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A Rendezvous at the Japanese Tea Garden
By Shi, Yi
Japanese tea. The sound of the words itself arouses my fond memory in Kyoto,
Japan, as an exchange student. I remember my Japanese student guide kneeling on the
table in the classroom, with her beautiful pink kimono and her white split-toed socks,
showing to a classroom of teenage boys the ritual of drinking Japanese tea. Inevitably, the
image of Japanese tea always brings about a sense of warmth and youthful romanticism
to me. Therefore, when my friend suggested me to spend my precious Sunday, not at
home, but at the Japanese Tea Garden at the Golden Gate Park, I gladly complied.
Seeing a Japanese garden between the modernistic de Young Museum and the
classically designed Spreckels Temple of Music was a strange sight. A shocking $7.00
ticket price further made me wonder if the trip was worthwhile. Yet, as I saw tourists
coming in and out of the garden, I decided to give the place a chance.
My first impression of the garden was the color green. Coming from the open
concourse of the Golden Gate Park, the concentration of green in the Tea Garden was
both refreshing and calming. I remembered, as a primary schoolboy, how the color green
is taught to be good for the eyes. The spectrum of green around me revitalized my sense
of youthfulness and sharpened my visual perception.
Unfamiliar with the geography of the garden, I decided to walk around the
souvenir shop and to start from the terrace behind. Every tree, small or large, round or
flat, in the garden symbolized a part of nature. Yet, the footprint of horticulture
distinguished the plants in the garden from those outside. The uniformly cut grass
patches, the deliberate matchmaking of different colors of shrubs and trees, and the
concentration of a large variety of plants constantly reminded me that I was walking in a
world of human artistry. The world within the garden fences was isolated from the world
outside. Outside of the fences, eucalyptus and pines grew wildly across the area

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untrammeled by infrastructure development. Inside the fences, evergreen shrubs and
flowering plum trees were carefully trimmed and cultivated in their designated spots to
be part of the landscape design. To me, the topography of the garden was a myth. Failing
to come up with any reason for the specific locations of the ponds, bridges, and
greeneries, I decided to attribute the mystical design to the study of feng shui…
As I walked out of the garden, I could not help but compare the Japanese
horticulture with Indian’s management of their forests. Nature under their hands become
a work of art, a product that serves the need of the community, aesthetically or physically.
Yet, there is a difference. The Japanese Tea Garden encloses itself from the surrounding
with its fences, whereas Indian’s forests are open-accessed. In The Legacy of Conquest,
Patricia Limerick points out how the Western history is a story around the drawing of
boundaries and the empowering of the land within that boundaries. The empowering of
boundaries requires political and economic powers. Indians and Japanese Americans had
none of them in the past; they could only hold onto the little of what was left to them. For
Indians, it was the reservations. For Japanese Americans, it was their properties. The
Japanese Tea Garden is not only a work of art that demonstrates the creativity and artistry
of the Japanese, but also a reminder of a community that struggles to earn legitimacy and
recognition in the mainstream American culture.