Daily Archives: July 15, 2012

Taniguchi’s gift to the city of Austin

The Isamu Taniguchi Garden at Zilker Botanical Garden undoubtedly has the best view of Austin, Texas.

“The best view in town” according to one garden volunteer is from the Isamu Taniguchi Garden at the Zilker Botanical Garden.
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

Many thanks are due Marion Alsup for her hospitality during our recent visit to the Taniguchi Garden at Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin, Texas. She greeted us at the train station, hung cool scarves around our necks, pressed bottles of water into our hands, plus she organized other garden personnel to meet us on site to answer additional questions . Alsup is vice president of the Austin Area Garden Center with responsibility for education and president of the Docents of Zilker Botanical Garden. She provided running commentary as we toured the winding trails.

Marian Alsup and Donna Friedenreich explain the Sister City relationship with Oita, which gave this stone gate to the garden.
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

Three acres of rugged caliche hillside were transformed into a garden in the late 1960s by Isamu Taniguchi when he was 70 years old. Working for 18 months with occasional help from two parks and recreation department staffers, Taniguchi brought forth his gift to the city of Austin first in gratitude for the education that his two sons received there and second in an aspiration for peace.

lantern at top entry to the garden
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

Taniguchi was born in Osaka, Japan. By the age of 16 he was raising bonsai. Migrating to Stockton, California in 1915, he farmed vegetables and fruit, returning to Japan only once to marry. During World War II, he and his family were interned in California and Texas. The family moved to the Rio Grande Valley at the end of the war to continue farming.

The Austin Area Garden Center and the Parks and Recreation Department could not turn down his generous offer of a garden. Working without a salary, a contract or a written plan, Taniguchi showed up for work, rain or shine, and created paths and streams, waterfalls and ponds, stone arrangements and plantings. The garden opened to the public in 1969. Taniguchi’s son Alan was Dean of the UT School of Architecture that year.

An essay by the elder Taniguchi – The Spirit of the Garden – describes not only the garden, but its builder:

“It has been my wish that through the construction of this visible garden, I might provide a symbol of universal peace. By observing the genuine peaceful nature of the garden, I believe that we should be able to knock on the door of our conscience, which once was obliged to be the slave of the animal nature in man rather than of the humanity which resides on the other side of his heart. It is my desire for the peace of mankind which has endowed this man of old age the physical health and stamina to pile stone upon stone without a day’s absence from the work for the last 18 months. It is my desire for peace of mankind which encouraged me in my voluntary labor to complete this long-dreamed gift for the city of Austin – this Oriental Garden. It is my wish that you have pleasant communion with the spirit of the garden.”

A small lantern and a hidden waterfall are part of the ponds that spell out “Austin.”
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

Several garden ponds spell out the word “Austin.”

(photo by Bill F. Eger)

A rustic wooden log Togetsu-kyo or “Bridge to Walk Over the Moon” is nearby.

The final pond holds lotus Taniguchi raised from a seed from Japan and several varieties of water lily. There is a small central island in the shape of a boat with stepping stones through the pond in the shape of the boat’s chain and anchor.

The lowest pond features a boat-shaped island with wisteria, water lilies and lotus grown by Mr. Taniguchi. The story of the lotus seed — Journey of the Third Seed — is recounted as a children’s story by Jane Scoggins Bauld.
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

Taniguchi continued to be involved with the garden leading occasional tours. He died in 1992.

Terry Ward, bonsai master and garden volunteer was present for the planting of many of the older trees in the garden. “I’ve helped train several garden staff in the art of pruning the trees.” New staffer Robert “Spider” DeVictoria came to the Taniguchi garden two and a half years ago from Brooklyn where he recalled falling in love with Japanese gardens at the botanical garden there.

Terry Ward enjoys the view from one of several comfortable benches throughout the garden.
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

There are some outstanding maples and 21 kinds of bamboo in this 3-acre garden.

Thirty different garden clubs such as the Austin Pond Society, Texas Bamboo Society, the Austin Bonsai Society, the Austin Ikebana Study Group and other associations were organized into the non-profit Austin Area Garden Center in 1955. The Austin Park and Recreation Department owns the land. The Garden Center built the building, organizes volunteers, trains docents and staffs the gift shop, according to Donna Friedenreich, president of AAGC.

The Heart O’Texas Orchid Society donated a Japanese teahouse with a view of the Austin skyline beyond the bamboo. It is named Ten-Wa-Jin (Heaven, Harmony, Man) to convey once more Taniguchi’s message that man exists in harmony with nature and that a “garden is the embodiment of the peaceful coexistence of all the elements of nature.”

Ten Wa Jin teahouse at the Taniguchi Garden
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

interior detail
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

Local materials were used in tea house construction. The bamboo society helps every year.
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

detail of roof
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

view from the teahouse
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

Stone gates flanking a newer slate path were a gift from Austin’s Sister City Oita, dedicated in November 1999 to mark the lasting friendship between the two cities.

English text is on the interior of the western gate.

“Once a year, a garden festival is held, usually during the last weekend in March. In 2013, the garden festival will be held the first weekend in April due to the Easter holiday,” said Marion Alsup, Docent Club president.

new gate at the north end
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

The garden recently received a generous donation from the Orton family, which was used to reconstruct an existing path to meet ADA requirements, adding a new gate at the north end.

detail of new gate
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

In addition, the garden receives welcome support from the Japan America Society of Greater Austin.

The city books weddings to be held in the garden and retains the revenue. Other events are partnered with AAGC and the proceeds are split. According to Friedenreich, one highly successful event funded repair of leaking ponds with Dragon Coat.

Each year, the garden hosts several hundred thousand people. Thousands of school children are reached by the Zilker Botanical Garden’s educational outreach programs and many school groups come for a visit. It was a delight to see the school children enjoying the waterfall, lanterns, niche in the stone tea house for tea cups, resident snake, and trimmed bushes all with respect and deepening calm.

One group of school children enjoyed the garden while we were there.
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

For more information on how those of you in the Austin area can support the Zilker Botanical Garden, e-mail info@zilkergarden.org or phone 512-477-8672.

Taniguchi garden at the Zilker Botanical Garden may be found at:

http://www.zilkergarden.org/gardens/japanese.html

Should you wish to view a very sweet video of the Taniguchi Garden, check out this one created a year ago by Austin Otaku.

http://vimeo.com/austinotaku/isamu-taniguchi-japanese-garden

Unless otherwise credited, photos in this blog are by K.T. Cannon-Eger. Click on any image in order to see it full size.

Categories: Austin, Texas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Jingu House and the Japanese Tea Garden

The article below was published immediately after a visit to the garden in 2012. The following link leads to an October 5, 2015, article by Jack Morgan of KSTX San Antonio. The article in turn includes links leading to more information on the garden and on Japanese Gardening dot org.

http://tpr.org/post/incredible-story-behind-san-antonios-japanese-tea-garden#stream/0

In Texas, when I said, “We’ve been to a Japanese garden in San Antonio,” many people thought I was referring to the Japanese Tea Garden at Sunken Gardens, Brackenridge Park. I was referring to Kumamoto en, detailed in an earlier post about the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

But there is a story here at Sunken Gardens – another sad story of a family losing their home and livelihood due to fear during World War II and another hopeful story of better things to come.

There are many striking features about this garden – the stonework on paths, benches, structures and ponds alone is worth a visit. Initially, in 1840 the property was a quarry. In 1880, the Alamo Roman and Portland Cement Company constructed the first cement plant west of the Mississippi. A smokestack near a gazebo overlook marks the kiln that was built in 1889.

The story of the garden is told on a 1984 brass plaque adjacent to the entry gate, an unusual torii style structure in the fois bois design bearing the inscription “Chinese Tea Garden.”

The torii gate created by Dionicio Rodriguez is a national landmark. Text of the plaque at the right is reproduced below.
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

The plaque reads: “The idea of a Japanese tea garden was conceived by City Parks Commissioner Ray Lambert in the early 1900s in an effort to beautify the rock quarries which had earlier been abandoned by the San Antonio Portland Cement Company. The brick and stone smokestack east of the teahouse is part of the old Portland Cement kiln.

The kiln smokestack at the extreme right of the photo is all that is left of the old cement plant. The gazebo overlook is on the list of things to be refurbished at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio.

“Commissioner Lambert enlisted the aid of a Japanese artist Kimi Eizo Jingu to assist in the design of an authentic Japanese tea garden. Artist Jingu had recently arrived in San Antonio with his family, had been employed by the U.S, Army and was selling his watercolor paintings in a shop in downtown San Antonio.

“The Japanese tea garden was completed and christened in 1919 having been constructed with prison labor and with both corporate and individual donations. Commissioner Lambert had given particular effort to achieving true Japanese design and had imported numerous plants from gardens existing in Japan. A house was constructed on the site using rocks from the old quarry, and the Jingu family was moved into the house to act as overseers for the facility. In 1926, the Jingus opened a tea house in the upper level of their home. Before his death in 1936, Mr. Jingu had become nationally recognized for his knowledge of teas.

Jingu House Cafe is open Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This view shows improvements done recently to allow for barrier-free access.
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

“The Jingu family remained in their home in the garden until shortly after the December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor incident. The resulting general fear and resentment by the American public caused the Jingu family to be removed from the garden and its name was changed to Chinese Tea Garden.

old postcards framed upstairs in Jingu House Cafe
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

“It was at this time the Chinese-style entry was added, bearing the inscription ‘Chinese Tea Garden.’ This Oriental-design cement-sculptured entry was purportedly designed by Maximo Cortez and constructed by Dionicio Rodriguez. Mr. Rodrigues was a Mexican national who is credited with a number of cement sculptures in San Antonio. He kept his techniques secret working always inside a tent and using tools he made on the site from tin, wood, etc. His process consisted of a metal rod base on which he developed three-dimensional designs with layers of especially prepared cement. He did not divulge either his process of cement sculpture or coloring of the cement layers. He spoke no English and a few co-workers learned by observation only. He is credited with having created various other sculptures throughout the United States in addition to those in the San Antonio area.

“In 1983, the San Antonio City Council ordained that the original name of “Japanese Tea House” be restored to the site in consideration of the number of Japanese-Americans who had fought honorably on the side of the United States during World War II.”

It should be noted here that the youngest sons James and Kimi Jingu served in the U.S. Army. James received a Purple Heart for his actions with the 442nd in Europe and Kimi served in the Korean conflict. See one newspaper article here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/42448022@N05/3967648434/

an overview from the vantage point of the pavilion
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

Toward the back of the property, bamboo leans over a section of original steps.

one of the original stone benches

Don Pylant notes current happenings in his article

http://www.japanesegardening.org/sunkengardens/index.html

“A move to restore the Japanese Tea Garden came in the 2005 bond election to repair the Pavilion. With help and guidance from San Antonio Parks Foundation and Friends of the Parks, this Phase 1 began. The original roofing was fencing wire with palm leaf thatch, harvested from the city parks, woven together to shed water. The new roof is a fantastic mimic of artificial palm thatch – all the looks without the fire hazard.

the reconstructed pavilion
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

“In 2007, former councilwoman Bonnie Conner, Parks Foundation vice chair of projects, and former Mayor Lila Cockrell, Parks Foundation president, began a $1.6 million restoration campaign to repair the lily ponds. The successful effort resulted in the restoration of the ponds, a new re-circulating filtration system, and the return of fish and lilies to the ponds. For the public re-opening on March 8, 2008, Jingu and Lambert family members were present. Mabel Yoshiko Jingu Enkoji, the sixth child of Kimi and Miyoshi Jingu, and born at the Gardens, was the senior Jingu family member at the event. Richard Lambert, grandson of Commissioner Ray Lambert was also present.

detail of interior of re-done pavilion
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

“A master plan is being created and fundraising will begin soon to continue the effort to return the Japanese Tea Gardens to its former glory as a jewel in the crown of San Antonio and South Texas.”

HUGE koi
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

A problem common to all gardens with koi ponds — birds that like to go fishing!
(photo by Bill F. Eger)

Side note: for more on Dionicio Rodriguez and his Trabajo Rustico, see the book Capturing Nature: The Cement Sculpture of Dionicio Rodriguez by Patsy Pittman Light.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos in this blog are by K.T. Cannon-Eger. To see a full size image, click on the photo.

Categories: San Antonio, Texas | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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