2023, which marked Portland Japanese Garden’s 60th anniversary, was a memorable and inspiring year. In Japanese culture, year 60 (kanreki) is seen as the beginning of a new chapter, or a rebirth, and is filled with hope and possibilities. 2023 symbolized a year where the efforts of the last 60 years were fulfilled with promises of a bright future. Through the support of our community, we continued to exist as a space to provide respite from the challenges of our busy, modern lives: a place that allows one to be inspired by harmony and peace.
Take a look below at all the exciting events, gatherings, and exhibitions that took place not only here in Portland, but around the world.
Despite it being a rainy and chilly weekend, Portland Japanese Garden saw large crowds come by to celebrate O-Shogatsu, a traditional cultural festival that rings in the New Year. The shishimai (lion dance) was performed by PSU Taiko, hatsugama (first tea ceremony of the year) was conducted, and guests got to try out sumi-e, or Japanese brush painting.
The Garden partnered with textile artisan Judilee Fitzhugh to provide workshops that will have its participants make charming pieces ranging from rabbit bags in honor of the Year of the Rabbit to leaf-printed notebooks. The four-part series began in January and concluded in March.
Local resident and WWII veteran Robert C. Burbank shared his notable and generous donation to Portland Japanese Garden: the Moon Bridge. For more than a year Burbank worked essentially alone crafting repurposed redwood into a bridge that hundreds of thousands have crossed since it was installed in 1991.
A beloved structure tucked away in the Natural Garden, the machiai (sheltered waiting arbor), underwent a long-awaited restoration project conducted under the supervision of Dale Brotherton, an expert in Japanese woodworking with more than 40 years of experience. This project was made possible through the generous support of 250 donors, a matching grant from the Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and Dorothy Piacentini.
In February, a winter storm that surprised local officials and weather forecasters blanketed the Portland metro area with 11 inches of snow. Among the staff present helping tend to the landscape and clear debris and ice was one of our gardeners, Caleb Hendrickson. Hendrickson took some time to take some photos of the Garden covered in its fresh winter blanket.
The Memorial Healing Garden is a bastion located on a nearly 13,000-square-foot plot of land in front of Oregon State Penitentiary’s cellblock C. Beyond its fences is a prison tableau most would imagine from the popular culture they’ve consumed. Large expanses of asphalt are sectioned off by looming towers and barbed-wire fences. But the Garden itself is an entirely different story. With winding paths, pines, raked gravel, a wooden bridge, and pond filled with koi, it hearkens back to many of the most cherished qualities of Portland Japanese Garden.
Because of the careful and diligent maintenance of its grounds by generations of gardeners, facilities technicians, volunteers, and more, Portland Japanese Garden appears as though it has been perched atop the West Hills for as long as Washington Park has existed. It may be surprising to know that the site it sits on today was once the old location of the Portland Zoo, now known as the Oregon Zoo.
After two seasonal residencies in Portland, Japan Institute’s inaugural Artist-in-Residence, Rui Sasaki, exhibited her site-specific works inspired by the natural beauty of Portland Japanese Garden in an exhibition titled Subtle Intimacy: Here and There. Art writer and critic Richard Speer praised the show, noting, “The overall effect is dreamy, mesmerizing, and more than a little elegiac.”
At this year’s Hina Matsuri (Doll’s Day), visitors were welcomed with a traditional display of dolls in the Cathy Rudd Cultural Corner representing the Emperor and Empress with members of the Imperial Court. An ikebana arrangement with peach blossoms was also on display all day, performances were heard from shamisen and singer duo Takohachi Collab Project, and ikebana workshops were hosted by Carolyn Alter, Head Teacher of the Ohara School of Ikebana’s Oregon Chapter.
Misako Ito was hired in the spring of 2023 to oversee Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute’s newly established Japan office in Tokyo at the International House of Japan. “As Executive Director of the Japan office, I will be responsible for establishing a networking framework that will maintain, strengthen, and add connections between Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute and organizations and individuals in Japan,” Ito shared.
Brian Libby, a Portland-based freelance journalist and critic writing about architecture and design, visual art and film, wrote a long and wonderful feature about Japan Institute for Oregon ArtsWatch. Japan Institute is a sibling organization of Portland Japanese Garden established in 2022 that allows us to share and expand on the programs of the Garden more broadly around the world, deepen international partnerships, and continue to engage diverse people through shared experiences and conversations about peace, beauty, and connection of nature.
Portland Monthly journalist Sam Stites covered Portland Japanese Garden in a long and beautifully written feature article. Stites noted, “While spring is a particularly special time for many Oregonians to visit the gardens, there really is no bad time. In fact, each season brings something different. Traditional Japanese gardening relies heavily on featuring the many shades of green present year-round, as opposed to western gardens that highlight explosions of color more prominently, lending themselves best to spring. Japanese gardens use small pops of hue among the evergreen to charm rather than dazzle.”
Saga Goryu Ikebana North America Chapter presented Tomo 友 (Friend) at Portland Japanese Garden in April. A single large mukaebana (welcome arrangement) was placed in the Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation Courtyard in the Cultural Village. Inspired by the theme of tomo, it invited visitors to approach and connect with the arrangement from multiple viewpoints. Logs, stone, pear, pine, and flowers came together and stood apart, interpreting tomo in ways both personal and universal.
Portland Japanese Garden CEO Steve Bloom gave his annual review for members and presented on the organization’s future. This year also featured a special presentation by guest speaker, Dr. Joshua Walker, President and CEO of Japan Society.
The Garden’s 60th Anniversary Gala in Tokyo underscored the organization’s strong connection with Japan, with guests including royalty, ambassadors, International Advisory Board members, and business leaders. Among the guests was Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado, who shared, “For people who want to study Japanese gardens, [Portland Japanese Garden is] the place to go. For people who want to feel those Japanese gardens, that’s the place to go. In Japan you would have to one garden here, another garden there, but there it’s like a museum of gardens, as far as I can see.”
In May, Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute CEO Steve Bloom was the recipient of the Oregon Consular Corps (OCC) Ambassador Award. The OCC is an organization comprised of career and honorary consular officials who have represented foreign nations and jurisdictions in the Pacific Northwest. Each year the OCC, alongside Nike, the Port of Portland, City of Portland, and State of Oregon hosts their Celebrate Trade event, an annual gala that helps fundraise their Scholarship Fund as well as honors organizations and individuals for their contributions to the region’s economic vitality and quality of life.
Kodomo no Hi, also called Children’s Day, featured a range of family-friendly activities including taiko performances, origami workshops, treasure hunts, and displays of koinobori, or cloth carp streamers.
Portland Japanese Garden Chief Curator and Director of the International Training Center, Sadafumi Uchiyama met with members of the Golden Crane Society to converse and dive into his vast wealth of knowledge.
Behind the Shoji is a shopping experience, but the motivation behind offering it ties directly into Portland Japanese Garden’s goals of introducing authentic aspects of Japan to an unfamiliar audience. “I think it speaks to how we’re more than a garden,” Director of Buying and Merchandising Ashley McQuade offered. “We’re also a cultural organization, and this marketplace offers a tangible connection to Japanese culture.
Dr. Calvin Tanabe, a retired neurosurgeon, philanthropist, Portland native, and Portland Japanese Garden Board of Trustees Vice President, shared his story about being only three years of age when he and his family were wrongfully incarcerated at Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho, one of ten American concentration camps constructed during World War II.
“The Professional Gardener Work Exchange Program is a collaborative effort between Portland Japanese Garden and other, similar organizations that align with our philosophy and approach,” shared Garden Curator Hugo Torii. “I work with the leaders of other gardens to create a mutual exchange where gardeners spend time working alongside their fellow practitioners in a new setting. It’s an invaluable experience for these individuals—passionate gardeners can deepen their skills by working alongside each other; we certainly learn a lot from the guests we welcome here.”
While Portland Japanese Garden’s 12 acres are confined to its home city, it manages to transcend its physical boundaries and transport visitors across an ocean to Japan. Amazingly, it does this despite being enveloped by an unmistakably Pacific Northwest forest and featuring elements that have never known a home other than Oregon. Unlike many Japanese gardens around the world that depict one style, the unique collection of five different styles at Portland Japanese Garden required early Garden leaders to motor to locations near and far across the Beaver State to find the right materials.
One of the most cherished elements of Portland Japanese Garden is something millions of its visitors have passed through for decades: the Antique Gate. Situated at the start of the hill of the Entry Garden, the Gate is believed to be about 200 years old and is from Sapporo, Portland’s sister city in Japan. Because of the expert care and maintenance it and its surroundings have received, it would be easy to believe that the Antique Gate has been in its location since time immemorial. However, its installation came nearly 10 years after Portland Japanese Garden opened to the public and only after original plans for it stalled.
In July, the Garden partnered with SoundsTruck NW to bring a first-of-its-kind musical concert to the Garden: Celebrating the Japanese-French Connection. The performance featured Grammy-nominated artist Andy Akiho and was staged in SoundsTruck NW’s mobile music venue.
The International Japanese Garden Training Center is one of Japan Institute’s three programmatic centers and teaches traditional skills and techniques for creating and fostering Japanese gardens. The Training Center’s flagship program is Waza to Kokoro: Hands and Heart, a seminar that educates professionals in Japanese principles of landscape design, construction, and gardening. An intermediate seminar was held in July with lessons including stone placement and pruning.
‘In Praise of Time’ Gathers Whisky and Culinary Experts for Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience in Portland Japanese Garden
Portland Japanese Garden has always simultaneously been, outside of Japan, a place of unparalleled Japanese landscape art and North America’s foremost Japanese cultural organization. Just as the Umami Café offers guests the rare opportunity to enjoy world-class green tea direct from the acclaimed 160-year-old Jugetsudo tea company or how our exhibitions showcase some of the finest traditional and contemporary Japanese artists, the organization is always seeking to broaden understanding of the many fascinating qualities of Japan. In July, the organization turned its attention to one such item: whisky.
Tanabata is one of five seasonal festivals celebrated in Japan since the 8th century, inspired by an ancient Chinese folk legend of two lovers. The Star Festival featured a colorful display of tanzaku, or wish strips, written by Garden visitors, volunteers, and staff that were hung from bamboo in the Crumpacker Family Bamboo Allee. There were also musical performances by Takohachi Q Ensemble (taiko drums, shinobue flute) featuring storytelling of the Tanabata story.
In response to member feedback as well as Multnomah County’s vote to transition leaf-blowers from gas-powered to electric models, the Garden is undergoing a gradual transition to electric leaf blowers, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution. Volunteers, the heartbeat of Portland Japanese Garden, provided over $5,000 to the organization to help purchase two new leaf blowers, including a Husqvarna blower ($400), Husqvarna Charger ($150), Husqvarna Backpack Batteries ($800), and Husqvarna E-Mower ($1,000).
Portland Japanese Garden’s reputation as “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan” is one that has been burnished over the decades by the many dignitaries from Japan who have walked its grounds. To have earned this reputation is something the Garden cherishes and does not take for granted.
O-Bon, the Spirit Festival, is an important Buddhist festival to honor ancestors and pray for the souls of the departed. The souls of the ancestors are believed to return to the world from beyond. The Garden’s O-Bon event featured sutra chanting of the Lotus Sutra by Reverend Zuigaku Kodachi, reading names of the recently departed, and the quiet reverence of toro nagashi (lantern floating).
A highlight of summer festivals in Japan is the bon-odori (盆踊り/ Bon dance). Each region in Japan has their own version of the dance, as well as different music. In Japanese Buddhist tradition, bon-odori is a way to entertain and send off the spirits of our ancestors and celebrate life. Dancers circle the yagura, a high wooden bandstand for the musicians and singers.
On Sunday, September 17, Portland Japanese Garden held a special event to celebrate its 60th anniversary, and KGW-TV, Portland’s NBC affiliate, came to cover it, noting that it showcased the Garden’s “rich history.”
Sunset Magazine published their 2023 Sunset Travel Awards and named Portland Japanese Garden as a winner. In their “Best Nature Experiences” category, the organization was the only public garden listed, joined by jewels of the National Park Service. “Since 1963 this garden has attracted international visitors with its 12 tranquil acres of eight garden styles, a Japanese tea house, view of Mount Hood, year-round events, and its mission of peace and unity,” writes Sunset. “One of the most impressive examples of the art of Japanese landscape design and culture.”
On September 21, the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, Japan Institute held its third Peace Symposium at Japan Society’s headquarters in New York, New York. Global thought leaders presented on topics related to the symposium’s theme of “The Intersection of Culture, Art, and Nature.” Japan Institute’s Peace Symposia series is the signature programming of the organization’s International Exchange Forum and have taken place in global capitals such as Tokyo and London.
Takahiro Iwasaki, a Hiroshima-based artist, became Japan Institute’s second Artist-in-Residence and in September debuted his show, Nature of Perception, which included a new creation of his Reflection Model series. Joining this work was Out of Disorder (Thread through Time), in which Iwasaki depicted the iconic landscape of Portland, Oregon with found and previously used fabric.
Chief Curator Sada Uchiyama Gives Special 60th Anniversary Presentation
In celebration of Portland Japanese Garden’s 60th anniversary, Garden members joined us for a special gathering with Chief Curator, Sadafumi (Sada) Uchiyama to learn about the garden, its history, and intentionality. He was joined by Portland Japanese Garden Board of Trustees Member Dorie Vollum.
History: Portland Japanese Garden’s Original Designer’s Correspondence Reveal Foundational Element Behind His Work
Takuma Tono was born in Osaka, Japan in 1891. Having earned a master’s degree in agriculture from Hokkaido University in Japan and a master’s degree in landscape design from Cornell University in New York, Tono was in his 70s when he was retained by the Japanese Garden Society of Oregon to transform the old site of an abandoned zoo into the space we know today. In his correspondence with the Garden’s early Board of Trustees, we see the earliest efforts of Portland Japanese Garden to be a place of cultural diplomacy, a term that has many definitions but generally be taken as a means of establishing peace and friendship through the mutual exchange of the arts, values, beliefs, customs, and more.
Moonviewing, or O-Tsukimi in Japanese, is the custom of gazing at the full moon and enjoying its sacred beauty. Portland Japanese Garden schedules this beloved annual tradition to coincide with the harvest moon. At this festival, guests anticipate the moonrise with a cup of tea and an opportunity to compose haiku as shakuhachi and koto music wafts through the air.
At the 60th Anniversary Gala we were honored to have 500 people join us at Portland Art Museum. It was an incredible evening where we received a message from actor, activist, and International Advisory Board Member George Takei, a message from Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida delivered by Minister Fumito Miyake of the Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C., remarks on the relevance and need for peace from Nobel Peace Center Executive Director Kjersti Fløgstad, and a musical performance from Grammy Award nominee Andy Akiho. The evening was a tangible reminder of the community that we have built, which transcends the boundaries of Portland, Oregon.
Filmed and produced in conjunction with the Garden’s 60th Anniversary Gala, an interview with Portland Japanese Garden’s first Garden Director, Kinya Hira, was screened and then later distributed online. Hira spoke about his background before moving to the United States and triumphs and tragedies he experienced in Portland.
George Takei Delivers Video Message to Celebrate Portland Japanese Garden’s 60th Anniversary
George Takei, civil rights advocate, best selling author, and actor, sits on Portland Japanese Garden’s International Advisory Board. For Portland Japanese Garden’s 60th anniversary Gala on October 21, 2023, Takei sent a special video message to commemorate the occasion.
There are several elements to the Flat Garden that contribute to its stunning beauty. Among them is the larger of two Japanese maples on its northern side. Symbolic of autumn splendor, this tree arrived at Portland Japanese Garden in November 1972, a generous donation from Mrs. Brown of Sellwood. Alongside a slightly smaller variation, these maples elegantly preserve the memory of their predecessor, the first tree planted in the Garden which had rotted.
After a pandemic-induced hiatus, the International Japanese Garden Training Center brought back an educational opportunity for design professionals: a Japanese garden Design Intensive. This three-day course provided 25 hours of theoretical and hands-on training in the Japanese approach to designing with nature and its modern use and application. On-site thematic Garden tours and lectures offered theoretical instruction in observing and analyzing composition and representations of nature.
The Sogetsu School of Ikebana believes ikebana can be practiced anytime, anywhere, by anyone. Local artists from the Sogetsu Portland Branch created a wide range of styles from basic to abstract which used objects of sculptural intent and character. The three main elements designers used were line, mass, and color, with an emphasis on the designer’s individual artistic expression and creativity.
Mainichi Shimbun, one of Japan’s most widely read newspapers, recently covered Portland Japanese Garden’s history and its plans to educate a new generation of Japanese gardeners through Japan Institute and its International Japanese Garden Training Center. Journalist Akiko Horiyama spoke with CEO Steve Bloom as well as Misako Ito, Executive Director of the Garden’s Japan Office in Tokyo.
Portland Japanese Garden was deeply honored to be the subject of longtime KGW-TV anchor Brenda Braxton’s last report for the network. Braxton, who started at KGW-TV in 1989, interviewed the Garden’s CEO, Steve Bloom, about our 60th anniversary and our plans in the years to come with our global cultural initiative, Japan Institute.
Japan Institute’s fifth Peace Symposium was held on November 30th in Cape Town, South Africa. This gathering explored the evolving role of art, cultural institutions, and public spaces as a platform for peace-building and community engagement. Among those who spoke were Masahiro Katamoto, Consul General of Japan in Cape Town, and Justice Albie Sachs.
There is no more fitting symbol of Portland Japanese Garden’s journey and mission than its Peace Lantern. The message inscribed in the lantern’s salt and pepper granite reads as clearly as the day it arrived: CASTING THE LIGHT OF EVERLASTING PEACE. Like our mission, Mayor Hiranuma’s words are written with an active voice. This reminds us that Portland Japanese Garden and the Peace Lantern are not relics of our forebearers, they are beacons that a community keep illuminated. Short in stature, the Peace Lantern casts a light that reaches across land and ocean to reveal that the path to harmony and peace, both inner and between people, can be taken through the Garden.
Portland Japanese Garden Communications Specialist Will Lerner wrote an article on forest bathing for the November issue of Public Garden, a publication produced by the American Public Garden Association.
Japan Institute of Portland Japanese Garden and Portland State University co-hosted the Portland premiere screening of a compelling documentary film, Edo Avant Garde. In the film directed by Linda Hoaglund, she explored the origins of Japanese artists’ creative efflorescence by filming some of the most closely-guarded Edo-era (1603-1868) masterpieces in museum and private collections across the U.S. and Japan, unraveling how artists hundreds of years ago in one of the world’s most isolated countries captured the natural world in strikingly unique ways.
The Ohara School of Ikebana Oregon Chapter presented Impressions of Autumn – Expressions of the Moon in the Yanai Classroom in the Jordan Schnitzer Japanese Learning Arts Center, a special two-day show that invited visitors to connect more intimately with the moon and gain a greater appreciation of its expressions through flowers.
Japan Institute’s fifth Peace Symposium was held on Monday, December 4th in Johannesburg, South Africa. This gathering explored the evolving role of art, cultural institutions, and public spaces as a platform for peace-building and community engagement. Among those who spoke were His Excellency, Shigeru Ushio, Ambassador, Embassy of Japan in South Africa, and Caryl Stern, Former CEO, UNICEF USA.
On December 5th, Japan Institute, a global cultural initiative and sibling organization of Portland Japanese Garden had the distinct honor of making an addition to the stunning grounds of the Johannesburg Botanical Garden: a Celtis africana.
Portland Japanese Garden has always espoused a stewardship mindset, motivated by the knowledge that it was built to last centuries and have its future led by successive generations. At the end of 2023, Portland Japanese Garden will see the retirement of two seminal figures who have led the organization for more than a decade: Sadafumi (Sada) Uchiyama and Cynthia Johnson Haruyama. Uchiyama has served as Chief Curator since 2021, a title he was bestowed after having served as Garden Curator beginning in 2008. He has also served as Director of the International Japanese Garden Training Center. Johnson Haruyama has served as Deputy Director since 2012.
Guest curated by Dr. Peter Doebler, the Kettering Curator of Asian Art at Dayton Art Institute, Masterpieces in Miniature: The Art of Netsuke Carvings features a selection of never-before-seen netsuke, intricate and miniature carvings that served personal fashion accessories worn on the sash of a man’s kimono. Masterpieces in Miniature draws from our extensive netsuke holdings from The Netsuke Collection of James R. Coonan, Denise C. Bates, and Lurline C. Menzies and The Marian Plumb Miller Collection. The art exhibition, taking place in our Pavilion Gallery, will explore diverse stories that inspired netsuke forms, ranging from gods, heroes, and fantastical creatures to symbolic animals from the natural world.
With 60 years and 12 acres, the enormity of Portland Japanese Garden’s scope and impact may seem too challenging for any one person to accomplish. It is. It required a community effort to build the Garden and it remains a community effort to keep it open. And Portland Japanese Garden always will be open, so long as there are people who understand even a barren and desolate place can be made beautiful and that animosity cannot stand against the power of hope.
Director of Environmental Services for the City of Portland & Chief Curator Participate in Fireside Chat
Ahead of his retirement, Chief Curator, Sadafumi (Sada) Uchiyama reflected on his 15 years at Portland Japanese Garden. Alongside Sada was a special guest, Dawn Uchiyama, his wife and Director of Environmental Services for the City of Portland. Through her 30-year career in public service, Dawn has driven and implemented a wide variety of strategic watershed, stormwater system, and green infrastructure initiatives. Dawn worked with Sada creating the green infrastructure system at Portland Japanese Garden that helps channel water runoff from the top of the Garden to the city’s stormwater treatment system down the hill.