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Looking for a little Zen in the midst of your hectic life? Take a walk through the oldest Japanese-style garden in the US, the Japanese Tea Garden in the heart of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Stroll around the lanterns and ponds, admire the mountains, enjoy the drum bridge, and then treat yourself to tea and fortune cookies before enjoying some quiet meditation on a bench.

The garden was originally created as a “Japanese Village” exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition. It originally spanned one acre and showcased a Japanese style garden, designed by local Japanese garden landscaper Makoto Hagiwara.

After the expo, Makoto Hagiwara was allowed to stay and maintain a permanent Japanese style garden as a gift of posterity. He became the caretaker of the garden, continuing to pour all his personal wealth, creativity, and enthusiasm into the garden to create perfection.

Mr. Hagiwara expanded the garden to approximately 5 acres and lived with his family on the property until 1942, when about 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to evacuate their homes and move into internment camps. Unfortunately, when the war ended, the Hagiwara family was not allowed to return to their home and eventually their family treasures were removed.

Although there was some bad history with the Japanese Tea Garden, it has been improved and returned to its natural beauty. It features classic elements such as an arched drum bridge, lanterns, native Japanese plants, tranquil koi ponds, and of course the Zen garden.

Enjoy a special time in the spring by strolling among the cherry blossom trees that bloom throughout the garden in March and April. The beauty of this garden year-round is why it’s one of the most popular attractions in San Francisco for both locals and tourists alike.

When visiting the garden, take time to visit the Tea House before you leave. Before the tea ceremony, it’s tradition to wash your hands and mouth in the water basin. Located next to the Gift Shop, it’s made of carved stone in the shape of a boat that was found in a villa destroyed during WWII near Tokyo. If you look closely, you can see a tiny turtle, the symbol of luck, carved into the basin.

The Japanese Tea Garden is open daily, with no holiday closures. Summer hours are 9:00am to 6:00pm and winter hours are 9:00 to 4:45pm. The best time of day is early morning and midweek when the crowds are less and you can amble along the stone paths to your heart’s content in peace.

Now that you’ve had some quiet meditation, you’re all ready to hit the San Francisco Zoo for some wild adventures.

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