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Japanese Tea Garden
in San Francisco, CA’s Golden Gate Park

The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is the type of Japanese garden known as a wet walking garden, although it includes a Zen garden, or dry garden area as well.

It was first developed as the Japanese Village at the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, or World's Fair, which was held in the area that is now the Music Concourse and is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States.

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The following articles were contributed by
Erik Sumiharu Hagiwara-Nagata
Makoto Hagiwara's great, great grandson.

Pines are a much loved tree in Japan and the symbol of dignified old age. They are picturesquely sculpted by the elements into wonderful shapes in nature. In the Japanese garden, this appreciation for the wild beauty of nature is sought after in the aged and weathered look of pines.
The black pine is the masculine symbol, and the red pine is the feminine. Much attention and care are given the pines in a Japanese garden.
The flowering cherry is the symbol of Japan. It is the flower which is held highest over all others as it embodies the national spirit.
The Japanese maple is a must for any garden of Japanese style. It comes in numerous varieties of all kinds of shapes and sizes. The typical common wild form of delicate green foliage turns vivid autumnal colors. It has long been appreciated by the people of Japan in literature and the arts.
Both the fresh young leaves of spring and early summer as well as the ripening autumn leaves in glowing crimson and oranges turn the landscape ablaze with color beyond description of words. (It is not associated with the cycle of life and death as far as I have ever known)
The wisteria (fuji) and tree peony (botan) are the emblems of high spring. The lavish beauty of the blossoms comes at the peak of the spring flowering season.
The iris in its many species and varieties is also much appreciated. The water iris (Iris laevigata) (Kakitsubata of Japan) is most revered. As is the large flowered showy (Iris ensata) (hanashobu) with brilliant flowers up to a foot across in the purest of whites through pink, lavender all the way to deep cobalt blue violet and darkest purples. There are also bicolors of various patterns and petalages (three being most common as well as six, but even nine or more).
Hydrangeas provide the lush foliage and huge blossom of summer.
The autumn gives praise to the chrysanthemum, (symbol of the imperial house) and the bush clover (Hagi) of the fields. Miscanthus (Japanese pampas grass) is graceful with its plumes of seedheads waving in the breeze.
Winter sees the first camellias against their polished evergreen foliage. The winter sees the flowering plum or apricot (the Japanese Ume) long ago imported from China and most appreciated in the New Year's decoration of felicitous occasion. (the kado matsu/New Year decoration of pine, bamboo, and plum...the three friends of winter floral arrangement) Those blossoms being white, pink, or red in varying shades and petalages singles and doubles on upright or weeping trees).

My family history in brief:
The Hagiwara family is an old aristocratic lineage in Japan. Although once present at court in Kyoto, the family moved residence to the province of Kai (Kai no Kuni—then changed names to Koshu and now known present day as Yamanashi Prefecture) many generations ago.
The area is an inland, land locked section which is known today for its viticulture as well as other seasonal specialties. Quartz crystal (suisho) was once mined here too.
A favorite seasonal confection is the 'Tsuki no Shizuku' (Japn. "Drops from the moon"). This was originally a large black grape covered in a fine confectioners sugar. In appearance it looked like white 'drops from the moon' (a nice poetic name). Present day Tsuki no Shizuku is varied. There are many grape varieties and there is also grape juice and liquer inside the crystalline sugar coating, all quite delicious.
It was Makoto Hagiwara that appeared in the United States originally. The family story recants that he was "Shanghai-ed" off a beach in Japan and awoke onboard a ship on the high seas. The destination was San Francisco. He did various jobs to acquire some means of wealth to contact the family back in Japan and notify them of his whereabouts.
Being an adventurous soul with a character similar to Theodore Roosevelt (and a similar countenance to "Teddy" as well) he stayed in the rough and tumble West and brought the family to San Francisco instead of returning to Japan.
He approached then superintendent John McLaren with the idea of giving a gift to the city of San Francisco in the form of a Japanese style garden. On a handshake, the deal was struck and the rest is history. (The family fortune was spent and lost into the ground as the city never reimbursed the family for its efforts nor costs to build the garden.) The Japanese Tea Garden was begun.
An item of note was that it was his wish to have one thousand cherry blossom trees (Sen Bon Zakura) in the garden. That number is very felicitous in Japanese culture and this was accomplished by my great grandfather Goro (Tozawa) Hagiwara.
Also of high birth, he was a scholarly man. He turned down the post of Minister of Education in Japan to assume the family obligations here. He was of the station that could provide educational instruction to the Imperial family. He traveled all over Japan to make sure the educational system was up to par.
Under his guidance, the dream of one thousand cherries was achieved in the garden. It was the wish to have most of the trees be of the 'Somei Yoshino' type, but the seed proved not to be viable in this climate, so consequently, the type grown was primarily of the Higan Zakura variety (Spring, rosebud, or Equinox) Cherry. Some of the oldest individual cherry trees in Japan are of this type, with certain individuals exceeding one thousand years in age.
As the garden achieved its patina of age, it became an unique and serene place endeared to one and all who have visited it. There were unusual and rare plants as my great great grandfather had a keen eye for the choice plant materials with the means to purchase them.
There was an aviary with exotic birds. Among them was the rare Japanese long tail rooster with feathers up to 12 feet in length. Though rare at the time, goldfish were imported in barrels by ship (along with a keeper to insure the survival of the fish!) and placed in the Shrine moat.
Artisans were brought from Japan to do work in the Garden on the buildings, etc. there were pavilions and bridges also as well as other buildings within the garden. A large bonsai collection was also here.
Tournaments of the Japanese style archery were also held here, as were displays of flower arrangement (ikebana). My family had the unique circumstance of residing in the garden as well.
There was also statuary suited to the theme/feeling of the garden. A wooden image of Buddha housed under an open pavilion was located at the east end of the long bridge. The Shrine was located at the opposite(west) end.
There were lanterns of every sort, stone, bronze and porcelain. The bronze image of the Descending Kwannon (Goddess of Mercy) as well as two bronze eagle statues (spread wings and closed wings/perched) were here. There was a bronze Deva and a carved wooden figure with glass eye...so well done that it looked like a real kneeling figure.
Erik Sumiharu Hagiwara-Nagata


Japanese Tea Garden History
The Japanese Tea Garden owes its' beginnings to a small exhibit of the 1894 World's Fair Exposition at San Francisco.
The site was then called the Japanese Village Exhibit and encompassed about an acre in size. There were various buildings and structures (bridges and gates) on the site as well as a landscaped garden with ponds.
When the Exposition closed, Makoto Hagiwara approached then superintendent John McLaren with the idea of giving a gift to the city of San Francisco in the form of a Japanese style garden. This was happily accepted on a handshake and the Japanese Tea Garden was born.
The grounds were expanded to an eventual 5 acres and structures were also added. There was statuary and lanterns of all kinds within the new garden. The existing pines were shaped and trimmed over the years to pleasing shapes.
Much new planting was undertaken to have everything an authentic Japanese style Tea garden should have.
This is a japanese style tea garden, which has a larger, public exterior area and a quiet, smaller secluded garden area. It is not done in the period fashion of many gardens in Japan. It is also a stroll garden done in the rustic style and also has elements of hill type garden design.
Being a man of stature and means, Baron Makoto Hagiwara was of the aristocracy in Japan, and could bring to the garden things which were not necessarily possible under typical circumstances. He was a natural landscape architect and also a plantsman with a keen horticultural eye for the outstanding plant materials.
He brought to the garden a collection of bonsai from the family estate in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. There were many items of plant materials that had never been seen outside of Japan which were growing here.
An eventually realized dream was the planting of one thousand cherry blossom trees within the garden. They were mostly of the equinox or spring/rosebud cherry type (Higan Zakura), but there were also other varieties. The "golden flowered cherry was here also, as well as weeping types. In the flowering season, the entire canopy of the garden seemed a glow under cherry blossoms.
Erik Sumiharu Hagiwara-Nagata


Erik Sumiharu Hagiwara-Nagata is the great, great grandson of Baron Makoto Hagiwara, the creator of the Japanese Tea Garden, in Golden Gate Park.
He has introduced many unusual and choice plant materials to horticulture. His work includes the reintroduction of quality plants thought lost to cultivation, or simply unknown to the current generation of the gardening public. He has also introduced plants from the Japanese landscape and floral arrangement circles.
Erik holds a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of California at Berkeley, the Fred B. Barlow, Jr. Memorial Award, Chair of the bamboo department of Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, winner of the first place cup by Fine Gardening Magazine for his San Francisco Landscape and Garden Show entry entitled 'The Rustic Japanese Garden'.
Additionally, he has commemorated the centennial anniversary of the Japanese Tea Garden by the donation of over one thousand flowering cherry trees to Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D. C. and the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, CA.
Mr. Hagiwara-Nagata has written and continues to write about choice plant materials, practices design in landscaping, and offers consultations on all the above. He can be contacted via e-mail



Learn more about the Japanese influence in San Francisco on my Japantown and Cherry Blossom Festival pages.
There are two smaller Japanese wet walking gardens across the street from the Japanese Tea Garden in the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.
Tea in Japan by Karen Lee details the history, symbolism, social and ritual aspects of the tea ceremony in Japan.
Seiwa-en is a Japanese Tea Garden located in The Missouri Botanical Garden that has both wet walking garden and dry meditation garden areas and includes descriptions of the symbolic significance of Japanese garden design.
After you've taken a virtual tour of San Francisco on iNeTours.com you might want to take a real San Francisco Tour.
If you take the morning Park Loop Double Decker Bus Tour you can hop-off in Golden Gate Park to visit the California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum and/or the Japanese Tea Garden then hop-on to the afternoon bus to continue your tour. Your guide will explain.
31 pictures and a 360° panorama illustrate this article.

Japanese Tea Garden Temple Gate

John McLaren, who is credited with much of the overall design and development of Golden Gate Park, was approached by Makoto Hagiwara, a wealthy Japanese landscape designer, with the idea of converting the temporary exhibit into a permanent section of the park.
Baron Makoto Hagiwara actually constructed the garden, its pavilions and tea house.
Designed in a rustic style to address the rugged site and its surroundings, the original Japanese Tea Garden included a large public area and small private area for the Makoto Hagiwara family.
This increased the size of the garden to about five acres, considerably larger than the original one acre exhibit. In addition to the landscaping and construction of several structures, Mr. Hagiwara imported many plants, bronzes, goldfish, rare Japanese birds, statues— including perched and spread winged eagles, a Shinto Shrine, a porcelain lantern, a wooden Buddha and much more.
The Hagiwara family lived in, maintained and enhanced the Japanese Tea Garden from 1895 until 1942 and the beginning of World War II, when they were forced to evict and relocate to concentration camps with other Americans of Japanese descent. The garden was renamed The Oriental Tea Garden, many structures were demolished or moved from their original locations, sculptures disappeared and plants died or were relocated.
While much of the original Japanese Tea Garden is gone, there is plenty to see and enjoy today. The name Japanese Tea Garden was officially reinstated in 1952.
A 9000 pound Lantern of Peace, purchased with contributions from the children of Japan, and presented on their behalf as a symbol of friendship toward future generations, was installed in 1953.

lantern of peace Japanese Tea Garden

In Japanese culture, a garden is considered to be one of the highest art forms, expressing in a limited space the essence of nature through the use of specially-selected plants and stones. Often rocks and shrubs are placed to express a traditional symbolic meaning.
The Zen Garden, designed by Nagao Sakurai and representing a modern version of a dry garden—kare sansu—which symbolizes a miniature mountain scene complete with a stone waterfall and small island surrounded by a gravel river, was dedicated at the same time as the Lantern of Peace installation in 1953.

Zen Garden in the Japanese Tea Garden   zen garden stone waterfall and island surrounded by a gravel river

The Buddhist pagoda or "treasure tower" has been moved approximately sixty feet to replace Hagiwara's Shinto Shrine.

Buddhist pagoda

A large bronze Buddha, cast at Tajima, Japan in 1790, was presented to the garden by the S. & G. Gump Company in 1949.

Buddha statue  Buddha close up

The fortune cookie, was first introduced to the U.S. by the Hagiwara family to be enjoyed while taking tea at the tea house in the Japanese Tea Garden. The tea house and gift shop were reconstructed and remodeled by R. G. Watanabe in 1959.

Tea house in Japanese Tea Garden

In 1960 a donation of twelve stone lanterns by Porter Sesnon added to the Japanese Tea Gardens' already notable collection.

japanese tea garden stone lantern and pond picture   water fall, stone lantern

The Hagiwara-Fraser Collection of dwarf trees, lanterns and stones is arranged and planted on the hillside next to the main pond. Many of these items had been the property of the Hagiwara family, entrusted to their friend Samuel Newsom and later sold at the Hagiwara's request. Dr. Hugh Fraser purchased the collection and later returned it from Oakland to the Japanese Tea Garden in accordance with his wife's will. It was dedicated in an appropriate Shinto ceremony on April 1, 1966.

Reflection of dwarf trees, pagoda

A beautifully carved ornamental water basin—tsukubai—in the shape of a boat was added to the garden in 1996. The ancient vessel, originally from a villa near Tokyo that had been destroyed during the war, was a gift from the S. & G. Gump Company.

ornamental water basin, stone boat

The Maple Lane landscape in the garden was relandscaped in 1977 with a new stone lantern and “sprinkled hail stone pavement”—So pavement.

maple lane japanese tea garden picture

A clipped hedge in the shape of Mt. Fuji is the main feature of a landscape added in 1979 and dedicated to Makoto Hagiwara, who came from an area of Japan near Mt. Fuji.

Mt. Fuji hedge, japenese tea garden

In 1985 Mr. Kensuke Kawata was selected as chief designer and supervisor of the restoration of three aging gates in the garden. A new gate was constructed on the site of the 1894 Main Gate entrance.

Japanese Tea Garden main gate  main gate from inside japanese tea garden  Main gate detail photo

The 1915 Temple Gate, located near the pagoda, was also completely removed and rebuilt.

temple gate seen from outside the garden

The South Gate, originally from the Japan exhibit at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, was partially rebuilt.

japanese tea garden south gate

A Long Bridge with rustic style and slightly curved deck, similar to one in the garden during the Hagiwara era, was added in 1988.

long bridge, drum bridge japanese tea garden

Visible below the long bridge in the picture above is the Taiko-Bashi Drum Bridge that survives from the Exposition of 1894. It was built in Japan by Shinshichi Nakatani, a Master Shrine Builder who made two trips to San Francisco and sold his family rice fields to fund the construction.

Japanese tea garden drum bridge  drum bridge in the japanese tea garden  Taiko-Bashi (Drum Bridge) side view

Two Meija era (1868–1912) large bronze lanterns have been located to either side of the Torii Gate since 1912.

Meija era large bronze lantern  Bronze Lantern in Japanese Tea Garden SF GGP

The Hagiwara Gate is a great place for wedding photos. Beyond the gate you will encounter a brick terrace and Sunken Garden on the site of the Hagiwaras' former home.

Hagiwara Gate wedding photograph JTG GGP SF  Hagiwara gate detail picture

Sunken garden in japanese tea garden  Temple Gate & Pogoda refelection

The main pond area, seen in the stone lantern picture (above) and reflecting the Hagiwara-Fraser Collection, Temple Gate and Pagoda (also above), is also home to these Crane Sculptures.

Crane statues

A 360° panorama of the main pond area.

Japanese Tea Garden pond in Golden Gate Park

As you exit the Main Gate you may want to take a moment to view the large stone with bronze plaque designed and executed by Ruth Asawa. The plaque reads "To honor Makoto Hagiwara and his family who nurtured and shared this garden from 1895–1942."

Ruth Asawa plaque in the Japanese Tea Garden

Information for this article came from San Francisco Recreation & Park Department - Japanese Tea Garden brochure (available at the Tea Garden gift shop), and the web site of Erik Sumiharu Hagiwara-Nagata (with his permission).

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