Join AAA
Join AAA
linkedin image
AAA World
Three things: Japanese gardens in the US

Immerse yourself in authentic gardens that offer a mini trip to Japan

Washington Park

Portland, Oregon


With deep cultural ties to Asia, ever-present mist and sloping terrains, the cities of the West Coast—including San Francisco and Seattle in the US, and Vancouver, Canada—are especially hospitable to Japanese gardens. Minimalist arrangements of basalt stones set in expanses of raked gravel along with camera-ready arched bridges and stone lanterns make Japanese gardens instantly recognizable. But Portland’s 12-acre entry goes beyond the expected.


A recent expansion by celebrated Japanese architect Kengo Kuma has introduced a cafe, a gift shop and gallery space, as well as three new gardens that amplify the five original ones designed in 1961 by prominent Japanese landscape architect Takuma Tono.


A winding climb from the street leads to a woodsy park-like setting, where a layered canopy of towering firs seamlessly links the distinct settings, which range from the drama of the Strolling Pond Garden’s iconic bridges to the serenity of the Sand and Stone Garden’s dry landscape. Wherever you wander, an understory of fern and moss provides the backdrop for native Northwestern plants such as trillium, bleeding heart and false Solomon’s seal.


The 400-plus acres of Washington Park also house the Oregon Zoo and Hoyt Arboretum, and the Portland International Rose Test Garden is just across the street.

Fairmount Park

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Designed in 1953 for an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the 17th-century-style residence anchoring Shofuso—whose name translates as Pine Breeze Villa—was reassembled in Philadelphia a few years later on the site of North America’s first Japanese garden.


Built using traditional materials and methods, the house features the only hinoki (cypress) bark roof outside the Land of the Rising Sun, patches of which are periodically repaired by specially trained craftspeople brought in from Japan. It’s a beautiful building, not the least because its low-slung and expansive terraces are the perfect perch from which to enjoy the harmonious compositions surrounding the garden’s island and its tiered waterfall.


The newest garden vista was introduced last spring by the property’s gardeners. Working entirely by hand, they brought to fruition concepts from a recently discovered 60-year-old blueprint by Shofuso’s original landscape designer, Tansai Sano, a traditionally trained eighth-generation gardener and landscape artist from Kyoto, Japan. The months-long project involved moving large boulders from the bottom of the koi-filled pond to create a rocky new “coast” to accommodate a traditional pebble beach.


Garden lovers will also enjoy a visit to the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, an exhibition hall and greenhouse just a five-minute walk from Shofuso.


Morikami Park
Delray Beach, Florida

Situated on land donated by George Sukeji Morikami—one of the last remaining of a group of Japanese settlers who formed an agricultural colony in Delray Beach at the turn of the 20th century—the museum’s collection is particularly strong on objects used in the tea ceremony as well as fine examples of silk kimonos and other textiles. The original museum building, Yamato-kan, which is modeled after a Japanese villa, houses an exhibit on the Yamato agricultural colony.


But garden aficionados make the pilgrimage to explore the 16 acres of lush grounds comprising six distinct environments. Together, these garden settings present a sampling of about ten centuries of Japanese garden history. Strollers encounter scenes as varied as carefully assembled rock gardens, serene retreats filled with dappled sunlight and splashing water, and Western-inspired tableaus of lawns and paved paths populated by flora such as camellias and irises. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Japanese garden without blazing maples and weeping cherry trees, and you’ll find those aplenty, along with pine groves and bamboo stands.


Additional attractions on the property include a bonsai walk, a gift shop, the pan-Asian Cornell Cafe, and the meandering trails and picnic grounds of the surrounding 188-acre Morikami Park.