The women who served tea in Descanso Gardens’ Japanese Garden starting in the 1960s and 1970s reunite. (Photo by Martha Benedict)
LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Descanso Gardens celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Japanese Garden on Oct. 12 with a reunion decades in the making, a bridge rededication ceremony and an art gallery preview.
Delighting generations of visitors, the Japanese Garden has become an iconic part of the Descanso Gardens landscape. Built with the support of the local Japanese American community, the Japanese Garden debuted at Descanso Garden on June 3, 1966.
The celebration started with a reunion of the women who served tea in the Japanese Garden after its opening. “The reunion was one of my favorite parts of our 50th anniversary celebration,” said Descanso Gardens Education Programs Manager Emi Yoshimura. “I was so pleased that, with Mary Matsumoto and Naomi Hirahara as our unofficial hosts, we were able to bring members of this community back together and back to the Japanese Garden. People make the Japanese Garden complete, and these women were, and continue to be, an important part of the story of this special place.”
Tim Morphy, Descanso Gardens Board of Trustees chair, Akira Chiba, consul general of Japan in Los Angeles, John Wicker, director of Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation, and David Brown, Descanso Gardens executive director, cut the ribbon for the rededication ceremony of the recently restored Japanese Garden bridge. (Photo by Martha Benedict)
Guests were then welcomed with opening remarks by David Brown, Descanso Gardens executive director, Akira Chiba, consul general of Japan in Los Angeles, Tim Morphy, chair of the Descanso Gardens Board of Trustees, and John Wicker, director of Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation. After a meticulous one-month restoration of the bridge by carpenter Harold Greene in conjunction with the Historic Resources Group, the Descanso Gardens landmark was rededicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“For 50 years, the Japanese Garden has been one of the most popular exhibits within Descanso Gardens,” Brown said. “Its bridge, designed originally by Kenneth Masao Nishimoto and patterned after a famous temple bridge in Kyoto, is probably one of Descanso’s most photographed features. A physical bridge is also a powerful metaphor for the desired effect of a Japanese-style garden: to connect people and cultures and ideas through time. Gardens are a form of art, just like paintings, symphonies and plays, but fundamentally are accessible to all people everywhere.”
Up the hill at the Sturt Haaga Gallery, guests were treated to an ikebana demonstration by Kazuo Yokou Kitajima of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana. Inside the gallery, they enjoyed a preview of Descanso Gardens’ newest exhibit, “Sharing Culture | Creating Community,” curated by Hirahara, David Brown and Dr. Kendall Brown. The exhibit showcases art and artifacts relating to the Japanese Garden at Descanso Gardens and Japanese-style gardens in North America.
Postcard featuring Descanso Gardens’ Japanese Garden and ladies wearing kimonos, circa 1966. (Courtesy Descanso Gardens)
“The creation of the Descanso Japanese Garden reflects a period of time when Japanese Americans were establishing roots back in San Gabriel Valley after the turmoil of the World War II incarceration,” said Hirahara, a noted writer of mysteries as well as nonfiction books about Japanese American history. “The stories of Southern California Flower Market manager Frank Kuwahara, architect Kenneth Nishimoto, restaurateur Robert Kawashima and his sister, Mary Matsumoto, reveal how Nisei and Sansei embraced their Japanese heritage to forge goodwill relationships with the outside community.”
“‘Sharing Culture | Creating Community’ honors our predecessors from the early days of Descanso Gardens,” said Descanso Gardens Membership and Visitor Experience Manager Cristeen Martinez. “The exhibit tells the story of the commitment of the local Japanese community and the Descanso Gardens Guild to construct a space to bridge cultures and make connections that celebrate nature. The 50th anniversary of the Japanese Gardens provides the opportunity to take another look and notice how the garden still resonates with the community, in Japanese-style gardens across America and in their influences on contemporary art.”
“Sharing Culture | Creating Community” opened to the public on Oct. 15 during Descanso Gardens’ annual Japanese Garden Festival and will be on display until Jan. 29, 2017. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Monday, when the gallery is closed. Descanso Gardens is located at 1418 Descanso Dr. in La Cañada Flintridge. For more information, call (818) 949-4200 or visit www.descansogardens.org.
Photo of the Japanese Garden in the Home section of The Los Angeles Times, May 29, 1966. (Courtesy Descanso Gardens)
Guests enjoy the artifacts on display at the “Sharing Culture | Creating Community” exhibit at the Sturt Haaga Gallery. (Photo by Martha Benedict)
“Internal Dialog” by Mineko Grimmer is part of the exhibit. (Descanso Gardens)
Third annual Bonsai Festival at Descanso Gardens, Sept. 17, 1968. Courtesy of Japanese American National Museum. (Photo by Toyo Miyatake, gift of the Alan Miyatake family)