A serene space, a taste of Japan, a moment of calmness and clarity -- it is hard to believe that the Japanese Tea Garden is located in one of the most densely populated cities in America.
The history of the Japanese Tea Garden, the first public Japanese garden in the United States nestled comfortably in Golden Gate Park, started out innocently enough. The garden was constructed for the 1894 Midwinter International Exposition, conceptualized by landscape designer Makoto Hagiwara. It was originally built as a "Japanese Village," meant to give Americans a taste of Japanese culture. In this time, the Japanese were a very small minority in this country, their culture largely unknown. The garden was an honor to their country.
After the fair passed, in was renovated as a garden, which was occupied and maintained by the Hagiwara family. They lived in a small house within the garden's property for many years.
In 1942, all that changed.
America was in the midst of World War II, and Japanese Americans were under federal order to be evicted from their homes and sent to internment camps, often separated from their families. This ugly chapter in America's history did not fail to impact the Hagiwara family, despite their public service to the San Francisco community and an agreement with John McClaren that the family would tend to the garden for a century.
The family was sent to internment camps. Rubbing salt in the wound, the garden was renamed the Oriental Tea Garden, and Chinese women in Chinese costumes replaced the Japanese ones who served tea in the garden. The garden is said to have fallen into disrepair without the intricate care Mr. Hagiwara provided.
By 1952, the war had ended, and the garden was once again named the Japanese Tea Garden. The family home was destroyed during their years of absence, and the city of San Francisco refused to allow the family to return, despite McClaren's promise.
It is said that since the Hagiwara family left, the garden has never been the same, though it has improved in recent years, more rare plants being replanted each year. It is now a favorite spot for tourists in the park, the bridge a delight for children to climb, and the large, 3,000 pound Buddha statue an impressive, spiritual addition.
Erik Sumiharu Hagiwara-Nagata, Makoto Hagiwara's great-great-grandson, continues the family tradition of gardening, running his well respected plant nursery in Penngrove, California.