The Kubota Gardens in Seattle: An Elegant Glimpse of Japan Close to Home

The Kubota Gardens in Seattle: An Elegant Glimpse of Japan Close to Home

Visitors can stroll through 20 acres of Japanese gardens without setting foot on a plane, and experience an important piece of Seattle history.

The Kubota Gardens is a 20 acre plot of land in Seattle that combines Japanese garden design and plant life with Northwestern United States design and flora and fauna. It was originally created and designed by master horticulturist and landscaper Fujitaro Kubota who first pioneered the merging of Japanese design techniques with North American materials in 1927. A rich and green array of plant life is scattered around a landscape of bridges, rock outcroppings, hills and valleys cut through by streams, waterfalls and ponds. The wet climate of Seattle makes it a perfect place for this grade. This wet climate nurtures the plant life and creates a mystical atmosphere for guests. Guests enter into a world of design and horticulture that they can lose themselves amongst for hours. The winding pathways passed serene ponds, echoing waterfalls and lush greenery in the style of a Japanese garden with an American flavor take guests on a tour unlike any other in Seattle. The gardens are a perfect place to wander without a destination and to see where one ends up when they get there. The park is free and open year-round during daylight hours. Maximum group size is 200 people.

The park impresses guests in many different ways. Here are 5 reasons to visit the Kubota Gardens:

A Key Piece of American History

Seeing the gardens today is a first hand experience with an area that is a one of the most profound constructions of Japanese culture in Northwest America.

Fujitaro Kubota created the design for these gardens in his mind and brought them to life. Before building this park he emigrated to the United States in 1923. He completed many projects at the garden in Seattle University and the Bloedel Reserve in Brainbridge Island before he bought 5 acres of swampland in Rainier Beach which would be the future location of the Kubota Gardens as we know it today. By 1930 Kubota had increased this space for the garden to 30 acres. The garden was completed shortly after and served many purposes. It was a popular tourist destination, a home for Kubota, a business center and a center for the Japanese community in Seattle.

The garden was abandoned during World War II for 4 years. During this time Kubota and his family were interned in Idaho. Kubota maintained his work with gardens by supervising a building in a community park in the area where he and his family were living. After the war, he and his family returned to Seattle and restored the Kubota Gardens.

Over the next years he built the gardens and created what we now enjoy today. During this time his work garnered attention from the Japanese government. They awarded him the Fifth Class Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1972 to honor his achievements in his adopted country and the respect he built for Japanese gardening in the area. Kubota continued work on the gardens until he died in 1973.

The gardens are now a historical landmark of the City of Seattle. The City now owns the garden and the Department of Parks and Recreation and a group of volunteers from the Kubota Garden Foundation maintain it. In 2004 the city installed a new entrance gate that was designed by Gerard Tsutakawa. This gate is what welcomes visitors today.

Those interested in the history of America and Japan's role in the cultural development of Northwest America might find this an interesting place.

So Much To See

There are 18 different areas in the garden. Each area contains something unique. The entry gate is the perfect design for a hybrid Japanese and American garden. Beyond the entry gate lies a Terrace Overlook for great views, the Spring Pond, the Heart Bridge for lovers or those whose heart has not yet grown cold. Further into the garden visitors will find more profound features like the Mountainside and the Fera Fera Forest. Finally visitors will come upon the stone garden, a garden of stones. Silence and stillness permeates the environment.

Here is a list of features in the park:

- Entry Plaza
- Entry Gate
- Overlook
- Moon Bridge
- Wall and Gate House
- Terrace Overlook
- Spring Pond
- Mapes Creek
- Mountainside
- Nursery Plantings
- Japanese Garden
- Fera Fera Forest
- Heart Bridge
- Memorial Stone
- Stroll Garden
- Lookout
- Kubota Terrace
- Stone Garden

The First Half

At first the park doesn't impress many visitors. Just past the entry gate is a massive bell that is great for photographs. Beyond the bell visitors will find a dirty pond which offers a spiritual experience that can only be achieved by leaning over the metal railing and gazing into the murky water. Beyond this is the Terrace which will prepare visitors for gazing out and seeing how vast the park is. By this point many visitors are surprised at the size of this park. They've read the brochures and seen the map but the Terrace view puts it into perspective.

Next, the path will take visitors into the center of the garden. The center of the garden is an Asian oasis. One forgets that he or she is in the United States. It is still and quiet and due to the size of this area visitors will likely see no more than a few other people around them. Everyone who comes into the center will likely cross paths twice because the whole walkway is a circular loop. At this point the excitement of the park begins to set in and visitors begin understanding the general feel and atmosphere of this impressive park. Much more awaits.

The Second Half

Seeing people here is common and unavoidable. Fortunately the stillness of the park renders most quiet and the size of it allows visitors to enjoy their own space without interruption from others. It can feel as if one is there alone despite others being there. Beyond the center of the park visitors will come upon a very steep bridge. Many will notice a special aspect of this bridge. At a distance the railing looks like any other railing but upon closer look one will realize that the railing is inscribed with many personal messages of those that have visited. After scanning these messages visitors will realize that many people have been asked to be married at this bridge via one of these messages.

This is a great place to stop and take some pictures. The bridge is spectacular in and of itself. Bridges are always a pleasant place to stop and absorb the stillness of the air but this bridge in the midst of the Japanese gardens has a special quality.

Visitors will continue walking and cross a second bridge that leads to another pond area. Another great area for taking photographs or relaxing quietly. Here, visitors might get lucky enough to spot some ducks wading on the surface or plunging their heads deep below the surface. The deep peaceful spirit of the park begins to feel most profound here.

In and around the pond visitors will notice many creeks and other ponds. One is filled with large, slow, stunning orange and white Koi Fish. They add color and life to the stillness of the water.

Beyond this area visitors will come to an area covered with leafless trees. The thin dark branches cutting across the grey skyline on a cloudy Seattle afternoon are starkly beautiful. Many visitors enjoy sitting on a bench in this area beneath these trees. It is difficult not to imagine some ninjas silently gliding around each other in a dance of the martial arts in the grass just beyond the trees.

Upon leaving the park, many are glad they came. They realize how impressive it is and promise they will come back. Many come with a special someone the second time around.

History and Enjoyment

The Kubota Gardens are Japanese America. They are a place that is connected to the history of the development of Northwest America. The America that stands today was built by immigrants. A major portion of these immigrants were European. They started colonization in the East. Later the development of the West was influenced by Asian immigrants. The Kubota Gardens are one of the physical manifestations of this Asian influence.

The location makes it a perfect place for such place. The climate of Seattle shares some similarities with Japan. Both places receive rain for a large portion of the year which makes the land very green and lush year round and a perfect place to build a garden with ponds and bridges and lush greenery in each section. Seattle's location on the West coast of the United States made it a common first place of landing for Asian emigrants to the US. Many Asian emigrants remained in Seattle and other areas on the West coast. One of these people who stayed in Seattle was Fujiharo Kubota. The lush atmosphere combined with his expertise resulted in a place for all Seattle locals and visitors to enjoy, get a taste of Japanese culture and experience the key piece of the history of Northwest America.

Within the park are ponds, creeks, a bridge with railings adorned with inscribed messages, a massive bell that makes for a great photo opportunity with friends, stark trees that cut across the grey sky and many places to sit and relax. Lush green grass surrounds the water filled with bright orange and white Koi Fish. Japanese gardens can't be put into words. What is left of the experience must be seen and felt by being there.

Lead image: flickr photo by Seattle Parks & Recreation shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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