Category: General Article
GPS Coordinates: 45.5178995, -122.7202234
Reporting: Jake Kreager, Oceanscape Network volunteer
On the forested slopes of the West Hills in Portland you will find what’s widely considered one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. Established in 1963, the Portland Japanese Gardens reflect the city’s large Asian population and its close ties to the country of Japan. In fact, some of the stone ornaments found within the grounds are gifts from Portland’s Japanese sister-city, Sapporo.
At just over nine acres in size, the gardens make excellent use of both limited space and the natural incline of the hill. Stone terraces, meandering staircases and trickling streams provide not only excellent photo opportunities, but also spectacular views of the city below. In total, visitors are treated to eight separate gardens contained within the perimeter fence. These include a strolling pond garden; a natural garden; a sand and stone garden; a flat garden; a tea garden; an entry garden; a bonsai (the Japanese tradition of growing trees in containers) terrace; and tsubo-niwa, or a modern style garden which surrounds the cultural center.
For the Japanese, gardens are not just natural, outdoor areas, but havens for meditation and quiet reflection. They are closely associated with spiritual principles drawn from the Buddhist, Shinto and Taoist religious traditions. Such gardens contain several three vital components: water, vegetation and stone, which symbolize renewal, thought and time respectively. On top of these elements, buildings, bridges, lanterns and other ornamentation can be added to create private spaces, to mimic natural landscapes or build a sense of mystery.
Aside from horticulture, the gardens are an excellent place to view and learn about animals. Huge, multi-colored koi fish — a traditional species in Japanese gardens — congregate near the wooden boardwalks in the strolling pond garden. The thick vegetation is a natural refuge for native birds, including American crows, American robins, Pacific wrens and black-capped chickadees. Pacific tree frogs may be spotted in the water features or heard singing in the vegetation during mating season. Mollusks such as slugs and snails can also be found in the riparian areas or crossing the foot paths. Squirrels are plentiful and larger mammals of the West Hills may include black-tailed deer and bobcats, although it is unlikely to see these in the Gardens during operational hours.
The Gardens offer a variety of educational programs for grades K through 8. The Haiku Alive program focuses on this traditional form of Japanese poetry and how it connects to the cultural value of living in harmony with nature. Classroom lesson plans will help students understand Japanese gardens, art forms and ceremony.
For more information about the gardens and its programs, visit their website by clicking here.