Monday, September 29, 2014

Borrowed Scenery – Portland’s Japanese Garden

Posted by Debby Yoder, Portland, Oregon -- Portland is home to a Japanese Garden rated one of the best outside Japan. It was envisioned in the late 1950s as part of the healing process after World War II. Portland became a sister city to Sapporo, Japan and the garden opened soon after. It is part of the city’s biggest and busiest public green space, Washington Park, a 400-acre facility that included the International Rose Test Garden, the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Children’s Museum, the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, and the Hoyt Arboretum, along with memorials to the Holocaust, Vietnam Veterans, Sacagawea, and Lewis and Clark. 

The park includes miles of trails for hiking and exploring, tennis courts and soccer fields and significant public art. It opened in 1871 and has been expanded several times. John C. Olmstead visited in 1903 and recommended a number of changes of significant impact. Shortly after, a nearby poor farm was declared “decrepit,” its 160-acres were absorbed into the park for the municipal arboretum and a 9-hole golf course. Later, the city relocated and expanded the zoo into this new area, making room for the Japanese Garden.

The Japanese Garden is divided into five distinctive areas, each representing a different type of garden. They reflect the cycles of nature- changes of season, landscape, water levels, and the growth of trees and plants, life and death. Americans notice the unique bridges, lanterns and water basins but the most important elements are the use of stone, gates, water and plants. The pathways are deliberate, created as transitional spaces between gardens, allowing one to prepare for each experience. 

The tea garden is for peaceful reflection and a detachment from the busyness of everyday life. The strolling garden replicates the gardens of residences that were designed to display wealth and status. It includes moon and zig-zag bridges, a waterfall and a large koi pond. The dry landscape garden, in the Zen Monastery tradition, was designed for contemplation and embraces the Japanese tradition of using “borrowed scenery” with its views of Mt. Hood and downtown Portland. The garden is designed to offer something new with each season, embracing the cycles of life and death, and illustrating the beauty of change. No cell phones allowed.

Debby Yoder is a contributor to Social Shutter as well as a Sociology major at Georgia State University. She can be reached at

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