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The way of Zen – Los Angeles’ Japanese Garden

Posted in Things We Love

LA Japanese gardenFor this week’s “art tour”, let me take you to a little known corner of LA. After calling Los Angeles my home for the last 18 years, there is very little of cultural interest I have not seen, and now I am left with the more obscure sightseeing locations, those that even many Angelenos don’t know exist.

One  such place is the Japanese Garden, that a friend alerted me to. It took us the best part of two years to arrange an outing – our schedules never seemed “to meet” – but, even if off-season, with nothing quite in bloom yet, grabbing  a day we were both free, her toddler in tow, off we went to explore.

There is an area, towards downtown LA, called Little Tokyo, a hub of Japanese food venues and culture. This garden, though, is tucked away in Van Nuys, in that swath of LA called the Valley, where, to my knowledge, Japanese are not represented in high numbers. Go figure.

Japanese GardenOther than wishing to visit Kyoto in the Spring, admiring the odd bonsai and a passion for some contemporary Japanese literature, I can’t claim to know much about Japanese gardening. Or gardening in general. But the feeling of serenity bestowed by walking around a traditional Japanese garden  is unmistakable.

It turns out there is a reason for it: these gardens were traditionally built by the ruling elite to create a mood appropriate to worship and contemplation. The defining characters of most of today’s gardens owe a huge debt to Zen Buddhism which was brought from China to Japan in the 13th century.

Every element of a garden is rife with symbolisms. A body of water is meant to symbolize the sea, such an important part of Japanese life.

Japanese Garden LAA rock, or group of rocks, is meant to evoke a treasure ship sailing the seas.

Japanese Garden LAPine trees express longevity and happiness.

Japanese Garden LAAs Dr. Koichi Kawana, the landscape architect who designed the garden, explained: “Combinations of pine, bamboo, and plum are used in decorations to mark the New Year and the most auspicious occasions. Bamboo is an evergreen also and is credited with auspicious characteristics similar to those of the pine, while the plum is thought to embody the qualities of vigor and patience since it is the first to bloom after a severe winter”.

Japanese Garden LA

The tea ceremony, a ritual that used to be at the center of Japanese social life, is meant to be enjoyed in a quiet atmosphere which is why the tea house is always built in the inner sanctum of the garden.

Japanese Garden Tea House

Cranes are said to live a thousand years, hence are a symbol of good fortune.

Crane japanese garden

In order to reach-the essence of things, all non-essential elements must be eliminated. Color is avoided whenever possible.

Japanese garden la

Los Angeles’ Japanese Garden

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    • Take that hubby of yours and go on a week-end – although I would wait for spring

      February 4, 2014
    • If it wasn’t that it’s so far from me, I wouldn’t mind paying the $3 entrance fee and just spend a couple of hours there with a book.

      January 27, 2014
  1. You would never know from the serene photos that this is in Los Angeles. I imagine you and your friend thoroughly enjoyed strolling through the gardens. I’d love to add this to my list of things to see when we’re in Southern CA in a few months. Thank you for sharing your photos.

    January 24, 2014
    • Well it’s a sweet (and cheap) outing but, if your time here is limited and you like gardens, I would recommend the gardens at the Huntington: amazing cacti garden, Chinese and Japanese ones…really beautiful.

      January 24, 2014
      • Thank you for the suggestion! Now, for a dumb question…is that near Huntington Beach? Sorry, it’s probably referencing a stately mansion or museum. Surprisingly, my children are always up for an expedition to any sort of Botanical Garden. Since we live near Duke University, we typically head to the gardens a few times each year to spend a lazy afternoon wandering around.

        January 24, 2014
        • Actually, it’s not. Complete opposite side. It’s in the Valley, just passed Pasadena. If you are driving from Huntington Beach it’s a bit of a drive, best done over the week-end. Probably about an hour. There is a much smaller, but very cute, botanical garden inside the UCLA campus in Westwood. And free. One just has to figure out how to locate it in the sprawling campus. For another great garden, check out the Virginia Robinson one. It’s in a residential area of Beverly Hills and can ony be visited by making reservations and during the week. But it’s a fun one. Can’t quite believe I have seen all these gardens when I don’t know the first thing about gardening! Anyway, I have become a mine of information on this city, so feel free to ask away! You can always send me an e-mail through the contact us form.

          January 24, 2014
  2. This was a lovely outing. Thank you for taking me along in pictures. I have visited a few such hidden gardens like this. There is always something amazing about how perfectly still they can be in the midst of a wild hubbub just outside their gates.

    January 23, 2014
    • Which I guess was exactly the point of those who built them way back when…but it’s been so warm here I can’t believe I am saying I am craving rain and snow…

      January 24, 2014

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