Your Complete Guide to the Portland Japanese Garden
by Samantha Cubbison | TRAVEL
One of the biggest attractions of Japanese cities are the serene gardens that you can find there. But you don’t have to be in Japan to enjoy this unique style of gardening. If you’re anywhere in the vicinity, you should definitely take a tour to the Portland Japanese Garden, described by a former Japanese Ambassador as “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan”.
Founded in 1967 on the grounds of a former zoo, the garden provides an oasis of serene nature. The 12-acre site contains five uniquely styled sections to allow visitors the chance to experience all aspects of Japanese garden architecture. When you’re ready to head indoors there is an enviable collection of art as well, so read on to discover what’s in store for the visitor.
The Great Outdoors
If you’ve not been to a Japanese garden before, you might conjure up images of raked gravel and mysterious stone structures. This is a karesansui, or dry landscape garden, which you will find in Portland in the Sand and Stone Garden. The Flat Garden is a step away from the austerity of stone, adding a variety of trees and shrubs, but still very decorative in style. The Natural Garden, however, is a world away: a thicker, lusher, greener eden. Like a luxuriant city park, this form of Japanese garden evolved to represent the country’s wild landscape.
Water is an essential element of Japanese garden design, so the Strolling Pond Garden allows guests to take in the calming reflections of greenery on the lake’s surface. One of Japan’s most unique treasures, the Tea Garden, is the final treat.
The magic of these kind of landscapes is that they are carefully crafted down to the tiniest detail, but with the aim of recreating a untouched natural wilderness. The skill required to create a proper Japanese Tea Garden takes a lifetime to achieve, but fortunately anyone can enjoy it!
Wherever you are in the US there will be somewhere for you to experience a Japanese garden. For some suggestions check out these 12 Stunning Japanese Gardens in America!
In April 2017, the Portland Garden opened its Cultural Village by renowned architect Kengo Kuma. It is an exciting addition to the already flourishing gardens, and allows more space for exhibitions, events, and classes which visitors to the garden are encouraged to join.
This year, expanding on their art-influenced style, the Cultural Village will be hosting Shokunin: Five Kyoto Artisans Look to the Future. The exhibition, celebrating the Year of Kyoto, will be on display until July 8. Five celebrated shokunin (being the Japanese word for artisans) will showcase their Kyoto-style artwork in woodwork, basketry, lacquerware and pottery, offering a taste of the rich culture and tradition that makes Kyoto such a renowned hub of artistic expression.
Once you’ve toured the glorious gardens, the Pavillion Gallery provides a space to enjoy not just the view, but the impressive art collection which is housed in the Portland Garden. It is an ever-changing gallery space, boasting over 40 featured artists since its creation in 2008. The annual series of Art in the Garden exhibitions feature both Japanese and Japanese-inspired American artists alike, which is an excellent display of the countries’ interlacing relationship.
Art Learning Center
The new Jordan Schnitzer Japanese Art Learning Center offers a variety of activities that you can take part in on your day of garden hopping, including ikebana (the art of flower arranging) or wearing a Japanese yukata. The Center also also includes another gallery, the Tanabe Gallery, for when one room full of world-class Japanese art is just not enough!
Once you’ve had your fill of art, you may have cravings of another sort. Happily The Umami Café provides a space of rest and nourishment with an assortment of teas and delectable sweet things from Japanese tea shop Jugetsudo (which also has branches in Tokyo and Paris). The cafe boasts a living roof which was crafted with the influence of age-old thatched roofed fishing huts in mind, helping to absorb rainwater and prevent run-off.
And if you still haven’t had enough tea for one day, a chado (Way of Tea) demonstration is only a short walk away in the heart of the gardens. Learning the various practices and guidelines is a fascinating and leisurely way to spend the afternoon.
For an authentic experience, the Portland Japanese Garden is the perfect place to dive into traditional Japanese arts and gather some botanical flair. For easy access, there is a shuttle that runs every fifteen minutes from the Washington Park MAX station.
Address: 611 SW Kingston Ave. Portland, OR 97205
Admission: $16.95 ($14.95 in winter) with discounts for seniors, students and young people. See details here. No pets allowed.
Hours: 10am to 7pm, Tuesday through Sunday; 12pm to 7 pm on Mondays. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. New Year’s Day open to members only.
Transport: Shuttle from Washington Park MAX station, or by vehicle.