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The Arbor Teas Blog

Japanese Tea Gardens in the United States

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Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese gardens are formal gardens designed to create an idealized version of the natural world. Although imported from China by Japanese merchants who traveled back and forth between the two countries, Japanese gardens, and particularly  Japanese tea gardens, are now arguably more famous than their Chinese predecessors.

The Japanese tea garden, or Roji, originated during the Muromachi Period, and were specifically designed for meditation and contemplation before the Japanese tea ceremony . Today, Japanese tea gardens in the U.S. take on many features, not only of the rustic Roji, but of the various styles of Japanese garden, which have evolved over the centuries from the extremely formal and stylized to the more natural.

There are a handful of well-known Japanese gardens in the U.S. that are worth a visit if you should ever find yourself in their vicinity. Here are a few standouts:

Shofuso Japanese House and Gardens in Philadelphia
Designed by the midcentury modernist architect Juno Yoshimura, and commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Shofuso now makes its home in Philadelphia on the site of the first Japanese garden in the U.S., where a pagoda built in the 1876 still stands. The house is surrounded by a 17 th Century style Japanese walled garden with a koi pond and tea garden. Visitors can tour the house and gardens, and take part in tea ceremonies.

Morikami Museum and Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida
Morikami Museum and Gardens was built in 1977 on property donated by George Sukeji Morikami, one of many Japanese migrants who settled in Palm Beach County Florida in the early 20 th Century. Today, the grounds of the Morikami represent the six periods of Japanese garden design, including the Shinden garden, paradise garden, rock gardens, flat gardens and romantic gardens. After strolling through the gardens, you can tour the museum, enjoy a pot of tea or bento at the lakeside café, or even take part in a tea ceremony in the traditional teahouse.

Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco
One of the largest, and most elaborate, Japanese gardens in the U.S. is in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The Japanese Tea Garden was originally conceived as an exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition and was later made permanent, with its designer, Makoto Hagiwara, making a home for himself and his family for many years on the garden grounds. Today, visitors can walk the carefully maintained gardens, view the pagodas, or relax in the teahouse.

Portland Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon
Situated on 5.5 acres of Portland’s beautiful Washington Park, the Japanese Garden is composed of five smaller gardens created in the various styles of Japanese garden design, including the flat garden, sand and stone garden, tea garden and natural garden. The tea garden, of course, leads to the teahouse, where tea demonstrations regularly take place.

Seattle Japanese Garden in Seattle
The Seattle Japanese Garden started with a simple pavilion that was built for the Alaska Yukon Exhibition in 1909 on the site of the future University of Washington Arboretum. Although residents wanted a Japanese garden almost immediately, it wouldn’t be completed for another fifty years. Today, the garden covers 3.5 acres, and includes a stone walking path around a lake abundant with lily pads and surrounded by a variety of bonsai and Japanese maples. There are tea demonstrations and presentations inside the Shoseian Teahouse on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of each month.

Japan House Garden at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
For those in the Midwest, the Japanese gardens at the the University of Illinois' Japan House are a local treasure. Nestled within the arboretum on the University of Illinois' campus, Japan House is dedicated to the study of Japanese aesthetics and traditional arts, particularly the time-honored art form of Chado, or "the Way of Tea". Japan House is surrounded by two styles of Japanese gardens: a dry garden and tea garden. Students at Japan House train in the art Chado, and practice the delivery of the Japanese tea ceremony in weekly ceremonies that are open to the public. The tea garden welcomes guests into the tea house

Until you can make it to one of these gems of Japanese garden design, grab a pot of your favorite Japanese tea from our catalog, and be transported!

[photo credit: Robert Pittman]