The Portland Japanese Garden is considered the finest Japanese garden outside of Japan.
The Portland Japanese Garden has a spectacular hilltop location in Washington Park, 10 minutes west of downtown Portland. The garden is one of Portland's biggest attractions, with half a million visitors each year.
The garden can be explored in 2 hours along a series of gravel paths, stairs and bridges on 5.5 acres.
The Portland Japanese Garden opened in 1967 at the site of the old Portland Zoo in Washington Park. The garden was intended to strengthen the ties between Portland and its sister city of Sapporo Japan, after the devastation of WWII.
The garden was designed by Professor Takuma Tono from the Tokyo University of Agriculture, with plantings done over four years from 1963 to 1967 by his pupil, Kinya Hira. Unfortunately during this time anti-Japanese sentiments persisted, and Kinya Hira was subjected to racist taunts and even a stabbing, vowing he would never return to Portland. Hira finally returned to Portland fifty years later in 2017, at a dedication ceremony for the new Cultural Crossing Center.
Check hours & tickets for the Portland Japanese Garden (611 SW Kingston Avenue).
10 best things to see at the Portland Japanese Garden
1. Enter the Portland Japanese Garden through the striking Nezu Gate.
There's a 10 minute uphill walk to get to the entrance gate of the Portland Japanese Garden. If you're not up for a walk, then jump onboard the shuttle that leaves from the Welcome Center on SW Kingston Drive, directly across from the Portland Rose Garden.
2. Visit the Japanese inspired Flat Garden.
The Flat Garden dazzles in all seasons, with a spectacular laceleaf maple and weeping cherry tree. This is the most formal garden, and the vast open space is characteristic of Japanese design.
3. Browse Japanese art exhibitions at the Pavilion.
The striking Pavilion hosts Japanese art exhibitions, and can be found overlooking the Flat Garden.
Admire some traditional Japanese lanterns, on the way to the Pavilion.
4. Find solitude at the Sand and Stone Garden.
The Sand and Stone Garden showcases a traditional Japanese rock garden, with raked sand to depict water ripples in the ocean.
5. Explore the lower gardens at the Strolling Pond Garden.
The Strolling Pond Garden features upper and lower ponds connected by a stream.
This is the upper pond with glimpses of koi.
A stream cascades down the mountainside, into the upper pond.
The moon bridge is visible at the edge of the upper pond at the Portland Japanese Garden.
The zig-zag bridge is on the lower pond, traversing a field of white and purple irises.
Heavenly Falls is a beautiful backdrop to the zig-zag bridge at the Portland Japanese Garden.
6. See an authentic tea house at the Tea Garden.
The Tea Garden also includes an authentic tea house, constructed by master craftsmen from Japan.
7. Explore the wildest section of the Portland Japanese Garden.
The Natural Garden is the most untamed section of the garden. It's lush and shady, with dense undergrowth and a cool creek meandering down the hillside. Make your way down the stone steps along the mossy slopes.
8. Visit the gift shop or art gallery at the architecturally stunning Cultural Crossing Village.
The Cultural Crossing Village was opened in 2017 at a cost of $33.5 million.
This striking collection of three modern buildings are beautifully arranged around an expansive courtyard. The emphasis is on sustainability, with dramatic green roofs, and a man-made stream to capture rainwater run-off.
There's lots to do at the Cultural Crossing Village. Stop by the Tanabe Gallery to browse art exhibitions, enjoy refreshments at Umami Cafe, and pick up exquisite Japanese products at the Garden Gift Shop.
Step outside to see the soaring 20-foot traditional Castle Wall that holds the earth back, built by a 15th generation Japanese stonemason. It's unusual to see a wall like this outside of Japan, and with no cement in the wall, gravity holds it in place! There's also a Bonsai Terrace with a lovely selection of Bonsai plants.
9. Enjoy tea and light snacks at the Umami Cafe.
The Umami Cafe sources tea from the Jugetsudo tea company in Japan. It has an enchanting setting at the Cultural Crossing Village, overlooking the shaded gardens. Sit indoors in the sleek cafe and peer out at the garden through a wall of windows, or enjoy a seat out on the patio.
10. Visit the lantern-lit garden during the October Autumn Moon Festival.
Watch the harvest moon rise over the horizon, as you sip Japanese tea and listen to traditional music, while watching the garden bathed in ethereal light from the illuminated lanterns.
Know before you go
- Portland Japanese Garden Address: 611 SW Kingston Avenue, Portland, OR 97205.
- Entrance: 0.2 mile walk uphill from the lower parking lot. Visitors can also be shuttled to the top.
- Hours & admission: check here.
- Cafe: yes.