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Gallery of the Japanese Tea Garden

The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, is the oldest public Japanese garden in California. It is a direct descendant of the California Mid-Winter Esposition held in the park from January to December 1894. Today’s Japanese Tea Garden, although changed from the original Japanese Village, has still a few reminders from the 1894 Exposition. These include the splendid Moon (or Drum) Bridge, the Tea House and the pond with its small island in front of the Tea House.

This gallery has the highlights of an early morning stroll of the Japanese Tea Garden in late April.

Cherry Trees in Bloom

Cherry trees in bloom (Prunus yedoensis) along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive hint at the delights contained within the Japanese Tea Garden beyond the West Gate to the right.

Main Gate and Monterey Pine

The smaller, much twisted pine just inside the Main Gate is a Monterey pine. It was brought from Golden Gate Park’s ocean front as a young tree by Makoto Hagiwara who planted it at its present location around 1900. Through the portal of the Main Gate can be viewed the columns of the Music Concourse, original site of the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894 where the idea of the Japanese Tea Garden originated.

Mount Fuji Hedge

In 1979 a new landscape with Mt. Fuji as the main theme in the form of a clipped hedge was designed by E. J. Schuster for the area just inside and to the left of the Main Gate. This landscape honors Makoto Hagiwara, who came from an area in Japan near Mt. Fuji. Visitors sipping tea in the tea house will be able to see Mt. Fuji in the distance, beyond the pond.

New Dragon Hedge

To the left of Mt. Fuji Hedge is this nicely-clipped Dragon Hedge against a curtain of bamboo in the background.

Tranquil View of Irises and Dwarf Trees

Blooming irises and dwarf trees contribute to the tranquil scene to the left inside the Main Gate. From here a crooked pathway wends its way to Drum Bridge. In the right foreground the weathered trunk of a Chinese pine (Pinus tabulaeformia) adds an interesting contrast to the lush greenery beyond.

Drum Bridge

The Drum Bridge or in Japanese Taiko Bashi, with its reflection forms a perfect circle. This type of bridge is made of carefully cut strips of wood which form a strong curve. The Drum Bridge was part of the Japanese Village of 1894.

Pathway toward Mt. Fuji Hedge

Behind the Tea House a gradually descending path winds by the new Dragon and Mt. Fuji Hedges on its way to the Main Gate. A bench to the left invites the visitor to stop and partake of the scene from a sheltered vantage point.

View of waterfall and wisteria with Gift Shop in background

A beautiful spring morning shows the Japanese Tea Garden at its loveliest. At the far left, the Japanese wisteria planted by Makoto Hagiwara in the early 1900s blooms fragrantly on the Tea House roof while an azalea, dwarf tree, Japanese maple tree and fern-laden rocks lead the eye to the serene waterfall at far right. In the lakes of many Japanese gardens, symbolic islands are carefully constructed. An island shaped like a tortoise symbolizes longevity and is called Horai-jimi, island of eternal youth. This small lake with its island was part of the original Japanese Village and is in front of the Tea House. The Gift Shop may be seen through the foliage.

Azalea and Japanese Wisteria in Bloom

Behind the Tea House is a path that curves enticingly to the deck overlooking the waterfall and pond area. Japanese wisteria lends a fragrant dimension to the tea-drinking experience. A lovely azalea in bloom adds a splash of brilliant color.

Japanese Wisteria on Tea House Roof

Guests at the Tea House partake of their tea looking out at the waterfall and pond area through a fragrant curtain of Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda), a member of the pea family. This was originally planted by Makoto Hagiwara.

View from Tea House through Wisteria

Guests to the Tea House are afforded impressive views from every angle. This shows the hillside to the left of the waterfall and pond area. In 1960, the San Francisco Garden Club engaged the services of Nagao Sakurai, the same man who designed the Zen Garden, to redesign the entire pond area in front of the teahouse. The Japanese wisteria vine with the gnarled trunk growing against the front of the Tea House was planted by Makoto Hagiwara.

Tsukubai, a Boat-shaped Stone Basin

Just a few feet east of the Gift Shop is a beautifully carved ornamental water basin (tsukubai) in the shape of a boat. Stone basins are used by guests to wash their hands before entering the Tea Room. Water is usually fed through a bamboo pipe called kakehi. This basin, probably of considerable age, originally came from a country estate near Tokyo which had been destroyed during the time of World War II. The basin was purchased by the S. & G. Gump Company in the early 1960s and they presented it to the Tea Garden. If you look closely, you will see a carved turtle on the inside stern of the boat.

View toward Tea House from Hagiwara Gate

An ornately carved gate was built in 1916 by Mr. Shimada, a Japanese craftsman, who in 1913 had constructed the torii. The gate was originally the entrance to the Hagiwara residence built in 1908 and destroyed after the Hagiwaras left the Tea Garden in 1942. The gate now leads to a terrace overlooking the Sunken Garden which occupies the site where the Hagiwara residence formerly stood.

View toward Brick Terrace

In 1943, Julius L. Girod, the Superintendent of Parks, constructed the brick terrace and below it the Sunken Garden, a landscape he designed on the site of the Hagiwara’s former home. The building in the background currently houses the Asian Art Museum. The large keyaki tree between the Gift Shop and the Asian Art Museum was planted before Mr. Hagiwara’s time.

Flowering Rhododendron and Stone Lantern

A stone lantern rises behind a red-flowering rhododendron next to the head of the large undulating Dragon Hedge. Stone lanterns were introduced to Japan in the Sixth Century along with Buddhism, and were used to light pathways to shrines.

Dragon Hedge

An undulating Dragon Hedge twists and turns along the pathway on the way to Maple Lane. This view is from the tail toward the head.

Azaleas and Rhododendrons near Hagiwara Gate

Brilliantly colored rhododendrons and azaleas adorn the pathway to Hagiwara Gate to the left. Light filtering through the evergreens above casts sun-washed patterns on the walkway.

Stone Pagoda with Azaleas

Brilliantly blossomed azaleas are planted on either side of an impressive large stone pagoda, or “treasure house.” A cherry tree in bloom arches its graceful branches over the mossy lawn.

Pathway under Long Bridge

The pathway under Long Bridge is lined with camellias, cherry trees, rhododendrons and fragrant wisteria. It winds toward the north end of the Tea Garden to vistas along Maple Lane and the Sunken Garden.

Azaleas and Cherry Blossoms

Several azaleas in bloom along the pathway offer a brilliant contrast to the sprays of cherry blossoms and pine branches overhead.

Zen Garden with Bonsai Tree and Azalea

Located behind the Pagoda, this area was laid out in 1953 by one of Japan’s leading landscape architects, Nagao Sukurai, who designed the Japanese gardens at the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition. This garden is a modern version of the Muromachi period’s (1392-1573) dry landscape, known as kare sansu in Japanese. The Zen Garden symbolizes in miniature a mountain scene, with stone waterfall and gravel river. The white gravel winds its way around miniature islands and forests. An impressive azalea, its blossoms highlighted by dappled sunlight, rises behind a splendid bonsai tree.

Rhododendron with Peace Lantern and Pagoda

A brilliant Seta rhododendron’s blossoms echo the red colors of the Pagoda in the background of this view of the Peace Lantern. Children throughout Japan contributed to the purchase of the Peace Lantern as a symbol of friendship to the United States. It was presented in 1953 by the Japanese Consul General to the City of San Francisco. Using a simple design, the bronze lantern is placed on a granite base.


The five-stored pagoda was originally in the Japanese exhibit at the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915. After the close of the exposition the Hagiwaras had it brought to the Tea Garden. In Japan and other countries in the Far East pagodas which are Buddhist shrines were often built over a sacred relic. The spire at the top of a pagoda is called a sorin and its nine rings represent various heavens of the gods.

View through Temple Gate toward Cherry Tree Lane

This ornate, orange-painted gate came from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It is located at the top of the hill above the Fraser Collection of dwarf trees.

Temple Gate and Reflection

The pathway that winds along the edge of the Main Pond offers spectacular views of the Temple Gate, Pagoda and Torii. Here the brilliant red of the Temple Gate is reflected in the surface of the Main Pond.

Stone Lantern along Edge of Main Pond

Many stone lanterns have been placed throughout the Japanese Tea Garden. Stone lanterns were introduced to Japan in the Sixth Century along with Buddhism. Pathways to temples and shrines were lit by oil lamps placed inside the lanterns. The typical stone lantern is made up of six parts: the base stone (jirin), the stem (sao), central platform (chudai), for the lamp oil (hibukuro), the light compartment, the broad roof (kasa), and at the top, the jewel (kurin)..

View of North End of Main Pond

A series of dwarf trees and a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) share the northern shoreline of
the Main Pond with a stone lantern. In the placid pool, large golden carp catch the eye with their
sinuous movement beneath the water’s surface.

Stone Pagoda and Bronze Cranes in Main Pond

A stone pagoda rises from a small island in the Main Pond. To the right two bronze cranes, symbols of a “thousand years of life,” strike a graceful pose. Behind the hedge is the pathway that wends along the pond edge.

Cherry Tree Lane

The pathway along Cherry Tree Lane is defined by a traditional Japanese wooden fence on the right and a thick hedge on the left. Delicate cherry blossoms flutter lightly in the warm spring morning breeze.

Temple Gate amidst Cherry Blossoms

The Temple Gate rises dramatically to the right above clouds of fragrant cherry blossoms. At far right can be seen the foliage of a windmill palm, also known as a fan palm (Trachycarpus fortunei), native to Japan.