Japanese Gardens: San Fransisco / by Michael Zwack

With a recent shift toward a more mindful approach to life, the greater my appreciation for simplicity has become.  As an introvert, I often find myself retreating from the noise and distractions of daily life.  Always searching for a sense of calm, I often make my way to the local Japanese tea gardens, to bask in a welcoming comfort absent from the frenzy of city life; minimal retreats used to reclaim the senses and reflect on life's most important questions.  Having been first introduced to such zen escapes years ago, it wasn't until visiting Japan in 2006, that their influence took hold. 

Fortunately, one doesn't need to travel such distance, as most moderately sized urban centers tend to have one tucked away in the confines of the dense and chaotic sprawl.  Here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul neighboring area, locals have the choice of the Ordway Gardens at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, and the Edo-era designed garden of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum...or on a smaller scale, The Japanese Garden at Normandale Community College and Lyndale Peace Garden in Minneapolis.   

Oftentimes when flying to a new city, trying as I may to mitigate the sensations, the stresses of travel eventually work their way into what would otherwise be a harmonious experience.  Consequently, one of the first trips I make when visiting a city, is to the local gardens...to wash away the stress and replenish my creative well. 

It was during a recent visit to San Fransisco, while sauntering about Golden Gate Park, I excitedly happened upon the oldest public tea garden in the United States.  Not having researched much in advance, the garden's history was a fascinating look into a heartbreaking tale of America's past. 

Buddah Statue.  Japanese Tea Gardens
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Tea Garden Waterfall

The Japanese Tea Gardens, as they're known today, were originally created as a make-shift village for the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894.  Upon the fair's closure, Japanese landscape architect and fortune cookie pioneer Makoto Hagiwara convincingly took control as caretaker; attributing to much of it's current size and design.  Upon his death in 1925, the responsibilities fell to his daughter Takano, who in 1942, along with her family was forcefully interred due to anti-Japanese sentiment following the onset of World War 2...After which, the Hagiwara family were never allowed to return.   

After years of reconciliation efforts, the garden received many structural advancements, replacing many of the Hagiwara's personal affects.  It wasn't until San Fransisco Artist Ruth Asawa presented a plaque in 1974 that honor and recognition would be bestowed upon the original tenants. 

Once again under Japanese management, thousands of visitors now pass through the Temple Gate annually.  Arriving early allows for a crowd-free freedom to soak in the solitude and introspectively walk the gardens...or perhaps a mid-day luncheon under the tea house canopy while sipping hot Genmaicha in the presence of coy will help melt the stresses of the day away.  

Something happens when enveloped in a quiet easiness; looking for an outlet, the mind, void of busyness, can't help but transition inward.  And inward, is where self-actualization and understanding cultivate toward a more harmonious existence.  It is also here that I'm personally at my most creative. 

SF Tea Garden Pagoda

Camera in hand, I find my photographic style beginning to mirror the easiness of the environment, with a detailed focus on the intimacy of the grounds.  More time is spent on composition and mood rather than the sweeping wide-angle shots which have permeated my recent work.  The result of which is a fresh and introspective series of simple images, reflecting the mood of the day and underlying essence of an time long ago.  

Having been cooped up this past winter in the snow-blanketed hinterland known as Minnesota, the freedom to spend my day outdoors walking past tiered wooden pagodas & bronze statues of buddha, while simultaneously watching raindrops patter across koi ponds was a welcome retreat...and a history lesson not soon forgotten. 

Tea Garden Flowers
SF Tea Garden Koy
Green Tea

Free Park Admission 9 a.m. - 10 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 

Open Daily, No Holiday Closures.   

Summer (3/1 through 10/31): 9:00 am to 6:00 pm

Winter (11/1 through 2/28): 9:00 am to 4:45 pm

For more information regarding Japanese Tea Houses and resources used for this article, consider these links:

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