San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden and Wine ToursThe Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, California, is a beautiful part of Golden Gate Park.  It was built as part of a sprawling World’s Fair, the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894.

The oldest public Japanese garden in the United States, this complex of paths, ponds and a teahouse features native Japanese and Chinese plants. The garden’s 5 acres are filled with sculptures and bridges.

After the World’s Fair, Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant and gardener, converted the temporary exhibit into a permanent park.  Hagiwara oversaw the building of the Japanese Tea Garden, and he was the official caretaker from 1895 to 1925.  He requested that one thousand flowering cherry trees be imported from Japan, as well as other native plants, birds, and the now famous goldfish.

His family lived in and took care of the Japanese Tea Garden until 1942, when Executive Order 9066 forced them to leave San Francisco and relocate to an internment camp with thousands of other Japanese American families during WWII. The garden was renamed the Oriental Tea Garden and it fell into disarray.

In 1949, a large bronze Buddha, originally cast in Tajima, Japan in 1790, was presented to the garden by the S & G Gump Company.  The name ‘Japanese Tea Garden’ was reinstated in 1952.  In 1953 the Zen Garden was dedicated at the same time as the 9,000-pound Lantern of Peace.  The Lantern was purchased using the contributions of Japanese children.  It was presented on their behalf as a symbol of friendship for future generations.

The first evidence of fortune cookies in the United States is in connection with this tea garden.  The descendants of Makoto Hagiwara claimed to introduce the fortune cookie to the United States from Japan. Visitors to the garden were served fortune cookies made by a San Francisco bakery, Benkyodo.

Go visit the Garden and let yourself go Zen.

Writer: Meredith Blevins, featured travel writer for the Authentic Travel Group.  Join her at for wine country mysteries, writing classes, and the mystic west.

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