Seattle Japanese Garden: a place where samurai could stroll

Step through the wooden gate of Seattle’s Japanese Garden and you may think you have been instantly transported to Japan. This garden, opened in 1960 but conceptualized five decades earlier, is well-established with trees and shrubs that thrive in both the climate of Japan and Seattle’s climate. It symbolizes the close relationship between two nations that are both separated and connected by the Pacific Ocean.

Like any traditional strolling garden of the samurai golden age (ie, sixteenth to seventeenth centuries), the garden centers on a stream-fed pond surrounded by multiple paths offering varying views. The seasons are marked by different flowers in bloom and by the changing leaves.

Where there is water there must also be bridges. There is an arched stone bridge over one of the garden streams, stepping stones to cross other streams, and other wooden bridges, including a Yatsuhashi (zig zag plank bridge).

There is a large school of colorful koi (ornamental carp) in the pond as well. They seem to know well the 10:00 am to 12 noon public feeding time and gather near the Yatsuhashi in the expectation of tasty morsels dropped by garden visitors (get koi food from the kiosk at the garden entrance). Turtles hover nearby, doubtless strategizing how they will receive their share of the goodies.

On the southern side of the central pond is a moon-viewing platform, a wooden deck jutting into the pond. One can imagine elegant samurai ladies standing there cooing over reflections of the moon in the pond at their feet. Nearby is a trellis of wisteria similarly over the water’s edge. In spring, the hanging bundles of purple flowers must be as beautiful as they are aromatic.

The garden contains a total of fourteen ishidoro stone lanterns in varying styles. Stone lanterns, once lit with candles protected by paper-covered frames fitted across the lantern’s openings, are a key feature of traditional gardens. Many of the garden’s carved granite lanterns were imported from Japan. Two were gifts from Seattle’s Japanese sister city, Kobe, in 1960 when the garden was first constructed.

A secluded inner garden stands near the garden’s highest point, surrounding the Shoseian teahouse. The teahouse and the surrounding garden are only open for traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which is performed on Saturdays as well as some Fridays and Sundays (full schedule available here).

Other garden events include calligraphy demonstrations in the Tateuchi Community Room near the garden entrance. Seasonally, dance and other traditional performances are also offered.

A visit to this garden is an opportunity to travel to Japan without even leaving the United States.

Seattle’s Japanese Garden is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am with closing hours ranging from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm depending on the season. The garden is closed from December through February for winter maintenance. Admission is USD8 (USD4 for children, students and seniors).

© 2022 and Vicki L. Beyer
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