Places of Interest: The Portland Japanese Garden

It was one of the hottest summers that Portland had ever had and I thought to hell with the environment, I want global air conditioning and I want it now. Instead I walked into the grounds of the Portland Japanese Garden, one of Portland's cherished tourist spots and found some relief for my eyes. One look at The Flat Garden and I thought about ice cream. Why ice cream? Let me explain. You’re looking at a formal garden made of light sand raked smooth with islands of topiary. Well not exactly topiary. It’s hard to think up precise words when the scene before you is one of complete serenity and timelessness. The trees are trimmed and every bush, plant, and ground placed in a precise way as to evoke contemplation and coolness.

A rake was used to create lines on the sand to emphasize linearity and the shapes of things. It made me think of an ice cream cone, the angular shape of the cone holding the roundness of a scooped ice cream. I’m not sure that’s what the designer intended but walking through the Wisteria Arbor you come upon a large stone pagoda lantern that was given to Portland by its sister city Sapporo. How wonderful that a city has a relationship with another city across the vast Pacific Ocean that makes a Japanese garden in Portland possible.

Photos by Flightkeeper

The Flat Garden
The Flat Garden
The Flat Garden
The Flat Garden
Strolling Pond Garden with Moon Bridge
Strolling Pond Garden with Moon Bridge
Heavenly Falls
Heavenly Falls
Sand and Stone Garden
Sand and Stone Garden

A Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon

As I further meandered to the Strolling Pond Garden and crossed the Moon Bridge my eyes were treated to another delight and I forgot about wanting ice cream and happily enjoyed the view. The sound of gurgling water beneath the bridge completed the sensory experience. The smell of trees and various plants was so good and it was quiet except for the sound of gurgling water, the handrail was smooth to the touch and you wanted to stand there forever looking at an idyllic scene consisting of pond, rocks, plants and trees.

But you can’t because there’s more to see and you don’t want to rush through it. The Portland Japanese Garden is spread over five acres but it seems compact and expansive at the same time. It's perfect for a day trip. Designed in 1963 by Professor Takuma Tono, it houses five types of Japanese style gardens. The Tea House which sits not far from the Strolling Pond Garden was built in Japan using the traditional method and was in and brought to Portland.

To me, the Japanese Garden encouraged looking at nooks and crannies, such as looking for koi around the Zig Zag Bridge only to be lured by the sound of rushing water and being rewarded with the Heavenly Falls. What is it about rushing water that pulls you? You can’t help but admire it. For a different experience you walk ahead and you stroll through the pathways in seclusion through the Natural Garden. You go up and down steps and pass streams and stone lanterns and you’re totally enveloped by nature. You’re not even aware of the city just outside the Garden except for the occasional hum of a car. As you stroll along you come to the Sand and Stone Garden and you wonder if it really counts as a garden if there’s no tree or plant in it. But you appreciate the different definition of a garden because you recognize that stone and sand are still part of nature and an abstract combination can produce a very pleasing effect. As I made my way out of the Garden I glimpsed downtown Portland and Mount Hood from the Pavilion. My steps slowed and I meandered a little more as I slowly walked toward the exit.

The Portland Japanese Gardens is open seasonally from October 1 to March 11 from 10AM-4PM and 10AM-7PM from April 1 to September 30. Admission is $8 for adults, $6.25 for seniors and college students, $5.25 for kids 6-17.

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