were within the devil’s path. In other contexts, they provided a supernatural defense against evil spirits and ill fortune. In geomancy, energy flow, known as ki, is paramount and is present in all Japanese garden design principles. Gates have been viewed as pivotal because ki is believed to come in and out through them. In fact, feudal lords in Japan would pay as much attention to the structure and aesthetics of gates as they did to their tenshu (castle keep).
Stones from the greater Portland area were repurposed within the, Strolling Pond Garden, including those placed in front of the Sapporo Pagoda Lantern in the Strolling Pond Garden. Originally from Dodge Park, an area east of Portland along the Sandy and Bull Run Rivers, these stones are arranged to represent the Japanese island of Hokkaido, a prefecture with the capital city of Sapporo, Portland’s sister city. The sole reddish-hued stone, representing Sapporo, in this tableau was sourced from Terrebonne, Oregon, a stretch of land about 30 minutes north of Bend.
This is the largest of the Gardens. Step through the Wisteria Arbor, which was designed as a frame for the antique 5-tiered pagoda lantern given to Portland in 1963 from Sapporo. The Upper Pond features crane sculptures and is crossed by the authentic Moon Bridge. Walking south the visitor strolls by a creek and comes to the Lower Pond, which holds tortoise and crane stones - common symbols of longevity. The Zig Zag bridge leads through the famed iris beds which bloom in late June. The Heavenly Falls is the final stop in the Strolling Pond Garden. It provides an aural and visual backdrop to the lower pond which holds more than 50 koi. While watching these playful creatures, the visitor stands on seven large stones placed in the pavement: they represent the Big Dipper.
Winding your way down the south hillside you come through the Natural Garden. Here you will discover ponds, waterfalls and shallow streams as they meander under tiny ridges. Trees, shrubs, ferns and mosses grow in their natural state. Along the path visitors will come upon a small bas-relief figure, the only human form in the Garden. It is called a jizo statue representing Bodhisttava who was to watch over people after the death of Buddha. The Japanese jizo represents a kindly and protective deity. In many ways the Natural Garden is the most intimate of the five Gardens. Symbolic of the spiritual journey of life, this is a place where the visitor is enclosed in an envelope of plantings, running water, and views that change with each step.
The Sand and Stone Garden, the most abstract of the Japanese Garden forms, features the stark simplicity of weathered stones rising from a bed of sand ripple raked to suggest the sea. This garden style is typically found in Zen monasteries. It features stones in an arrangement that has often been interpreted as a depiction of the story of Buddha (the tall stone) sacrificing himself to feed starving tiger cubs (the seven smaller stones). William “Robbie” Robinson, former Head Gardener of Portland’s Parks and Recreation Bureau, and one of the most important contributors to the Garden’s construction, told McVicker that the efforts to source the tall “Buddha stone” almost went awry. “I took [the Garden’s original designer, Professor Takuma Tono] up to right around Starvation Creek Park,” Robinson shared, referring to a natural area adjacent to Interstate 84. “There’s a whole mountain that has a wall built to keep the mountain from coming down. There were a few options up there, way up on the loose gravel. One of my sons-in-law went up there and got the Buddha stone started down the hill. All the shell rock that was up there started to come down too. I thought, ‘Oh my god, if this doesn’t stop coming down, it will plug up the highway and Columbia River Gorge. The rocks kept coming down and finally stopped within two feet of the road. We almost had a big disaster.
The Flat Garden, is one of the earliest manifestations of garden design in Japan. Flat Gardens are mostly found in confined areas in cities making our Flat Garden example unusual in its expansiveness. This is a Garden that includes Shirakawa Sand raked in careful patterns representing water. It contrasts grass and moss, along with plantings of evergreens and flowering azaleas all balanced against the contrast of white sand. Amidst the seascape sand are two shapes - a gourd and a sake cup - made up of low-growing plants. These two forms connote pleasure; spiritual and temporal. The circle, which represents the sake cup, also has deep Buddhist significance of enlightenment. The gourd represents happiness. The Pavilion looks out over the Flat Garden, and visitors often meditate under the eaves of the roof.
The Flat Garden features the Garden’s only weeping cherry – a dictate from Professor Tono, who felt its blooms were so dramatic, that more than one would have been too much. This stunning tree is from a nearby neighborhood in Portland. Once belonging to local resident Dr. George Marumoto and his family, the weeping cherry was rescued from a street targeted for expansion. Now nearly 80 years in age and nearly fifteen feet in height, it radiates in hues of bright pink and is a reliable bellwether of spring.
Things seen throughout the Garden:
Expressing a more muted grandeur than the weeping cherry are long, white slabs of granite seen throughout the Garden. These are sourced from the 1966 renovation of the Portland Civic Auditorium, now known as the Keller Auditorium. The Oregonian reported at the time that after a “quiet preservation ceremony,” the granite slabs, previously used as stairs into the theater, were lifted gently out of place and lowered into a truck bound for the Garden. They can be seen today in several areas, including the Eastern side of the Pavilion.
The Garden features so many stones taken from Mt. Hood, that former Garden Director Hoichi Kurisu joked, “Even now on a clear day, we can see Mt. Hood from [the East Veranda], and there’s a little section that is missing. That’s because the Japanese Garden took it all. Most of the river stones came from Mt. Hood. We harvested them in rivers or former rivers, where the water had polished the stones for thousands of years."
Other stones in this garden space were procured to serve as a foundation for the garden’s stucco walls, and are from the Historic Columbia River Highway. The tiger cubs, meanwhile, in the Sand and Stone Garden, were taken from areas off the Wapanitia Pass.
Does anyone have any questions?