On our previous visit to the Japanese tea garden we managed to choose a misty autumnal morning. This time we visited in February, which meant we had brilliant spring sunshine, not a cloud in the sky – although it was cold enough that we had to sneak off for warming cups of coffee halfway through our visit.
I think the joy of this garden lies in wandering the paths and letting the vista of trees and water unfold around you. Last time, the leaves were starting to change to yellow. This time, many trees were still bare from winter, encouraging the eye to focus more on the pines and other evergreens, with their sculpted topiary.
Points of interest include the very steep drum bridge (taiko bashi), which was designed and built in Japan by Shinshichi Nakatani (1846-1922) for the 1894 San Francisco Midwinter Fair, where the history of this garden began.
Glorious in their vivid red are the five-tier pagoda and matching ornamental gateway, both acquired after the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The underside of the gate is decorated with a series of painted roundels containing images of flowers.
In a secluded corner lies the Zen garden, designed in 1953 by Nagao Sakurai (1896-1973), a leading landscape architect. This is a dry landscape garden (karesansui) in which the rocks symbolize a miniature mountain scene with stone waterfall, and the raked gravel represents a body of water such as a river.
I think we enjoyed it every bit as much as last time. Our young son was making his first visit and the parts he loved best were the stepping stone paths (tobi-ishi) and the fish (oh, yes).
Japanese Tea Garden
San Francisco, CA
Above: Japanese tea garden, San Francisco. Photo: STF.