Designed by international expert Professor Takuma Tono and opened to the public in 1967, Portland’s Japanese Garden is considered exceptional, chosen best of more than 300 Japanese-style gardens in North America, Europe, and Australia. Located within huge Washington Park, it stretches over 5½ acres, incorporating examples of both traditional Japanese hill and flat gardens in its five themed mini-gardens.
Working off the ‘hide and reveal’ principle, the garden wanders the hillside, providing an ever-changing aspect: ponds (with and without koi), waterfalls, bridges, lanterns, lush and varied plantings, open lawn, and stretches of sand represent an array of colors, contrasts, and textures. ‘Borrowed scenery’ also forms an important facet. Views across the city from behind the pavilion are particularly dramatic.
Symbolism is applied through placement and relationship of features: architecture, plants, and water. Frequently ‘expected’ is the sand and stone garden, rake lines through sand around stones, representing ocean waves and islands. You’ll find two such gardens here: one more geometrical and abstract, the other more naturalistic, with integrated plantings. But the presence of symbolism is not always obvious to the uninitiated. White stones form the shape of Hokkaido Island (the one resembling a Devil Ray in outline) at the base of the Strolling Garden’s five-tier pagoda, a gift from one of Portland's Sister Cities. The position of Sapporo is marked by a red stone. The seven flagstones beside the koi pond (a fortunate visit will coincide with their feeding--a great photo opportunity) represent the Big Dipper. A brochure providing background and specific information about the garden’s contents is available upon entry.
The garden is stunning in any season. A Japanese garden is meant to be appreciated year-round, and repeat visits will reward you. And the garden becomes only partially dormant off season, due to Portland’s (usually) mild winters. Take your time in the garden; the experience is meant to be unrushed, contemplative, and spiritual. Allow at least an hour for your visit. Utilize the spots provided (azumaya and benches) for rest and reflection. The garden’s ambition is to create serenity, and it should at least make you reflective, though the sensory stimulation may actually enervate.
Topography renders portions disabled-inaccessible; however, overlooks are scattered throughout. Disabled parking lies beside the entrance at top of the steep hill. A shuttle runs between regular parking and entrance about every 10 minutes, or as needed, April through October.
The gift shop contains a nice selection crammed into a very small space.
(October - March) 10am-4pm, Monday 12pm-4pm
(April 1 - September 30) 10am-7pm, Monday 12pm-7pm.
Last admission 30 minutes before closing.
Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's.
Guided tours: (April 15 - October 31) 10:45am, 1pm (Monday's first tour), 2:30pm. No additional charge.
Admission: $6.50; 62+: $5; College student (with ID): $4; under 6: free.
Contacts: 503/223-1321, (fax) 503/223-8303
Japanese Garden Database is a amazing source of information, including a glossary.
Helpful Gardner: Japanese Garden
Plants and Japan
The Bonsai Gardner