Right in the heart of Golden Gate Park, a walk through San Francisco’s historic and authentically crafted Japanese Tea Garden virtually transports visitors to another time and place. Considered the oldest Japanese garden in the United States, spread over five gloriously landscaped acres, a stroll along winding paths reveal an unfolding of classical scenes resplendent with symbolism.
Classical Japanese design
Essential design elements delight: a giant Buddha statue, a manicured rock garden, a picturesque moon bridge over a koi pond, vibrant waterfalls, stately bamboo and bonsai, prettily painted pagodas and handsome stone ishidoro lanterns framing a traditional tea house. See a boxwood shaped into Mt. Fuji, a conifer which is the city’s oldest tree, a fruit-bearing Ginkgo biloba with an unusual past.
With its roots in the Japanese village built for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, the garden also contains items transported from the site of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition held across town. A prominent local landscape gardener was charged with the garden’s beautification, maintenance and expansion over decades, even after major disruption caused by the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.
A checkered past
However, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor followed by the swift evacuation of Japanese residents from California, the family was uprooted. The grounds fell into disrepair, the gardener’s house was destroyed and even the word “Japanese” was erased from the name of the garden. Eventually, a peace lantern to commemorate the US-Japanese peace treaty signed in San Francisco in 1951 was contributed to the garden by Japanese schoolchildren, where it can be appreciated today.
The Hagiwara story
“To honor Makoto Hagiwara and his family who nurtured and shared this garden from 1895-1942” is inscribed on a bronze plaque imbedded in a stone beside the main gate. The way through Golden Gate Park leading to the gardens was renamed Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive.
Free admission is offered to visitors entering the gardens before 10:00 in the morning any Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. At other times, adult admission is currently $7, or $5 for San Francisco residents with ID and for youth, student, seniors concessions.
San Francisco City Guides conduct free daily walking tours of one hour all through the year.