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A Shared Purpose: Portland Japanese Garden & Japan Institute’s Partnership with the Nobel Peace Center

Portland Japanese Garden & Japan Institute CEO Steve Bloom with Nobel Peace Center Executive Director Kjersti Fløgstad during her visit to Portland in 2023. Photo by Jonathan Ley.

Since the establishment of its sibling organization Japan Institute in 2022, Portland Japanese Garden has seen its relationship with many vitally important international organizations blossom. Among these is a globally recognized leader in peacemaking: the Nobel Peace Center. Headquartered in Oslo, Norway, the institution presents Nobel Peace Prize laureates, their ideas, works, inspiration, and devotion. Now, over the past few years, the relationship between Portland Japanese Garden and the Nobel Peace Center has strengthened into a friendship: Nobel’s Executive Director Kjersti Fløgstad has been a keynote speaker at Japan Institute’s London Peace Symposium in 2022 and Portland Japanese Garden’s 60th Anniversary Gala in 2023 and Nobel partnered most recently with Japan Institute for its 2023 peace programming in South Africa.

This international partnership is a new and exciting chapter for Portland Japanese Garden, which has been fortunate to have friends abroad since its founding in 1963. The nonprofit was founded through the actions of local residents—members of Japanese and Japanese American cultural organizations, governmental officials, and civic leaders alike rallied together to transform the site of an old, abandoned zoo into the world-class public garden it is today. Joining these local efforts was a groundswell of support from overseas in Japan. Leaders in Sapporo, Kanazawa, Tokyo, and more were instrumental in offering support. Today, a walk through the Garden sees generosity from abroad manifested through several physical elements, such as the Sapporo Pagoda Lantern.

A stone lantern stylized as a pagoda tower.
The Sapporo Pagoda Lantern as seen in spring. Photo by Roman Johnston.

Founded in the spirit of cultural diplomacy, Portland Japanese Garden’s effectiveness in removing barriers to Japanese culture helped improve the experience of those of Japanese ancestry. This success has gained notice overseas, both in Japan and beyond. One example would be that of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London. The renowned British institution’s leader, Richard Deverell, noted that Portland Japanese Garden has helped him reconsider how gardens can foster peace. “I confess, when this notion was first raised, I hadn’t really thought at all about the links between gardens and horticulture and peace,” Deverell shared at Japan Institute’s London Peace Symposium in 2022. “But, my conversation with [Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute CEO Steve Bloom] seeded that thought and I started to reflect upon these themes.”

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Portland Japanese Garden’s story and status as a successful case study of establishing peace through nature eventually caught the eye of the Nobel Peace Center. The Peace Center’s director, Kjersti Fløgstad, noted how impressed she and her colleagues are with the Garden.

Nobel Peace Center Executive Director Kjersti Fløgstad delivering her keynote address at Portland Japanese Garden’s 60th Anniversary Gala in Portland. Photo by Jonathan Ley.

“The Nobel Peace Center and Portland Japanese Garden share a passion for promoting active citizenship, meaningful dialogue, and encouraging ‘ordinary people to do extraordinary things,’” Fløgstad has noted. “This is a significant reason why at the Nobel Peace Center, we are proud to collaborate with Portland Japanese Garden and its global cultural initiative, Japan Institute. My colleagues and I have taken note of how through their garden, the organization has transformed the perception of Japan in Portland and has fostered the goodwill its early founders sought.”

“Moreover, the organization has proven that by providing an authentic depiction of another nation’s arts, customs, values, beliefs, and practices, cultural organizations have the power to motivate people to engage with ideas that may otherwise feel foreign and alienating. This exposure encourages visitors to consider the impact they can make in the context of a broader global community and discover the connections they may have to people thousands of miles away.”

Partnerships with renowned international organizations is a development that has accelerated since the hiring of CEO Steve Bloom in 2005. Among the many initiatives Bloom introduced to the organization was a deeper and more intentional approach to fostering international bonds with likeminded individuals and organizations. A notable example of this was the establishment of the International Advisory Board, a group of world thought leaders who help the Garden by sharing its mission of inspiring harmony and peace to a global audience, by making connections with other leaders in Japan and around the world, and offering guidance so the organization can maintain and strengthen its renowned authenticity.