Portland’s World Class Japanese Garden


[ ♪♪♪ ] – Having a Japanese garden
in Portland brings part of another culture that many people in this country
wouldn’t otherwise experience. The garden has a reputation
of being the finest Japanese garden in the world
outside of Japan. Probably one of Portland’s most
important cultural attractions. When I look at the garden,
I see work. JULE GILFILLAN: Head gardener
and Oregon native Michael Kondo has worked at the Portland
Japanese Garden for more than 40 years. Oregon, especially the Portland
metropolitan area, it is amazing for plants — the right amount of sun, rain. We don’t get really severe cold
up here. Everything grows. So this is just perfect. A Japanese garden’s
characteristics mainly are forms and shapes. But at the same time, it’s how those shapes interact
with each other, how the plants
interact with stones, stones interact with the trees. But what’s not there
is also important. The emptiness of a space is just as important
as what you fill it with. [ ♪♪♪ ] – Many of these gardens in Japan
were done in miniature scale. It was in someone’s backyard,
in a courtyard, down an alley, alongside of a temple
or a shrine. And so what that required
was this downscaling of nature so that it was a more intimate
and human interaction with it. Stephen Bloom
is the garden’s CEO and self-described ambassador. In 1959, when Sapporo and
Portland became sister cities, remember, it was less than 20
years after the end of the war. The community was looking for
a way to heal wounds of the war, but also, they were looking for
ways to increase economic ties between Oregon and Japan
as well. [ ♪♪♪ ] Portland leaders suggested
locating the garden on the site
of the old city zoo and commissioned Professor
Takuma Tono to design it. The Portland Japanese garden
truly ended up being the grand masterpiece
of his life. While Professor Tono
did the design, a young gardener named
Kinya Hira did much of the actual
planting. Kinya Hira came in 1963 and was
here for almost four years. And in the early years, when
they were building the garden, they didn’t want all
of the plant material to be brand new. So they would get in their car and they would drive around
the neighborhoods of Portland, and when they found a tree
or a shrub that they wanted for the garden,
they would stop, and they would say,
“Hey, we’re building this Japanese garden,
would you donate that tree?” And so many of our signature
trees in the garden, they were actually donated
out of people’s yards. But not all Portlanders
were generous. Kinya Hira,
while he did his job, had a tough time of it. There was still a lot
of anti-Japanese sentiment. He would come home, and there
might be a gang of people spray painting across
his trailer, “Go home, Jap.” And as a matter of fact,
one night, he was stabbed. He felt very unwelcome. When Hira-san left Portland
three years later, he vowed he’d never return. [ ♪♪♪ ] [ ♪♪♪ ] KONO: What the designer,
Professor Tono, wanted to represent
was the difference in different kinds
of Japanese gardens. Right now, we’re in
the Strolling Garden. You’re hearing the water. It’s supposed to kind of
calm you as you’re walking through. And then as you go down below,
you’ll see the Tea Garden. It’s like you’re looking
at a picture. And you’re looking through
the windows that are open, and it frames the garden. Then from there, we go
to the Heavenly Waterfall. That’s part of the Strolling
Garden. You’re just feeling the water,
the falls, the sound. Actually, when I first
started here, you still had the road
for the Portland Zoo. And the Heavenly Waterfall
used to be a bear pit. It’s where they kept
their bears. I guess my favorite garden
is the Natural Garden. It sounds funny,
but it is difficult to make something look natural.
[ chuckles ] Down there, you don’t use
clipper; you use scissors. And it’s also the one place
where you really have to walk slowly through
to get everything. A pavilion stands in
the garden’s most formal area. It’s known as the Flat Garden
and features views of the shapes, forms,
and empty space characteristic
of Japanese design. The Sand and Stone Garden, another mainstay
of Japanese garden design, is probably the most abstract. This is a karesansui, which means “dry mountain water”
in Japanese. And the rake patterns represent
the ripples in the water. In a Japanese garden setting,
you have to have water, even if it’s in a symbolic
sense. [ ♪♪♪ ] When I begin the raking,
I take a moment and breathe and try to just empty myself of, like, personal things
that might be bothering me. And that’s just what
we encourage for the visitors as well. It’s also a nice place
to meditate and sort of draw your own
conclusions. The Sand and Stone Garden is an oasis of stillness
year-round. [ ♪♪♪ ] The rest of the garden is
in a constant state of change. KONO: Spring is definitely
a favorite for a lot of people, just because you have flowers, and you have the leaves
that are just coming out. Summer is when you really start
seeing the shapes of plants. Fall is my favorite time,
just because when it comes, you just start seeing
the fall colors, and that’s just amazing up here. This Japanese maple
has become a Portland icon. Come here on the right
fall day, and you’ll have to wait
your turn to get a shot. It’s also not unusual
to find folks who have come a long way
to get theirs. Walter Santos drove all the way
from San Diego. Yeah, 16 hours straight. I saw on the website
the colors were going. And so I’m a photographer, so whenever that happens,
I’m there. [ ♪♪♪ ] 30,000 people visited
the new garden when it opened in 1967. Today, that number is closer
to half a million visitors each year. To handle it all,
the garden added a new Cultural Crossing
Village. The Village has places
to shop and eat, as well as space for
performance and education. The multi-year project
was designed by Kengo Kuma and presented garden curator
Sadafumi Uchiyama with as many challenges
as opportunities. One of the most important
features is how we sort of direct
the water. The water runs during
the rain seasons, so six months a year. Then the other six months
is dry. I never built anything
that has that extremes. Sada’s designs had to manage
all that rain, falling onto broad roofs
and paved plazas and down steep slopes, all without marring
the delicate aesthetic of a living garden. [ rain pattering ] At the top, living roof tiles
soak up and slow down the rain. And where pavement runoff
follows gravity, there’s a strategically placed
creek. So this is not just a dry creek. This is really the conveyance
to collect water. And then this one continues
all the way to another creek, and then eventually
into the big tank underneath the parking. So that was a real challenge, and it seems, so far,
it’s working. [ laughs ]
Thanks. At the top of the village,
a traditional castle wall holds back the mountainside
above. It’s made of granite, brought in from right outside
Baker City. And it’s the first full-scale
castle wall built outside Japan. This is a dry stack,
meaning no cement. So it stays in place
by the gravity, pretty much
the weight of each stone. And then when land moves, and these are following the
center of gravity, and settle. So when the earth shakes,
so it moves and settles. GILFILLAN:
So it’s earthquake proof? Well, this is from Japan,
so… [ laughs ]
Earthquake country, right? Even everything else gone,
this will stay. The Cultural Crossing Village
was dedicated in April 2017. Among the visiting dignitaries
was Kinya Hira, the young gardener who had left
50 years earlier. BLOOM: What was truly remarkable
was that Hira-san came and saw how this community
had embraced a garden that they didn’t want
to begin with. So really, he saw
what this garden did in healing the hearts
of the community. And in that, his own heart
was healed as well. It’s this unique combination
of Japanese garden design that’s wrapped
in the Pacific Northwest, in our Douglas firs,
in our cedar trees. That’s what makes it
truly unique. I think Oregonians can be truly
proud of what they have here. When you think about the phrase
“world-class,” this garden stands up
to the best in the world. And not just of Japanese
gardens, but of gardens across the globe.

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