The Seattle Japanese Garden turns 60 with fitting testaments to rebirth and resilience

THE SEATTLE JAPANESE GARDEN, a 3.5-acre public garden within Washington Park Arboretum, is celebrating a very special milestone: It’s turning 60. It takes 60 years to cycle through the Chinese zodiac calendar. In Japan, the occasion is called kanreki and is celebrated as a return to childhood, a rebirth. “This auspicious anniversary seems especially fitting for our garden, which is constantly renewing,” says Jessa Gardner, Seattle Japanese Garden Programs Manager.

Development of the garden, one of the most notable Japanese gardens outside Japan, was a collaborative effort between the Arboretum Foundation and Tokyo government officials in the 1950s. Working from site photos and a topographical map, plans emerged from a team of experienced Japanese designers for an Edo-style stroll garden — a landscape to be experienced from within. A storytelling garden with footsteps revealing a succession of landscape elements and views depicting nature, literature and art. The garden, which opened to the public on June 5, 1960, is managed in partnership by Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Arboretum Foundation.

The garden was designed and built around a traditional teahouse and roji (tea garden) donated to Seattle in 1959 by the people of Tokyo. The structure, which burned in 1973, was reconstructed in 1981 by a Hiroshima-born local craftsman hired to replicate the original teahouse. The new teahouse, named Shoseian (“Arbor of the Murmuring Pines”), opened that spring. Today, the Seattle Japanese Garden hosts one of the most robust tea ceremony programs in North America.

Due to COVID-19, a series of planned celebratory events marking this significant moment in the garden’s history has been rescheduled or shifted online, with rich historical content posting to the garden’s website (seattlejapanesegarden.org), blog and daily updates on various social media channels. As of mid-August, the garden was open to visitors on a timed ticketed entry system (reservations required); tea ceremonies are suspended until further notice.

In an especially fitting reference to rebirth and resilience, the garden has announced a new partnership with the Green Legacy Hiroshima (GLH) initiative. Created in 2011, the initiative is a global volunteer campaign created to focus attention on the peril of weapons of mass destruction and celebrate the resilience of nature by sharing seeds and saplings from trees that survived the bombing of Hiroshima.

Earlier this year, “peace tree” seeds arrived safely into the care of Ray Larson, Curator of Living Collections with UW Botanic Gardens, who is overseeing a team of professional and volunteer horticulturists who are carefully tending seedlings of Camelia, Celtis, Diospyros, Ginkgo and Ilex. Once the plants are large enough, they will be planted in the Seattle Japanese Garden near plaques describing their important history. “During the last 60 years, the garden has been a welcome source of respite and rejuvenation for the community,” says Jane Stonecipher, Arboretum Foundation executive director. “We hope that the Hiroshima seedlings will continue to serve as a reminder for peace and inspiration in the decades that follow.”

Join the Seattle Japanese Garden in celebrating the past, present

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