Japanese gardens are one of the Lands of the Rising Sun's most splendid experiences, offering a collective taste of the nation's natural beauty sculpted into an artistic format - one that is instantly recognizable as authentic Japanese landscaping botany and architecture. According to ancient customs, three essential elements of nature characterize a true Japanese garden; first, there's water, which typically adorns a garden in the form of an asymmetrical central pond with moving aquatic features, while the second comprises earth, with rocks, sand, gravel, and plenty of plants, especially moss, all decorating the space. Other features that make up the authenticity of a Japanese garden are pagodas, bridges, and stone lanterns, all of which blend to create a peaceful area appealing to the senses - one that reflects Shinto and Buddhist concepts of harmony and tranquility.
Given their serene awe and unique characteristics, Japanese gardens became a fascination in the United States around the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In fact, fans of their charm and splendor created their own displays at world fairs and expositions in the U.S, spreading their allure with the public outside of Japan and piquing interest among Americans around this time. While WWII distracted the enthusiasm for Japanese gardens in the country for a time, the public eventually resumed its preoccupation with these stunning masterpieces, with hobbyists continuing their pastime procuring the Land of the Rising Sun's lawns across the 50 states once again.
In the modern day, the United States intrigue with Japanese gardens continues, and, thanks to a long relationship with these horticultural and architectural wonders from across the Pacific, many sublime samples exist for people to enjoy today - some of which may be closer to home than Americans realize. Out of all the wondrous and whimsical plots to discover, these are some of the best Japanese gardens in the US to visit in spring, when the flowers bloom and Sakura trees explode into pastel pinks - proving that one doesn't necessarily have to hop on a lengthy flight to Japan to witness the majesty and serenity of these old-world creations.
10 Japanese Friendship Garden, Arizona
- Location: GARDEN 1125 N. 3rd Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85003
This 3.5-acre stroll garden, or 'miegakure' (meaning 'hide-and-reveal'), began as a joint effort between Phoenix and its sister municipality in Himeji, Japan, the latter of which donated the grounds' decorative features. Boasting a tea house and koi pond within its enchanting spaces, this dot on Arizona's map offers a sense of old Japan's calming outdoor aura that made the country's signature curated gardens a place of rest and retreat. This garden's official name is 'Rohouen,' which combines three Japanese words: 'ro' for heron, 'ho' is the word for the mythical phoenix, and 'en' for garden - a befitting name for a true Japanese garden in Phoenix.
9 The Hammond Museum & Japanese Stroll Garden, New York
- Location: Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden 28 Deveau Road, P.O. Box 326, North Salem, NY 10560
This lovely stroll garden's paths take wandering visitors on a journey through evolving scenery. Every carefully designed path employs unique methods and clever imagery to encourage guests to slow down and enjoy the surroundings while anticipating what's around the corner - a trick it does so noticeably. Additionally, the Hammond Museum injects a cultural experience to complement the garden experience; the establishment hosts Japanese tea ceremonies and 'ikebana' (flower arranging classes).
8 Portland Japanese Garden, Oregon
- Location: 611 SW Kingston Ave., Portland, Oregon 97205
This gorgeous spot in Washington Park is one of America’s most famous Japanese gardens. Ranging from vibrant green foliage to remarkable stones and sand, this garden's 5.5-acres boasts eight individual spaces, each offering a sample of history-inspired Japanese aesthetic appeal. What’s more, events in the grounds' Cultural Village also take places, such as art exhibits, various performances, and classes. The cherry atop the cherry blossom tree is the beautiful views of Mt. Hood from the East Veranda, which park visitors can soak up near the authentic pavilion.
7 Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center, Pennsylvania
- Location: Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center, Horticultural and Lansdowne Drives, Philadelphia, PA 19131
The seventeenth-century Japanese house - Shofuso (meaning Pine Breeze Villa) - first began its exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Later, the structure was sent to Philadelphia’s West Fairmount Park - the city home to North America’s very first Japanese garden after its 1876 centennial exposition. Mirroring the same period as this beautiful Japanese house, the garden and its serene landscape lets visitors see and feel what it might have been like to meander through Japan's picturesque, perfectly sculpted gardens in the 1600s. The site offers tons of tradition, boasting a tiered waterfall, an island, a koi fish pond, a tea garden with an old-style tea house, and a courtyard garden that leads to a Japanese bathhouse.
6 Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri
- Location: 4344 Shaw Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63110
A 14-acre 'garden of pure, clear harmony and peace is located in St. Louis and certainly does deliver what its description claims. Showcasing a minimalist display inspired by hundreds-of-years-old Japanese customs and practices, Seiwa-en brings the Land of the Rising sun's historic enchantment to Missouri. The stunning centerpiece of its terrain is a large lake dotted by four islands, where a teahouse sits on display. This teahouse was originally constructed in Nagano Prefecture - Missouri's sister state in Japan - before being reassembled in St. Louis and officialized in a genuine Shinto ceremony.
5 Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden, Illinois
- Location: 1000 Lake Cook Road Glencoe, IL 60022
Sansho-En, or the 'Garden of Three Islands, is a restful section of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Exuding a seventeenth-century aesthetic, the garden's features blend effortlessly into the surroundings, evoking the sense that they've always been a part of the land. Large rocks semi-buried in the ground, beautifully shaped pine trees representing the longevity of life in Japanese philosophy, and flowering plants all tell a story of nature's timelessness in this space.
4 Bloedel Reserve Japanese Garden, Washington
- Location : Bloedel Reserve 7571 NE Dolphin Drive Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Seattle nurseryman Fujitaro Kubota planned this serene meditative space for the Bloedel family - a feat he did without drawings, impressively. Situated on Bainbridge Island, this delightful Japanese garden features plenty of authentic awe; there are miniature mountains, an almost two-hundred-year-old lace leaf Japanese maple imported from Japan, and a pristine groomed Sand and Stone Garden located in front of the attraction's Guest House.
3 The Japanese Garden, California
- Location: 6100 Woodley Ave, Van Nuys, CA 91406
San Fernando Valley's Japanese Garden named 'Suihoen' boasts a trio of gardens 'of water and fragrance.' Set over six-and-a-half acres, the gardens, 'dry meditation,' 'wet-strolling,' and 'tea' were designed by Dr. Koichi Kawana, who also built more than a dozen other Japanese gardens across the states. Interestingly, treated wastewater from the nearby Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant irrigates the garden and fills its lake, making it a marvel of sustainability as well as authentic Japanese botanical beauty. Overall, California has no lack of Japanese gardens, including the popular Tea Garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park - one of the oldest in the country.
2 Japanese Garden of Peace, Texas
- Location: 311 E. Austin St. Fredericksburg, Texas 78624
The National Museum of the Pacific War does seem like an unusual place to house a Japanese garden; however, that's exactly where this tranquil terrain rests. The Japanese Garden of Peace was a gift from Japan to the U.S, one that symbolizes 'the complicated but firm friendship between the two countries, as the museum explains. In poetic style, the garden represents the ocean, swirling like waves, while plantings appear as Pacific islands within the artistic design.
1 Valley Of The Temples Memorial Park, Hawaii
- Location: 47-200 Kahekili Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744
Not merely a Japanese zen garden in Hawaii, but one in a cemetery? Correct - an unconventional place for such an attraction; however, that doesn't detract from the magnificent experience visitors can savor while sauntering through the grounds. Featuring meditation spaces, primped and primed greenery, and a reflection pond bustling with Japanese koi carp, this expansive space in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park grants visitors a peek into Japan's traditions outdoors. The park is also home to a genuine, bright crimson Byodo-In Temple, which was built in 1968 to mark 100 years of Japanese immigration to Hawaii and is a smaller reconstruction of its namesake in Japan.
The North American Japanese Garden Association's garden finder is an excellent tool enabling the public to find Japanese gardens across the United States.