Gorgeous grounds, stunning views and an authentic Japanese experience have been delighting visitors to Portland’s spectacular Japanese Garden since 1963. Now, the beautiful 12-acre oasis, which includes five separate gardens with plenty of peaceful seating areas for reflection, a Japanese Tea House, tranquil ponds, and meandering paths perfect for contemplation, has even more to offer. Last month the new $33.5 million Cultural Crossing opened to visitors.
Designed by respected architect Kengo Kuma, the Cultural Crossing’s new buildings provide the perfect showcase for traditional Japanese arts and culture and serve as a venue for family-friendly activities and interesting demonstrations. An already popular attraction is even more appealing with the new expansion project. No wonder the lines for tickets are long. Purchase tickets online and check-in at the membership desk, exchange your voucher for a ticket there, and avoid the serpentine lines that are sure to continue for some time.
Visitors can either take a complimentary shuttle bus or walk up the pathway to the open and airy Japanese Arts Learning Center–the heart of the new project with performance space, library and classroom.
The ground level Tanabe Gallery currently hosts an exhibition of ceramics, calligraphy, and sculpture by former Japanese Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro.
The expansive display, Hosokawa Morihiro: The Art of Life, a Rebirth in Clay, continues in the Pavilion Gallery, which also includes a portable teahouse. Two additional “Art in the Garden” showcases, one featuring Kabuki costumes and the other, Noh masks and costumes, are scheduled for later in the year. The Japanese Garden will host related events and activities associated with both.
Now, to explore these magnificent gardens! The Strolling Pond Garden was our first stop, after a visit to the Learning Center and Gallery. Visitors can walk across the “iconic Moon Bridge” over the Upper Pond and enjoy the views.
Stroll the “Zig-Zag Bridge” over the Lower Pond which is surrounded by iris. It had not quite bloomed at the time of our visit, but was close. The aptly named Heavenly Falls provide the perfect backdrop to the Lower Pond and were a popular “selfie stop.”
Follow the rough stepping stones along a lantern- lined path through the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden to the authentic Kashintei Tea House. Typically, the tea garden is a place to appreciate nature’s beauty and “the art of living in harmony” while leaving the cares of the world behind. This is certainly the case at the Portland Japanese Garden—it is so serene it’s easy to forget you are mere minutes from busy city streets.
The Kashintei Tea House, which is where tea demonstrations and related events are held, was brought to Portland from Japan and reassembled here.
The Portland Japanese Garden has a lovely Sand and Stone Garden, created by Professor Takuma Tono, the Garden’s chief designer in the 1960s. These “dry landscape” gardens are sometimes called “Zen Gardens” because they are often found at Zen monasteries and are meant to invite quiet contemplation. The Sand and Stone Garden here illustrates an important Japanese concept—“the beauty of blank space.”
Recent additions to Portland’s Japanese Garden include the Natural Garden, which features local plants not typically associated with Japanese gardens and depicts seasonal change.
The small courtyard garden (Tsubo-Niwa) and the Ellie M. Hill Bonsai Terrace are both new and located near the Tateuchi Courtyard in the Cultural Village.
The Flat Garden, which highlights each of the four seasons with specific plantings and trees is popular with visitors. The weeping cherry tree on the left represents spring while a 100- year old maple depicts autumn.
After you’ve finished strolling around the gorgeous gardens and interesting exhibitions, stop in and sample the fare at the new Umami Café. During our visit, just a week after the April 2 reopening, the café was not yet serving food but was offering complimentary samples of four delicious teas from Tokyo-based Jugetsudo Tea Company. We were told that light snacks and sweets would be offered in the near future.
When His Excellency Nobuo Matsunaga, the former Ambassador of Japan to the United States, visited the Portland Japanese Garden, he proclaimed it “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan,” according to the organization.
They currently report more than 350,000 visitors annually, a number that will surely grow with the addition of the new Cultural Crossroads expansion. Be sure to add this spectacularly beautiful and serene spot to your Portland itinerary. Visit www.japanesegarden.org for the most up to date information on tickets, events and hours.