Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese tea garden

California possesses one of the most unique bits of landscape gardening in America — a miniature Japanese tea garden, faithfully reproduced in the prettiest portion of the Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. The garden was opened to the public as a "Japanese Village" exhibit at the Midwinter International Exposition in California in 1894 and accounted as one of the chief attractions. Among the earliest examples of Japanese Landscape Design were the temple groves of Nara.



The exotic garden illustrated the results of introducing the pleasing and picturesque effects of Japanese Gardens in a foreign country. When the fair closed, Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara created a permanent Japanese style garden as a gift for posterity.


Japanese women seated on floor sipping tea.

Three Japanese women seated on floor sipping tea. Circa 1901.
Image Credit: Library of Congress


In 1894, a Japanese gardener, Makoto Hagiwara, and his family were secured for the creation of the exhibit — the design, planting and making of the garden was left entirely in their hands. The tract selected for the garden was covered with a scattered growth of pine trees perhaps fifteen years old, most of which were permitted to remain, but which were considerably altered in appearance by Hagiwara. The ground occupied was nearly an acre in extent. The Japanese family resided in the garden; the ladies, always in native costume, serving tea to visitors for a small charge. At the time, the garden attracted considerable attention to the methods of the Japanese gardener, and thus began a lasting interest in creating Japanese gardens in America.


Japanese Tea Garden landscape plan

Image Credit: Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS)


After the Exposition ended, the Japanese Exhibit was transformed into a permanent park — the Japanese Tea Garden. Hagiwara and his family continued as caretakers and lived at the Garden for decades. In 1942, during World War II, the Hagiwara family was forced to relocate to internment camps with thousands of other Japanese-American families.


historical Japanese-style garden

Image credit:: The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.


This historical Japanese-style garden began as one of very brief growth as compared with the ancient gardens of Japan, but its attractions have been added to from time to time and have increased with its age. The composition of a Japanese garden depends chiefly upon the arrangement of its trees, boulders, paths, streams, bridges and other artificial structures. It is, least of all, a flower garden, and is probably best understood when regarded as a reduced copy of the scenery of a country — conveying the impression produced by a picture.


Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco



Japanese Garden gold fishJapanese Garden LanternsThe Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco is a place dreamy peace filled only with the music of falling waters and whispering winds. There are running brooks, and quiet pools, and water falling briskly over mimic rocks. The gold fish flash and dart about in the limpid waters. Solemn white storks stand among the miniature trees. A stroll on the long bridge spanning the miniature lake reveals hundreds of well-fed goldfish — mostly of the beautiful fan-tail variety. Several narrow, rippling streams of fresh water flow through the grounds, adding greatly to the picturesqueness of the scene. Bordering upon the water's edge are many dwarfed trees, plants and shrubs, each with a peculiar beauty of its own. Resting upon the water are the green leaves of many species of water-lilies and other aquatic plants. The Japanese Tea Garden, on the whole, is the most restfully charming place in all of San Francisco.

For more information visit the Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States at www.japaneseteagardensf.com.


Japanese Gardens TreesJapanese Garden Design

In general, the composition of Japanese Gardens may be treated under two divisions: Flat Japanese Gardens (hiraniwa) and Hill Japanese Gardens (tsukiyama-niwa), both of which may be again subdivided into three different forms called, respectively: Finished, Intermediary and Rough Japanese Landscape Gardens