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Reflections on the Seminar: Waza to Kokoro

This is one of the greatest learning experiences I’ve ever had. I never understood before why Japanese gardens were more powerful than others. Now I’m just eager to continue learning.

Sean Peterson, seminar participant, gardener, Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge, Washington

As director of the Garden’s new International Japanese Garden Training Center, I have to say I am still on a cloud after the experience of this year’s 12-day seminar, which finished September 5, 2017.  To spend so much time among so much talent, passion and knowledge is an unforgettable privilege.

Photo by Jonathan Ley

At this year’s sold-out seminar, we hosted experienced garden practitioners from such established Japanese gardens as the San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden, Anderson Gardens, and Duke Gardens. But we also welcomed gifted professionals from landscape architecture, landscape design, construction and horticulture — and while they came to us from different interests and levels of experience, they all arrived with a deep curiosity about the beautiful and transcendent art form that is the Japanese garden.

Our keynote speaker acclaimed author and designer Marc P. Keane. / Photo by Jonathan Ley

We had the honor of hosting visiting instructors from Japan including Kazuo Mitsuhashi of the Garden Society of Japan, and Tomohiko Muto and Mitsuru Yamaguchi of Ueyakato Landscape Ltd. of Kyoto. Our keynote speaker was acclaimed author and designer Marc P. Keane, who gave a talk at the Portland Art Museum based on his new book, Japanese Garden Notes. Garden staff including our curators, Sadafumi Uchiyama and Diane Durston, our project manager, Desirae Wood, our program associate Kanako Yanagi and myself all took active part in the instruction and coordination as well, along with our locally-based tea consultant, Jan Waldmann.

Our locally-based tea consultant, Jan Waldmann. / Photo by Jonathan Ley

We sought to do what all educators should do: nurture curiosity and leave our participants with full minds and hearts wanting to learn more. Our seminar has many threads: lectures on history and Japanese aesthetics, a hands-on stone workshop, a pruning master class, clinics focusing on use of traditional tools and other skills, experiential cultural instruction in tea ceremony and food culture, just to name a few. These threads, though each distinct, are all deeply interwoven – they’re connected. And over the course of the seminar I spent the few spare moments I had contemplating what some of these connections are:

Photo by Jonathan Ley

The connection among Japanese art forms from gardens to tea to flower arranging and beyond in how they define beauty: the significance of empty space; austerity and simplicity; the profound sense of the seasons; the patina of time; the balance in the asymmetrical.

The connection of skills and wisdom passed through generations and kept alive through modern technology and innovation. One of our visiting Japanese instructors showed us in a lecture how the ideals laid down in a medieval garden treatise are being kept alive by a young passionate generation of Japanese garden craftsmen capable of  authentically restoring an eighth-century garden using 21st-century methods. Truly, tradition is not the tending of ashes but the preservation of fire.

The connection between the tasks of designing, building and stewarding a garden — traditionally done by the same craftsman in Japan, but so starkly divided into different professions and expectations here in the West.

And the most important connection of all: that which gardens make between humans and nature. We wanted the seminar participants to use what they learned here to create and care for spaces that give people the experience of joy, groundedness, contentedness and wholeness of mind and spirit that can only come from living as a part of nature – not apart from nature. If we have inspired our seminar participants to do that, we will have accomplished that which we set out to do.

–Kristin Faurest, Ph.D., Director, International Japanese Garden Training Center

Waza to Kokoro (Hands and Heart) is the International Japanese Garden Training Center’s flagship program, consisting of three levels of intensive training seminars that combine hands-on technical learning with cultural instruction and theoretical knowledge. Waza to Kokoro is designed to help garden practitioners working outside of Japan to find authentic, locally-appropriate solutions in design, construction, maintenance, and preservation. Admission is also open to landscape design and construction professionals, and students of landscape-related disciplines. Two seminars – a beginner level and intermediate level — will take place in 2018. The Center is funded by the Japan Foundation’s Center for Global Partnership.

To learn more, contact Kristin Faurest at or keep checking our webpage,