If you are looking for something a little more tranquil in your attempt to escape the crowds milling about San Diego’s inspiring Balboa Park, then the Japanese Friendship Garden definitely goes out of its way to tick all of those boxes. With its garden inspired from centuries-old Japanese design and techniques, and now showcasing a living exhibition comprised of plants and flora native to both Japan and San Diego, the mission of the Japanese Friendship Garden Society of San Diego is to develop a traditional Japanese garden as a center to educate, engage, and inspire people of diverse backgrounds about Japanese culture and community legacy.
Opened to the public in 1991, and established as an expression of friendship between San Diego and its sister city, Yokohama, today the Japanese Friendship Garden covers an area just short of 5 hectares and is well-known for its unique placement, sukiya-style buildings, koi ponds, and landscape exhibits. The garden itself has undergone a number of developments since its humble 1991 beginnings: a second phase opened in 1999, designed by renowned landscape architect Takeo Uesugi, work which included the addition of the Exhibit Hall, Activity Center, and Upper Koi Pond, while 2015 saw the completion of the third phase which added a further 3.6 hectares to its footprint, incorporating a 200 plant strong cherry tree grove, large azalea and camellia garden, a water feature reminiscent of the San Diego watershed, and the state of the art Inamori Pavilion.
The end result is this beautiful space that moves you along a predetermined path through a very pretty garden, offering plenty of points to stop and reflect (and for those less inclined to do that, places to snap some pretty selfies). The Japanese Friendship Garden hosts many local educational programs, activities, festivals, and horticultural classes that focus on the relationship between nature and Japanese culture, and as such there is almost always something interesting on show, case in point, for my visit it was a small exhibit on the art of Washi, Japanese handmade paper, featuring an installation by Maki Ishiwata, an established Washi fiber artist.
Having been fortunate enough to visit a number of actual Japanese gardens before, I have to say, despite the challenge of having to craft a garden with an Asian feel in the very sunny San Diego/Californian climate, the team really have managed to build something quite special out here in Balboa Park.
All in all, a peaceful, relaxing place to visit, and a great space to recharge one’s batteries before heading out back into the bustle of Balboa Park.