Spending the afternoon in a Japanese Garden

Seattle is a city of garden aficionados, so it is fitting that we have one of the best Japanese gardens outside of Japan. With sweeping vistas and decades-old plantings tended with exquisite care, the Seattle Japanese Garden is a spot of meditative beauty.

It is also host to a variety of festive events. If you are curious to hear Japanese music on the evocative string instruments the koto and shakuhachi, you will want to visit on Sundays until October 26, between 1 and 3 p.m., to hear Duo En play (weather permitting). October 12 is Maple Viewing day, with entertainment, tours and origami. Mondays in October bring sessions allowing photographers access to the vibrant, colorful maple trees before the garden opens to the public, and November 18 is an all-day pruning workshop (registration is required for the photography and pruning events).

The garden closes for the season in late November, but you can keep the summer feeling alive with some lyrical books about Japanese culture. In The Teahouse Fire, a novel by Ellis Avery, the young French-American Aurelia is taken to Japan by an abusive uncle. She manages to escape him, ending up in the home of the elegant Yukako, daughter of a grand tea master. Aurelia is reborn into the world of tea as Urako, and through her we are taken into that world with intricate (and accessible) descriptions of its rituals and landscape. The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama tells the tale of a young man recovering from tuberculosis in pre-WWII Japan. The gardener Matsu and his garden are each main characters in this wistful novel told in poetic style. Seattle author Lydia Minatoya also paints a picture of pre-WWII Japan, this time through the eyes of Etsuko, who has returned there after some years in Seattle, following a family tragedy. Minatoya’s book The Strangeness of Beauty portrays the cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan, and the meaning of family in both worlds. And, on a lighter note, Naomi Hirahara writes a mystery series featuring a Japanese gardener detective in the Los Angeles area. The Summer of the Big Bachi is the first in the series featuring Mas Arai and his group of Japanese-American gardener friends.

3 thoughts on “Spending the afternoon in a Japanese Garden”

  1. Thanks for this great post, Ann, on Japanese gardens in the Seattle area and in fiction. I was especially excited to learn about live koto concerts in the Arboretum’s garden.

    Another wonderful, if lesser-known, public Japanese garden within the Seattle city limits is the Kubota Garden down in South Seattle. Created by Japanese gardener Fujitaro Kubota in the 1920s, the Garden is now maintained by the Seattle Parks & Rec Department. Not only is bigger than the Arboretum’s garden, admission is FREE.

    For more info on Kubota Garden, see their webpage:

    P.S. My colleague David just informed me that Kubota Garden is also apparently haunted. Sounds like a perfect setting for a murder mystery!

  2. I didn’t know about the koto concerts at the Arboretum — and I didn’t know that Kubota was haunted! Both gardens are two of my favorite places to visit, and your post/comments are a good reminder to take advantage of Seattle’s beautiful autumn days. Thanks!

  3. There’s something in a new book – a Ghosthunter’s guide to Seattle – about the bridge in the Kubota gardens being haunted.

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