Since my grandmother died when I was only six years old, my memories of her are somewhat limited. But the ones I do hold are strongly imprinted. A trip to the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco was a favorite outing when I was a child. Grandma Lena lived in the city and this outing fit her frugal nature. Admission was free and we could spend hours there looking at the beauty of nature and its intricate design. One of my favorite architectural elements in the park is the Taiko-Bashi Drum Bridge. Originally built in Japan, it was brought to the garden by its builder, Shinshichi Nakatani.
The garden was first constructed as the Japanese Village display in 1894 as part of the California Midwinter International Exposition. Makoto Hagiwara, an immigrant gardener and official caretaker, designed the majority of the garden. The garden was initially a one acre display for the fair. Hagiawara imported one thousand cherry trees, koi, birds, and other flora and fauna from Japan to turn the experience into a five acre authentic garden for visitiors. It is the oldest public Japanese park in the country. Descendants of Hagiwara also claim that fortune cookies were first introduced to America at the garden via a bakery in the city, Benkyodo.
I remember my grandmother on occasion would buy us a cup of tea which we would sip while overlooking the pond area. Seeing the brightly colored koi, with their scales flashing in the sun, entertained us as we sipped the pungent tea. I have a long time love affair with tea, and the ritual of tea, which I believe was started on these afternoons with my grandmother.
Hagiwara and his family lived in the garden until 1942 when they were forced to leave and relocate to a Japanese internment camp.Many structures were removed or demolished. The garden was not cared for with the same dedication to detail during that time and plants died or were removed. The site was renamed the "Oriental Tea Garden". It held that name until 1952 when the original name was reinstated. Restoration to return the garden to its pristine state began shortly after that.
Each step taken down a path is picture perfect.
My grandmother would bring a little sack of peanuts with us and I would feed the squirrels that skittered through the gardens. Looking back on it now, it was probably not the best thing to do in terms of being ecologically sound, but as a five year old I remember being facinated by the furry creatures that would cautiously inch toward my outstretched hand holding the peanut.
The Japanese Tea Garden is still a highly visited attraction in San Francisco. The beautiful plants, koi-filled ponds, stunning architectural bridges and monuments remain unchanged from my childhood. But some new installations have added to the charm and beauty of the garden.
In 1979 a hedge clipped in the shape of Mt. Fuji was added.
In 1988 a Long Bridge was added.
In 1996 a carved water basin was gifted to the garden from Tokyo.
A plaque honoring the Hagiwara family can be found on a stone in the park.
The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco represents many different things to me: the beauty of nature, the intricacy of design, the complex simplicity found in a cup of tea, and warm memories of a grandmother gone too soon.
(photos from inetours.com and bing.com)