There’s no better place for you to escape into a world of zen than at the most beautiful Japanese gardens found throughout the US. The traditional Japanese garden is a landscaped work of art with idealized elements and forms once refined by the Buddhists and favored by royalty. From the fountains and bridges to inviting step stones, the most charming Japanese gardens provide you the perfect location to relax on vacation and clear your mind with a walk around the lush green scenery. The natural silence and winding pathways only add to the quaint settings that depict various styles—from the rock gardens for meditation to the stroll ponds and tea gardens. With hundreds of Japanese gardens here in America, its easy to add one to your next trip and see for yourself!
1. Portland Japanese Garden, Portland, OR
Portland’s Japanese Garden in Washington Park is one of the most popular Japanese Gardens in the US. Some even claim that Portland Japanese Garden is the most authentic outside of Japan…and it’s quite easy to see why. It’s five and a half acres holds five distinct garden styles—the strolling pond, the flat garden, the tea garden, the natural garden and the sand and stone garden. This particular Japanese garden is designed to leave you with a sense of ‘oneness’ with the surroundings, as the plants are all kept at a size of human scale. Each feature provides ‘something more than meets the eye’, one of the most important ideas taken from Shinto, Buddhist and Taoist thinkers—the philosophic tradition behind Japanese Garden design. But above all else, a Japanese Garden must have a good stone composition to complete the most refined scenery. This is what Portland Japanese Garden provides for its visitors. A look around this Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon costs $9.75 for adults and $6.75 for children.
2. Shofuso, Philadelphia, PA
The Shofuso Japanese House and Garden is a great place to get acquainted with the Japanese culture inside West Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This particular garden is nationally-ranked and acts as both a historic site of Japanese influence in the US and also as a live museum for those who wish to see traditional Japanese architecture in America. Shofuso was actually built in Japan during the 1950s using original materials and techniques of a 17th Century architect. It was brought to The Museum of Modern Art in New York City to be displayed in the courtyard. Eventually, Shofuso found its way to Philadelphia in 1958 where it remains today—a tribute to Japanese cultural influence. It now holds the site of previous Japanese-style structures and an even earlier Japanese Garden that has occupied this part of the park since the 1876 Centennial Exposition. Now visitors can view the koi pond, stroll about the courtyard and relax in the tea garden at $7 for adults and $5 for seniors, students and children.
3. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO
Located within the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, Missouri is Seiwa-en—a traditional Japanese Garden that captures the idealized, “garden of pure, clear harmony and peace.” The wider Botanic Garden is the oldest in continuous operation in the nation and a National Historic Landmark. The 15 acre Japanese Garden held inside was dedicated in the year 1977. Koichi Kawana designed it so that the lake is centered a the main feature—much like the Japanese Gardens kept by the daimyo or feudal lords of 17th and 18th Century Japan. Within the garden you can see many traditional features from the waterfalls, bridges and islands to raked gravel gardens and stone lanterns. Keep in mind that the Japanese Garden is closed for renovations until the spring of 2014. Missouri Botanical Gardens costs $8 for adults and is free for children 12 and under.
4. Anderson Gardens, Rockford, IL
Anderson Gardens is a fantastic location in Rockford, Illinois to step into the quaint scenes of a traditional Japanese Garden. After traveling throughout Japan, John Anderson was so inspired by Portland’s Japanese Garden that he brought their main landscape architect Hoichi Kurisu to his home in Rockford to design and construct his own personal garden. Now this 12 acre Japanese Garden is a place of serenity and quiet reflect that can be visited by the public from May 1st to November 3rd. Its graceful water features, elegant bridge and koi pond give this traditional garden many unique elements. There is also a sukiya-style tea house and a guest house. Visit Anderson Gardens this spring starting May 1st at $8 for adults and $6 for children.
5. Seattle Japanese Garden, Seattle, WA
Situated on top Capitol Hill at the southwestern end of Washington Park Arboretum is Seattle Japanese Garden. This three and a half acre garden was designed in 1959 and constructed under the supervision of Kiyoshi Inoshita and Juki Iida—a world-renowned Japanese garden designer. The garden displays stone bridges, step stones and a Shoseian Teahouse, which demonstrates the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The koi fish pond and greenery provide a peaceful place to relax in the big city. Seattle Japanese Garden closes during the winter months, so check the website before you go! The garden is open from dawn to dusk, and admission costs $6 for adults, $4 for seniors, students and youth, and children under five are free.
6. The Morikami Museum, Del Ray Beach. FL
Since opening in 1977, this scenic 200-acre garden has become well known for its various festivals and features, including two museum buildings, a bonsai garden, a museum gift shop and the beloved Cornell Cafe restaurant, an Asian-inspired eatery that has been featured on the Food Network. Return periodically to see changing exhibits and various demonstrations throughout the main buildings. The park and museum are named after George Morikami, a native of Miyazu, Japan, who donated his farm to Palm Beach County to be used as a park. Relax and unwind by the artificial waterfall that cascades into a koi- and carp-filled moat or sit in the rock garden for a moment of meditation. Admission is $14 for adults, $13 for seniors, $11 for college students, and $9 for seniors.
7. Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs, AR
This 210-acre botanical garden is located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on a woodland peninsula with 4.5 miles of scenic shoreline along Lake Hamilton. The Gardens feature a Japanese Garden with Japanese maples and tree peonies, a conifer border, and various flower and rock gardens. They have become well known for their beautiful Weyerhaeuser Bonsai Garden, which is hidden from the main trail by a variety of small trees known as bonsais, featuring around 30 miniaturized forms of trees and bushes in trays or shallow pots with species ranging from dwarf pines, elms, azaleas, junipers, to a number of other plant subjects trained in the Japanese tradition of bonsai and the Chinese tradition of penjing. They are closed during the month of January. Admission is $10 for adults, and $5 for children and dogs.
8. Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul, MN
The Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden at the Como Park Conservatory is a living symbol of the peace and friendship that exists between Saint Paul and its sister city Nagasaki, Japan. Infused with true Japanese design, the garden opened back in 1979 and continues to offer a little bit of a Japanese conservatory right here in the heart of chilly Minnesota. The Japanese Garden is open May through September. Admission is complimentary, though donations are appreciated.
9. Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago, IL
The three-island Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden inside the Chicago Botanic Garden helps to bring nature’s tranquility to visitors. You’ll see much symbolism in the plants and hardscape elements, offering a tribute to the beauty of pure form. It was designed as a stroll garden with curving paths, as it discloses its plant treasures gradually. Pines brush up against perfect views of lakes, grassy hills, woods, and gardens beyond. In the dry garden on the island of Kieunto, gravel represents water and plants represent landmasses. The focal point is the traditional Japanese lantern, Ikekomi, with the shaft buried in the ground to look as though it were surrounded by water. Wintergreen Korean boxwood represents the islands behind the lantern. Admission is free, though parking is $25 per car (includes tax), $10 for senior citizens on Tuesdays (includes tax), $30 per van (includes tax).
This 7.5-acre Japanese Garden is located within the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. This garden was built in 1970, with many of the plants and construction materials being donated by Fort Worth’s sister city Nagaoka, Japan. This is where you’ll find a lovely meditation garden, a moon viewing deck, a pagoda, and fishfood dispensers to feed the hundreds of koi in the garden’s ponds. Events include the Spring Festival and the Fall Festival, featuring demonstrations of Japanese art and culture. A nominal admission rate is charged, at $2 for adults, $1 for seniors and children (4-12 years old), and it’s free for children under 4!
11. The Nishinomiya Garden, Spokane, WA
The Japanese Garden at Manito Park, like many of the others, also symbolizes a friendship between a garden in Japan’s city of Nishinomiya. The garden was completed in 1974 and was designed to beatifully revolve around a Koi pond. A pebble path leads you to admire traditional bonsai-looking trees and Japanese sculptures, which are nicely met with the sound of flowing water. Admission is free of charge.
12. Brooklyn Botanical Garden, Brooklyn, NY
The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden is one of the oldest and most visited Japanese-inspired gardens outside Japan. It’s a place where artificial hills (though, seemingly quite real) are contoured around a pond, a waterfall, and a hard-scape rock island. See wooden bridges, stone lanterns, a viewing pavilion, the Torii or gateway, and a one of a kind Shinto shrine. This garden was the first Japanese garden to be created within an American public garden, as it was constructed in 1915. Experience the cherry blossom season from April to May as over two dozen trees from BBG’s diverse collection are planted here. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for seniors (65 and older), $5 for children $12+, and free for children under 12.
13. Carleton College, Northfield, MN
This little–but undoubtedly lovely–Japanese garden is located at the Carleston College in Minnesota. Lichen-covered rocks meet shrubs and ground cover spread over the gently contoured ‘hill,’ producing a harmony which is further enhanced by the ‘borrowed scenery’ of the long-standing arbor vitae in the background. The white gravel is transformed into a lake with rock isles and spanned by a gently-bowed wooden bridge in the dry garden. A five-and-one-half-foot chiseled salt and pepper granite stone lantern, known as ‘Kasuga’ for the shrine in Nara where its style originated, as it greets you upon entrance to the garden. Also admire the attention to detail from the water basin, with its bamboo pipe dripping water where a visitor will pause to wash hands in a symbolic gesture of cleansing. Admission is free of charge.
14. The Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WA
The Japanese Gardens within Bainbridge Island’s Bloedel Reserve is situated on this enormous estate enriched with picturesque scenes of the forest and Puget Sound in the distance. The Bloedel Reserve is an award winning public recreation area with 150 acres of exotic plants, trees and wildlife. The reserve was created by vice-chairman of a lumber company to design a Western expression of Asian philosophies of tranquility and subtlety. The Japanese Garden is only one small site of the larger Bloedel Reserve, which offers a wide variety of styles from reflection pools to forest paths. This particular Japanese Garden is set in sand and rock with bonzai trees and walking paths alongside the pond. Take the day to look around Bloedel Reserve with a short ferry ride from Seattle—it costs $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for students and $5 for children. Children four and under are free!
15. San Mateo Japanese garden, San Mateo, CA
The Japanese Tea Garden is considered to be one of the finest tea gardens in California and was designed by landscape architect, Nagao Sakurai of the Imperial Palace of Tokyo. It features a granite pagoda, tea house, koi pond and bamboo grove. The Japanese Tea Garden is beautiful throughout the year, but be sure to visit in the late Winter and early Spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. It’s located right outside of San Francisco in San Mateo. Come for Koi Feedings at 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, during Spring and Summer (fish are not fed during public hours November – February). Admission is free of charge.
What’s your favorite Japanese garden? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!