The Portland Japanese Garden

By: Angel Anderson

Did you know that out of over 300 Japanese gardens in North America, the Portland Japanese Garden is ranked as the second most authentic Japanese Garden outside of Japan? According to Sukiya Living Magazine (JOJG), they asked 41 Japanese garden specialists in 2004 to rank the 25 top gardens in North America. All 41 specialists were told to rank gardens on their natural beauty, human scale, subtleness, and moderation. Specialists were told not to rank gardens on their fame. As a result, Portland Japanese Garden was barely edged out by the Anderson Gardens for the first place.

The Portland Japanese Garden was originally built in 1961 on the location of the Old Portland Zoo. Its purpose was meant both as a beautiful garden for people to enjoy and a symbol of peace between the United States and Japan after World War II. The members of the Portland community agreed on building a garden of tranquility and natural beauty.  The garden was designed by Professor Takuma Tono. He was a professor of landscape architecture from Tokyo Agricultural University. Typically, a Japanese garden only displayed one garden style. Professor Tono wanted to display a variety of garden types, and he planned five different garden styles. The entire design was a layout on the 5 ½ acres as can be seen in the following picture of the Portland Japanese Garden. These five distinct gardens were built over a period of 27 years.

Garden Space


Garden Spaces


The Flat Garden

Flat Garden
Photo by Troy Small

First, there is the calm Flat Garden. This garden was designed to balance the flatness of the ground against the three-dimensional depths of the shrubs, trees, rocks, and small stones. The design takes advantage of the four seasons. Imagine how the autumn leaves create a beautiful, orange-gold landscape.



The Sand and Stone Garden

Sand and Stone Garden
Photo by Wayne Williams

   Second, there’s the tranquil Sand and Stone Garden where the ground is full of sand, gravel, or stone. This Japanese garden style is also referred to as “Karesansui” which means “dry landscape”. This garden style was created in the Kamakura period, and it played an important role in the Japanese aesthetic principle. This Sand and Stone Garden represents the “beauty of blank space” and that’s the meaning of “yohaku-no-bi”.


The Natural Garden

Natural Garden
The quietude of the Natural Garden. Photo by Jack Jakobsen

Thirdly, there’s the rustic Natural Garden, and it’s the most contemporary of all the garden designs. This Japanese garden style encourages people to reflect on the appreciation of life and to remember that life is brief. This style is called “zoki no niwa” because it has many plants not native to Japan. This garden has many deciduous plants to reflect the seasons from the golden, orange leaves in the fall to lush green trees in the summer.


The Tea Garden

Tea Garden
Photo by Tyler Quinn

Fourth, there’s the soothing Tea Garden. It’s a quiet place for observing its natural beauty and relishing the joy of living in harmony. This garden has neatly placed stepping stones accompanied by lanterns throughout the garden. In history, tea gardens were designed as a getaway space from the erratic pace of the real world.



The Strolling Pond Garden

Strolling Pond Garden
Photo by Wayne Williams

Fifth and last, there’s the placid Strolling Pond Garden. Out of all the gardens, the Strolling Pond is the largest of them all. This garden is separated by two ponds, the Upper Pond where you will walk through the Moon Bridge, and the Lower Pond which has a Zig – Zag Bridge that passes through flowerbeds of Japanese irises and the scenic Heavenly Falls. In history, strolling pond gardens were supplementary to the property of aristocrats and feudal lords (known as “daimyo”) in the Edo period (1603–1867), which was the peak of the strolling pond garden’s popularity.


What makes the Portland Japanese Garden special? The Portland Japanese Garden is special because of its history as being created to be a healing symbol between the United States and Japan after World War II. It’s special because of its five gardens designed by Professor Takuma Tono, a Japanese landscape architect, who wanted to reflect all Japanese garden styles in one beautiful garden. Finally, the Portland Japanese Garden is ranked as the second most authentic Japanese garden in North America because of its five beautiful gardens: the calm Flat Garden, the tranquil Sand and Stone Garden, the rustic Natural Garden, the soothing Tea Garden, and the placid Strolling Pond Garden.

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