It’s probably no surprise that many of those who make up Portland Japanese Garden’s senior leadership are intimately familiar with Japan. They’ve grown up in Japan, lived there for decades, or traveled extensively. However, for the majority of the Garden’s staff, Japan and Japanese culture have only been experienced second hand.
That is why this January’s Kakehashi Project Exchange Trip was such an exciting opportunity for our organization. Ten Garden managers spent eight days exploring Japanese Gardens and cultural sites near Tokyo, Kyoto, and Kamakura, Japan.
“Visiting Japan was a transformative experience for me. I was taken by the sense of accommodation and generosity of spirit from so many people,” said Brandon Baker, the Garden’s Membership Manager. “The artistry of the design of the landscapes and architecture is unparalleled. I had the recurring feeling of having stepped into a painting.”
The Kakehashi Project is a Japanese government-funded program managed by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE). It aims to build friendship and cooperation between the United States and Japan through people-to-people exchange. While most Kakehashi delegations are made up of students or individual applicants grouped by shared interest, Portland Japanese Garden’s trip was the first inviting a group from a single organization. Because of this, the itinerary was specifically suited to the Garden’s staff, focusing on Japanese gardens and other sites with special relevance to Portland Japanese Garden.
“Early in the trip, we visited Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura, a shrine with strong ties to our Garden. They recently sent their priests to bless the Grand Opening of our Cultural Village,” said Marketing Manager, Tyler Quinn. “The next day, we visited the Nezu Museum in Tokyo which, like our Cultural Village, was designed by architect Kengo Kuma.”
The Kyoto portion of the trip was more focused on Japanese gardens and historical sites. “Visiting places like Katsura Imperial Villa, Kiyomizu-dera, and Ginkaku-ji was a spectacular experience! Previously, I have seen pictures of these places – but to experience them in person was truly magical,” said Desirae Wood, Project Manager and Assistant to the Garden Curator. “Feeling scale, light, and shadow, seeing textures, smelling materials and weather – all combined to create a rich experience full of depth.”
“All ten of us are so grateful to have had this experience,” said Foundation and Corporate Relations Officer, Sarah Yusavitz. “Through varied roles at the Garden, we all had a degree of knowledge of Japan before the trip. However, the first-hand experiences we gained via the Kakehashi program will allow us to more authentically represent Japan and its ideals in our work.”