I had never visited a ‘tea garden’ in my life until July 2018, when I visited the Japanese Tea Garden located inside Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I had heard and read a lot about it both before and during my visit to San Francisco, so there was no chance I would have returned back to Cyprus without visiting it.

The garden:

The Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States and it welcomes a great number of visitors from around the world every day. Although from the outside it doesn’t look like a very big garden, once you enter it you realise that it is a real gem hidden in the park, offering an experience like no other.  The garden offers the natural beauty, tranquillity and harmony anyone would expect of a Japanese-style garden and is the perfect place for a passionate photographer like myself, to capture some unique photographs and take a moment to escape from the crowded and busy city of SF.

The Japanese garden’s 3 acres is made up of different areas including the Tea House, the ‘Treasure Tower’ pagoda, the Drum (or Moon) bridge and the rock garden. It also consists of many little paths and ponds, and features plants and trees pruned and arranged in a Japanese style. Fascinating sculptures and structures influenced by Buddhist and Shinto religious beliefs are cleverly hidden among the water and rock elements, that create a beautiful and calming landscape.

Enjoying the tea:

While I was there, I couldn’t resist but sit down at the Tea House which is located by the water and is surrounded by views of different aspects of the garden. The Tea House currently offers six kinds of tea: Jasmine, Sencha, HojiCha, Genmaicha, Green, and the traditional tea used in ceremonies, Matcha. It also offers a variety of snacks, some of which are savory including Edamame and Tea Sandwiches, and some of which are sweet including Kuzumochi and Green Tea Cheesecake.

Sitting around one of the custom-designed ‘irori’ (or farmhouse-style) tables, enjoying a meditative cup of tea and watching the garden’s passing visitors sample other popular Japanese refreshments, was such a relaxing moment for me. This is exactly where I acquired my love for Jasmine flower tea (a tea scented with aroma from jasmine blossoms), a tea that I continue to love and have associated with this very calm and peaceful moment of my life.

I mean, if you don’t fall in love with tea, whilst enjoying your afternoon in a beautiful Tea House nestled in the centre of a Japanese Tea Garden, overlooking the most picturesque landscape and pond, then I’m not quite sure what will do!

A little bit of history:

After the conclusion of the 1894 World’s Fair, Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant and gardener, personally oversaw the modification of the temporary Japanese Village fair exhibit to the permanent Japanese Tea Garden and was the official caretaker of the garden from 1895 to 1925. He imported from Japan many plants, birds, and the now famous koi fish, and he more than tripled the size of the garden. After San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition closed, he obtained the large ornamental wooden gate from that fair’s Japanese Pavilion. Following Makoto Hagiwara’s death in 1925 his daughter, Takano Hagiwara, and her children became the proprietors and maintainers of the garden.