Published on : 14 May 20206 min reading time

I was invited to come and preview the extension of the Japanese garden in Portland, called the Cultural Crossing Expansion. Despite communication problems with the press relations agency (and not with the communication manager of the garden who was really great) who was in charge of communicating about the event to journalists (very professional, you’ll tell me?), I was able to leave after work to discover this beautiful place. I still missed all the press conferences and animations, but I arrived just in time for a guided tour explaining the architecture of the new expansion, and I met a very nice volunteer who told me a lot of great anecdotes!

The history of the Garden

The garden was built in 1963 on the slopes of Washington Park in Portland, and opened to the public in 1967. The garden is an authentic Japanese garden, located in an area with a climate very close to that of Japan, which allows for all the vegetation of a traditional Japanese garden in Japan. In 2013, it was voted by experts as the most beautiful public Japanese garden in North America, among a list of 300 other gardens. The Portland Garden covers approximately 5 hectares and has 8 different garden styles, including an authentic Japanese tea house.

I’ll take you on a tour with me, thanks to the photos I was able to take during my visit!

This door was the old entrance to the garden with its ticket counters. Today the ticket counters have been moved and the door separates the original garden from the new cultural village. This temple gate is more than 100 years old and was donated to the garden in 1976.

View of the Strolling Pond Garden and to the right you can see the Tea garden which has two areas dedicated to the tea ceremony. The Tea House was built in Japan and assembled in Portland Garden in 1968.

The Strolling Pond Garden is the largest garden and contains several areas.

The new buildings have been constructed and laid out to blend into the landscape. The roof is completely covered with vegetation, and the bushes at the top of the garden will grow throughout the year, hiding all visitors from the expansion and the bottom of the buildings from all visitors to the Strolling Pond Garden.

This 5-level pagoda lantern is over 100 years old and is a gift from Portland’s sister city, Sapporo. The rocks on the ground form the island Hokkaidō and a red stone represents the city of Sapporo.

The Natural Garden has several ponds, waterfalls, streams, and all vegetation grows naturally in this garden such as fern and moss.

The Sand and Stone Garden contains strong stones that gush out of the undulating sand suggesting the ocean. Rake patterns representing tranquility are often found in Karesansui (Japanese Rock Gardens).

The Flat Garden has a typical urban garden design. The white sand represents water and contrasts sharply with the lawn, moss, trees and azaleas.

These gardens are designed to be seen from a kneeling position from the Pavilion which is a little higher than the garden. The plants and trees are also planted in relation to the seasons, so that the windows of the Pavilion can be opened from either side if it is autumn or spring.

The Pavilion was built in 1980 and hosts many festivals of Japanese culture, exhibitions and other events. On the other side of the Pavilion, you have a view of downtown Portland and Mount Hood (which looks like Mount Fuji).

Cultural Crossing Expansion

The expansion is about 1.5 hectares and is composed of 3 gardens and a cultural “village”. This expansion was designed by the famous Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. For those of you who have never heard of him, you will soon hear about him as he designed the plans for the stadium for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The expansion cost $33.5 million, coming from various donations. The Cultural Village contains the Jordan Schnitzer Japanese Arts Learning Center, the Garden House and the Umami Cafe. The education center will allow for the implementation of more arts education programs.

The Entrance Garden will welcome visitors with ponds and waterfalls. The garden continues in a zigzagging path to the cultural village.

At the top of the Entry Garden you will find the Umami Cafe, suspended above the path, offering traditional pastries accompanied by various teas including matcha teas.

Tsubo-Niwa (the mini garden with the red tree) is a modern Japanese garden style. This mini garden integrates the essential elements of a Japanese garden: stone, water and plants. It places nature in the center of the cultural village.

The Ellie M. Hill Bonsai Terrace is a small space to discover seasonal bonsai species. The Japanese Garden works in collaboration with local bonsai garden centres to show visitors many different types of bonsai.

The Castle Wall

The wall you see at the far end is the first thing you will see if you go up with the shuttle, but you will see it just as quickly when you enter the garden. This wall is not just any stone wall, and it has a history.

This wall is more than 5.6 meters high and more than 56 meters long. It is better known as the Shiro-zumi Castle Wall and is part of the new expansion. Since the garden is located on top of a hill, they had to build a wall to contain the nature in which they had dug the new expansion. But instead of building a classic retaining wall, they decided to build another connection to Japanese heritage craftsmanship and this castle wall is the first one built outside of Japan.

In medieval times, fortresses (shiro) were built mainly of wood and paper, just like houses, but even though they were very strong, they could not withstand the attacks of fiery arrows. These paper fortresses were replaced over time by stone fortresses. By studying European techniques, Japanese craftsmen developed a stone-based construction technique that surpassed European prototypes. The traditional dry stone wall technique used, Ano-zumi, was developed about 350 years ago. This technique uses intact stones that fit together to form a slide wall. The large stones that serve as a foundation (sumi) support the weight of the natural rough stones. Gravel and stone chips fill the empty spaces between the stones to replace the cement and strengthen the structure.

The wall of the Japanese Garden in Portland was built with granite, a stone difficult to find in the area, which had to be extracted from the only source of granite in Oregon at Baker City. The project was led by Suminori Awata, a Japanese stonemason whose family has been constructing dry stone buildings for over 300 years. Interpreters had to be employed to enable communication between Awata and local workers. 1,000 tons of granite were used to build this wall.

As with any Japanese garden, a visit to it allows one to achieve a feeling of harmony, tranquility and peace while being part of nature. So it becomes an obligatory stop on your visit to Portland, after having walked for hours on end through the bustling city streets.