Visiting the Portland Japanese Garden was the closest I’ve been to Japan since I rode the bullet train from Tokyo to Hiroshima five years ago. Back then, I was cognizant of the duplicitous nature of Japanese culture, but at the time I was much more focused on and in awe of the vending machines selling everything from underwear to electronics to beer, the heated toilet seats, the Harajuku girls giggling in talking photo booth, the trains that seemed to fly. When viewed through this urban futuristic prism, Japan is utterly alien. During that same trip, I passed through Kyoto, so yeah, all the appropriate confusion descended upon me later. How can a country be so zany and so zen at the same time?
If only I had spent more time in Kyoto, I might have achieved inner peace.
Fortunately, my visit to the Portland Japanese Garden provided me with all the hindsight I needed.
Portland is the sister city of Sapporo, Japan. Other than that Portland is nothing like Japan. Except maybe weird fashion?
Motifs of a Japanese Garden
All Japanese Gardens incorporate water, stone, and plants. In the Portland Japanese Garden, every plant, every stone, and the water placement lives and breathes with purpose. In the Natural Garden (one of the five styles of gardens there), the waterfall symbolizes the stages of life. It runs fast and strong at the top, in the infancy of its life, and toward the bottom the flow of water calms to reflect the peace of old age.
Zig-zagged paths ward off evil. Evil travels in a straight line, quite literally taking the easy way out.
The beauty is in the blank spaces. Where there exists clutter, there lacks focus. A Japanese room might emulate the idea of the garden. Japanese rooms are very simple, very clean. If there are any decorations, it might be a single flower. When there is one flower in an otherwise blank room, your focus can only be on that flower, and only then can you see all the infinite possibilities of beauty inherent in that one thing. (I warned you this culture was pretty zen!)
Oh, and those super enlightened Japanese know that imperfection is a virtue, which is why they wouldn’t fix this crack in the wall:
To age gracefully is to acknowledge that there is a beginning, middle, and end to life. An emphasis on seasons is a hallmark of a Japanese Garden and in the Portland Japanese Garden, this idea is exemplified in the Flat Garden. There, a planted cherry tree represents spring; a maple tree illustrates autumn.
Why you should go?
The Portland Japanese Garden has five directions. Front, back, left, right, and center. Here, you will find your center and leave feeling as though you finally understand that other side to Japan. Here, miles away from Japan…
AND LOOK! They are having a Free Admission Day on February 20!