San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is home to world class museums, a pair of Dutch style windmills, its own herd of bison and the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States.
Originally built as part of the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, the exhibit was transformed into an intricately designed garden by a Japanese immigrant, Makoto Hagiwara. He imported native plants, including one thousand flowering cherry trees, birds and goldfish from his native Japan and personally oversaw the creation of this San Francisco treasure.
Much of the original garden remains, including the intricately carved Hagiwara Gate which once framed the entrance to Makoto Hagiwara’s in park residence. The house was demolished in 1942 and has been replaced with the Sunken Garden designed to create the illusion of a landscape as seen from far away. A brilliant red Buddhist Pagoda sits where a Shinto Shrine was also dismantled that same year.
The Tea House pavilion is also part of the 1894 original garden design. It is said that Mr. Hagiwara is credited to have served the first fortune cookies in America at this tea garden sometime in the 1890s or early 1900s. The cookies were made by Benkyodo, a San Francisco bakery.
The tea house is also the site of one of the garden’s oldest trees, a rare Japanese umbrella pine. A smaller version grows close to the great bronze Buddha (circa 1790) in the Circle Lawn. Sharing space with the umbrella pine in the Circle Lawn is an ancient black pine. The roughened bark, thick trunk and relatively low height is reminiscent of a roughly manicured bonsai, but this tree has been naturally shaped by time and the elements.
The meandering pathways lead you past another tribute to Mr. Hagiwara, the landscaped Mt. Fuji hedge, dedicated in 1979. Along side sits the elegantly trimmed Dragon Hedge, its curved back fronting a curtain of bamboo. The Drum or Moon Bridge, another remnant of the original garden, is not only scenic, but rather a challenge to cross. Thin steps have been added to make the climb easier (think ladder) but though the view and the bragging rights are excellent, some folks do decide to go around.
More than anything this is a garden of peace. There can be no greater symbol of this than the Lantern of Peace donated by the Japanese government in 1953. Given as a gesture of reconciliation after the horrors of World War II, it is the ultimate olive branch extended by a people who value serenity above all else.