The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is the oldest in the United States, created for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition as the fair’s Japanese Village exhibit. The garden’s lush, harmonious landscaping pays homage to the traditional Japanese art of the garden. Paths wind through its three and one half acres of carefully chosen and manicured plants, including graceful Japanese maples, twisting pines, clipped azaleas, and cherry trees that put on a spectacular flowering display in March and April.
The grounds also feature a series of koi ponds, elaborately carved wood gates, many stone lanterns, a hundred year old five-story pagoda, a karesansui dry garden constructed of stones and gravel, a high-arching Drum Bridge (a joy for children and adults), a teahouse, and gift shop. A large bronze Buddha near the teahouse, cast in Japan in 1790, was presented to the garden by Gump’s in 1949. The bronze Peace Lantern situated behind the pagoda was bought with the contributions of Japanese schoolchildren and presented to the garden in 1953 in commemoration of the U.S.-Japan peace treaty signed in San Francisco in 1951.
Australian born George Turner Marsh was responsible for building the garden for the 1894 fair, but the Hagiwara family name is perhaps better known today. Immigrant and successful businessman Makoto Hagiwara took over management of the garden after the close of the fair. He was instrumental in expanding both the garden and it’s reputation. He lived in the garden with his family until his death in 1925.
His descendants continued to manage the garden until 1942, when they were sent to an internment camp in Utah as part of the World War II relocation of all West Coast persons of Japanese descent. During the war, the family’s residence was demolished and the garden renamed the Oriental Tea Garden. The name was restored to the Japanese Tea Garden in 1952. The collection of dwarf trees on Waterfall Hill, once part of the Hagiwaras’ collection, was returned to the garden in 1965. A bronze plaque honoring the Hagiwara family, by artist Ruth Asawa, was installed just inside the garden’s main gate in 1974, and in 1986 the park’s Tea Garden Drive was renamed Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive.
The Japanese Tea Garden is at 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, at the southwestern edge of the Music Concourse, near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. It is near to other prominent features of Golden Gate Park such as the de Young museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Spreckels Temple of Music, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum.