The Japanese Garden in Balboa Park is a place of peace and quiet beauty. At first glace, this Friendship Garden seems small. But, if you take the time to observe and enjoy the elements within, you will find that the Garden offers a slice of tranquility that is rare in today's bustling world.
The Japanese Friendship Garden started off as a tea house in the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition. Over the years, it has expanded and evolved into a beautiful green-space with classic elements of a Japanese Garden:
- Oribe-doro: a stone lantern that is used to light the garden pathway.
- Shi-Shi-Odoshi: a distinctive type of water fountain made of bamboo. One bamboo spout drizzles water into a second, movable bamboo spout. As the second bamboo is filled, the balance is changed so that the bamboo swings downwards spilling the water and making a sharp smacking sound. The emptied bamboo returns to its original position and the process repeats itself. The smacking sound is said to scare away evil spirits.
- Tsukubai: a basin that collects water. Sometimes the tsukubai collects the water from the shi-shi-odoshi but a tsukubai may also contain water for cleansing before entering a temple.
- Rock (Zen) Garden: a garden made entirely of rocks and stones. Small rocks are arranged in concentric circles around 7 larger rocks (imported from Japan). This gives an impression of ocean waves despite the fact that it is actually a dry garden.
- Koi Pond: a man-made pond that captures the impression of "mountain and water". Koi fish swim freely within; they represent longevity and virility. A great place to relax and contemplate.
- A winding gravel path, sculptured trees, and bamboo hedges provide a definite Japanese ambiance.
The Japanese Friendship Garden also has an Exhibit House and a Tea Pavilion. Both are built in the sukiya style: you will recognize their distinctive look even if you know nothing about 16th century Japanese architecture.
The Tea Pavilion is located near the entrance to the Garden. The pavilion offers soups, salads, noodles, rice bowls, a slew of imported snacks, and over 40 kinds of tea. It's a great place to sit, eat, rest, and enjoy the canyon view.
The Exhibit House has a changing display of Japanese art and culture (see exhibit schedule here). One of the rooms in the Exhibit House has benches overlooking the Rock Garden. A time and place to rest and reflect.
Through the "Japanese Friendship Garden Society of San Diego", you can participate in Weekend classes, conversational Japanese lessons, and educational programs for school-aged children. The Garden can also be reserved for weddings and private functions.
In summary, the Japanese Friendship Garden is a small, peaceful, green, walking space. It has simplistic beauty and cultural value. You can run through the Garden in 15 minutes or you can immerse yourself into a moment of timelessness.
Location, Price. Hours of Operation
Balboa Park (map location 28)
Japanese Garden is adjacent to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. You can recognize it by the spacious entry way with a large boulder with engraved Kanji characters: "San-Kei-En" which means "Three Scene Garden" (water, pastoral, and mountain)
Regular Hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 10 am to 4 pm
Price: about $5 (see details)