A Japanese garden hidden in downtown San Mateo


photo by Derek Tahara/Nichi Bei News

photo by Derek Tahara/Nichi Bei News

SAN MATEO, Calif. — Tucked away in downtown San Mateo, Calif. near Suruki Supermarket lies the Japanese garden in the city’s Central Park, full of large trees, a tiered pagoda and koi fish.

“I’ve had people that have lived in San Mateo all their life and didn’t know this garden existed,” Mike Allen, a garden curator and caretaker, told the Nichi Bei News.

The San Mateo Gardeners Association started planning the garden in 1964, a city of San Mateo brochure states. According to the brochure, the Toyonaka Sister City Organization endorsed the Japanese garden concept and a park support group formed to work with the city to build the garden. Nagao Sakurai, a former landscape architect at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, designed the garden. The garden officially opened in 1966.

Allen pointed out several unique design elements, including a turtle-shaped island, large trees in the back of the garden which represent mountains, water features representing lakes and ponds, and river rock representing beaches.

Additionally, the garden has a teahouse, which the city uses for special occasions when people from their sister city of Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, visit. He added that the city of Toyonaka donated the pagoda, the drinking fountain and the shinden, a religious shrine.

Allen said to maintain and care for the garden, the pond, which is full of leaves from the winter, has to be cleaned. He cleans it a couple of times per year. He added that he’s going to start pruning the pines and maples soon, which will last until the fall.

With spring fast approaching, one of the cherry blossom trees bloomed already, but Allen expects the rest of the cherry blossom trees to bloom later this month and in early April.

The koi feedings occur in the spring, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily through November, Allen stated.

The koi “kind of hibernate,” which is why visitors don’t see the fish swimming around during the wintertime, he said.

The number of people who visit the garden “fluctuates,” Allen said. However, during this time of the year, the garden will begin seeing more visitors and in the summer, it will be “very busy.” He added many people from all over the world including those from Russia and India have visited the garden.

The garden is also unique because of its size, Allen said. The San Mateo Japanese Garden is only an acre compared to the Portland Japanese Garden, which is “many acres,” he added. The Portland Japanese Garden is “not as detailed” as the San Mateo Japanese Garden, he said.

The San Mateo Japanese Garden is located at 50 E. 5th Ave. in San Mateo, Calif. It is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on the weekends, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information: (650) 522-7434.

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