50 years of good will: San Mateo celebrates Japanese Garden anniversary

SAN MATEO COMMUNITY JEWEL — Majken Bullard and her 4-year-old son Jack take their first stroll through San Mateo’s Japanese Garden in Central Park. The city is hosting 50th anniversary celebrations throughout August. photo by Samantha Weigel/San Mateo Daily Journal

SAN MATEO COMMUNITY JEWEL — Majken Bullard and her 4-year-old son Jack take their first stroll through San Mateo’s Japanese Garden in Central Park. The city is hosting 50th anniversary celebrations throughout August. photo by Samantha Weigel/San Mateo Daily Journal

SAN MATEO, Calif. — For more than 50 years, San Mateo’s Japanese Garden has served as a symbol of good will and cultural appreciation.

Throughout August, the city is commemorating the anniversary of the tranquil 1-acre garden with special events such as a bonsai workshop, martial arts demonstration, evening gala and more at Central Park near downtown.

The 50th anniversary kicked off Aug. 7 with a traditional tea ceremony at the garden filled with Japanese maples, koi pond, quaint bridges, cherry trees, bamboo grove and granite pagodas.

“I think that it is such a jewel for the entire community and we’re really looking forward to celebrating,” said Parks and Recreation Director Sheila Canzian. “We’ve got a whole series of events that are scheduled. … We really wanted it to be not just one opportunity for the public to celebrate the garden, but rather showcase it the entire month.”

Designed by Nagao Sakurai, the same landscape architect who created Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden, San Mateo’s quaint garden was built with help from the city’s Gardeners’ Association, according to the city.

After World War II, San Mateo officials sought to strengthen ties with the Japanese community, which prompted the formation of one of the nation’s oldest Sister City relationships and inspired the garden’s creation. San Mateo and Toyonaka, Japan, have spent decades exchanging gifts, hosting each others’ exchange students as well as Little League games and sharing cultures as part of their Sister City relationship.

Celebrating the anniversary of the Japanese Garden culminates with the Aug. 27 gala that will be attended by 10 visitors from Toyonaka including dignitaries and students.

“It’s very exciting to think that the tea garden, but more importantly the relationship between Toyonaka and San Mateo, has been around for over 50 years as the symbol of good will between the two cities,” said Deputy Mayor David Lim. “The tea garden is a unique part of a very unique park. It’s very peaceful, it’s located right in the center of Central Park, and it’s a great place to go and reflect.”

Compared to other active recreation areas in the city, whether it’s playgrounds or tennis courts, Canzian agreed the Japanese Garden provides a quiet place to ponder.

The koi pond is also a popular attraction for children and the garden hosted a kid’s day with arts and crafts Aug. 13. Yi Jin Jing and bonsai demonstrations were held Aug. 14, and an exciting marital arts performance will take place Aug. 21.

“We talked about what cultural things we could offer to the community at large,” Canzian said. “We agreed on the ones we felt were representative of the community and the Japanese culture.”

Wesley Taoka, director of the San Mateo Japanese American Community Center, assisted in planning for the celebration.

Although the city’s Gardeners’ Association disbanded about a decade ago and most of the members who helped create the garden have died or are much older, Taoka said a few are still involved with the community center. During its creation, the garden served as an opportunity to cross cultural boundaries and share traditions, he said.

“Many, if not most of the Japanese Americans who lived in San Mateo at that time, they were gardeners. So this is a good contribution from the community to the city itself and then just around that time, the city had just formed the sister city relationship with Toyonaka,” Taoka said.

Sam Fukudome, who was one of the longest curators of the Central Park Japanese Garden before he retired a few years ago and now is the president of the local bonsai club, will also attend the ceremony, Taoka said.

While the Japanese Garden is open to all throughout the week, organizers and city officials hope the community will join to celebrate the historic site and the international bonds it represents.

There are fees for some of the activities that run through August. Visit http://www.cityofsanmateo.org/index.aspx?nid=3251 for more information and a schedule of events.

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