Next and final destination of our rainy day sightseeing tour of Seattle was the Japanese Garden. As we pulled into the parking lot the rain eased off a little. I was prepared, this was the first day to try out my Transformer jacket from ScotteVests. The sleeves held in place with the help of the rare earth magnets and after unveiling the hidden hood – I was ready for any Pacific North springtime conditions.
The Seattle Japanese Garden is part of the Washington Park Arboretum. It is located on Lake Washington Boulevard East at the North End of Madison Street. I expected to hear a lot of traffic passing by the gardens, but the strategically planted trees and bushes transformed this green space into an oasis of peace.
With the continued rain sounds were muffled in contrast with the vivid colors that greeted us. As the self-guided tour brochure told us: “The Japanese Garden represents a compressed world of mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, table lands and a village, with each feature conveying a quiet message of its own…”
I am always interested in the history of a place. How did this place come to be and how long has it been here. It is so beautifully integrated into the city that it was difficult to imagine its age. A little research revealed that the Alaska-Yukon Pacific Expedition of 1909 brought a heightened interest in Pacific Rim cultures. The desire to create an authentic Japanese Garden became a dream.
Washington Park had been proclaimed a parkland in 1904. It was not until 1924 that the Seattle Board of Park Commissioners voted in favor of creating a botanical garden and arboretum in conjunction with the University of Washington. As early as 1937 support was evident to create a Japanese Garden as part of the park. In 1959 plans for the Garden were initiated by a sizable gift from an anonymous Arboretum Foundation member. Juki Iida, a highly qualified designer and builder of over 1,000 Japanese gardens worldwide, was chosen to design the Seattle Japanese Garden. Collaborating with six other well-known designers Iida created 34 blue prints for the 3 1/2 acre grounds.
Active building began in 1960 when Mr. Iida arrived from Japan and selected more than 500 sizable granite boulders from the Cascade Mountains near Snoqualmie Pass. The team went through excruciating efforts to protect these boulders with bamboo matting to avoid scratches during transit. The boulders varied in weight from 1,000 pounds to in excess of 11 tons. Thousands of plants, including azaleas rhododendrons, camellias and other evergreens, flowering fruit trees, mosses and ferns were personally arranged and placed by the designer to reflect diverse landscapes found in Japan.
The original teahouse (found at the entrance to the Garden) was a gift from the people of Tokyo. It was carefully hand crafted in Japan by the Shimizu Company and reassembled on site. Unfortunately fire destroyed the original building in 1973. With the help of the Arboretum Foundation and the Urasenke Foundation of Kyoto it was rebuilt in 1981. The name of the teahouse, “Shoseian” means “Arbor of the Murmuring Pines.”
After many years of managing the Japanese Garden management was transferred from the University of Washington to the owner of the grounds, Seattle Parks and Recreation, in 1981. Fundraising continues as the Garden expands with structures such as the Gate House Village added in 2010.
Join me now as I share the vistas captured on a rainy day in May. Let it be your meditation without walking or talking. Enjoy the peaceful landscape!