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Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park

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            Japanese Friendship Garden is one of the eight distinct gardens located in Balboa Park in San Diego, California  (McCormick 2000). Originally, the Japanese Garden was built as a Japanese Tea House just south of Casa del Prado for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915 (2008). In Plaza de Panama, Foreign Arts Building and San Joaquin Valley Building are located. However, the San Joaquin Valley Building was demolished because it was unstable and in 1991 the Japanese Friendship Garden was built on the site (Marshall 2007). The Garden was developed with winding paths, Zen garden, koi-stocked ponds, and an elegant Japanese-style pavilion (Schulte-Peevers, Benson et al.


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            The name of the Japanese Friendship Garden was coined from San-Kei-En which means “three Scene Garden” or the Water, Pastoral, and Mountain as a tribute to the San-Kei-En Garden in Yokohama. This signifies the ties and the blending of two cultures of the people of San Diego and Yokohama. Its design reflects the original principles of the Japanese Garden and a combination from the local regional landscape and culture.

Also, it follows the Japanese principles of landscape design focusing on the people, natural environment, and the culture. The Japanese Friendship Garden is a development and extension of Japanese and culture from the home country of Japan and is always in a state of transition where people develop respect both for the environment and the cultural arts (Travaglini 2008).

            The Garden showcases, a Fujidana (wisteria arbor) an exhibit house, bonsai exhibit, a ceremonial gate, and the perfect balance of the Zen garden with its manicures landscapes, winding pathways, tranquil waterfall, and ancient lanterns (2008). Traditional Japanese foods and beverages are served such as Japanese green tea, herbal teas, Japanese noodles, sushi, rice bowls, miso soup, snacks, and salads both in indoor and outdoor dining. The Garden has also been the venue for special events such as wedding ceremonies in its five major spectacular areas: the Koi Pond and moon viewing deck, the Ceremonial Gate, the Courtyard, the Exhibit House, and the Ceremonial Plaza (2008).

The Koi Pond is located underneath the Fujidana (wisteria arbor), surrounded by serene sounds of waterfall and is one of the favorite venues for ceremonies. The Ceremonial Gate, on the other hand, overlooks the neighboring building of Organ Pavilion’s Corinthian-style columns. At the front of the Garden, the magnificent courtyard is located with views of the Balboa Park and the Organ Pavilion. Guests can further view Japanese arts, crafts, and collections in the Exhibit House which reflects the traditional Japanese sukiya style. Moreover, receptions are held in the Ceremonial Plaza where the Ceremonial Gate serves as a background (2008).

              Figure 1 Monumental Stone Lantern from Miyanoshita


The Japanese term for the Japanese Garden is niwa which means “pure place” which reflects the purity of Eden before man sins. The principles in the Garden are related to the Zen philosophy where the Garden represents the universe and its elements namely fire, earth, water, air, plant, and animal life. A stone or the iron lantern stands for the fire while the stone also represents the earth and the water, air, plant, and animal life stand in their true form. The Zen Principles applied in the niwa are fukinsei (asymmetry/dissymmetry), kanso (simplicity), koko (austerity/maturity), shizen (absence of pretense), yugen (subtly profound), datsuzoku (unworldliness), and seijaku (calm). The principle of fukinsei refers to the Eastern concept of asymmetrical composition of balance where there is an irregular division. In the Western concept, this is described as disorganized or askew The Monumental Lantern Stone (Fig. 1) has height, width, and depth that are arranged asymmetrically or irregularity (Tierney).

  Figure 2 Moon window (Tierney)

The principle of kanso, on the other hand, presents basic simplicity without complexity and flamboyance. In the Eastern sense, kanso expresses cleanliness, freshness, neatness, natural truthfulness and reserved. The moon window (Fig. 2), for example, is just a simple endless circle window with a simple Ikebana. Also, the simplicity portrayed in kanso might as well be different from the Western counterpart. Koko principle reflects austerity and maturity at the same time of subjects in their bare bones such as The Silhouette of Izumo Shrine (Fog. 3). The visual elements show age, venerability with weathered, stern, and forbidding appearance. It may as well be difficult for the Westerners to appreciate koko since the East and the West have different concepts. Most of the koko principle are evident in ancient stones and weathered surfaces (Tierney).

     Figure 3 The Garden of Chishaku (Tierney)                              Figure 4 The Silhouette of Izumo Shrine (Tierney)

The fourth Zen principle, shizen, portrays the ‘true naturalness’ particularly from raw nature such as The Garden of Chishaku (Fig. 3) which is composed of creative arrangements of nature elements to rather express nature and not ‘occupy’ it. Shizen is described as naturalness, absence of artificiality, and a sense of artlessness but creative in intent. Datsuzoku, on the other hand, involves the immediate effect of expression–surprise. The ultimate surprise in the Japanese Garden is the ability of creating a niwa from the nature’s raw materials and portrays the ‘essence of natural things’. Tori from Miyajima (Fig. 4), for example, is a surprise since it is built in the water (Tierney).

     Figure 5 Tori from Miyajima (Tierney)                          Figure 3 View fat Tofuku-ji Temple (Tierney)

Seijaku is the Zen principle responsible for the silence, calmness, and stillness that visitors would feel upon entering a Japanese Garden. Disturbances and noises are totally absent. Seijaku is often portrayed in the stillness of water reflections. This principle is also related to the late autumn and early spring or dawn and dusk which have timely and seasonal characteristics (Tierney). In Tofuku-ji temple (Fig. 5), the principle of quietness is reflected (Tierney). A Japanese Garden is not a typical garden where numerous flowers and plants are planted. The stones, the ponds, the trees, and the paths all have symbolic representations reflecting the Zen philosophy and other subjects or aspirations. The seven principles of Zen philosophy do not have a definite meaning and are correlated with other principles (Tierney).


(2008). “Japanese Friendship Garden.”   Retrieved 9 June 2008, 2008, from            http://www.balboapark.org/in-the-park/detail.php?OrgID=8.

(2008). “Special Events.”   Retrieved 9 June, 2008, from    http://www.niwa.org/display/SpecialEvents.asp.

Marshall, D. (2007). San Diego’s Balboa Park, Arcadia Publishing.

McCormick, K. (2000). The Garden Lover’s Guide to the West, Princeton Architectural Press.

Schulte-Peevers, A., S. Benson, et al. (2006). California, Lonely Planet.

Tierney, L. “Zen Principles which relate to the Niwa.”   Retrieved 9 June, 2008, from            http://www.niwa.org/display/RelatedTopics.asp.

Travaglini, M. (2008). “Tour.”   Retrieved 9 June, 2008, from         http://www.niwa.org/display/Approach.asp?parentID=145.


Cite this Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park

Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. (2016, Oct 31). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/japanese-friendship-garden-in-balboa-park/

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