Seattle Japanese Garden: The Complete Guide

Seattle Japanese Garden
Kristin Kendle

The Seattle Japanese Garden is a 3.5-acre garden tucked within the much, much larger Washington Park Arboretum. The tranquil garden is small, but mighty. It is an ideal spot for a moment of serenity or a date and is a great place to bring the kids. While the garden isn’t very big and you could likely take a spin through it in five or ten minutes, count on spending 30 to 60 minutes here instead. The Japanese Garden is one of Seattle’s most peaceful spots and has a lot to offer within its bamboo borders.

Perhaps the best reason to venture to the Seattle Japanese Garden is to enjoy a little slice of peace right in the city. While some days can get quite busy and crowded (especially during peak bloom season or at the height of autumn), most of the time the garden is quiet and peaceful and there’s always a bench where you can stop and savor the moment.

History

The Seattle Japanese Garden opened in June 1969 and is designed as a “stroll garden”—a garden concept dating to the late 16th and early 17th centuries—that’s just what it sounds like: a garden intended for strolling. The landscape design was put together by Juki Iida with the concept of shizensa (the essence of nature) in mind. He used both traditional Japanese and native Northwest plants in the design, and he travelled to the Cascades to select granite rocks to use around the waterfall at the Seattle Japanese Garden.

What to See and Do

The most popular, and obvious, things to do in the Japanese Garden is to enjoy a stroll through the garden, stop to feed the koi, or find a bench and chat among the peaceful surrounds.

The Japanese Garden is known as a photographer haven—and for a reason. Toro (Japanese stone lanterns), bridges over the water, Japanese maples of all shapes and sizes, koi and turtles, and wandering paths create the perfect backdrop for amazing photos. If you’re a pro or want to really hone your photography in the garden, consider a photographer membership/annual pass, which will get you access during photography-only sessions. Do note: the garden does not host weddings or other private events and also doesn’t permit wedding or engagement photography on its grounds.

One of the highlights of the garden is the large koi pond that dominates the center of the park. The pond has some of the largest koi you’ll likely ever see and they love to swim up and greet passing visitors. You can buy a small container of koi food at the entrance and spend some quality time tossing food to the eagerly awaiting fish. Feeding the koi is fun for anyone, but especially a delight for kids. Turtles live in the pond as well and will swim over to anyone with a container of fish food, but they’re much less aggressive than the koi so don’t count on getting too many pieces of fish food to them!

If you’ve been to the garden before, revisiting for a special event may be the best way to go. Different events take place throughout the seasons and include such events as the Moon Viewing Festival and Maple Viewing Festival in the autumn. Joining in an event can add a new dimension to the already beautiful garden.

If you’re into garden design, learning a bit about the history of the garden may be interesting to you. Pick up a self-guided tour pamphlet at the entrance to wander on your own. Check out the garden’s history first to learn about designer Juki Iida, about the teahouse, and other interesting factoids. As you follow along with the self-guided tour, you’ll learn about the types of plants and trees, stones, and other significant aspects of this space. If following along with a pamphlet isn’t you’re kind of tour, join up with one of the free-with-admission public tours.

 

While the Japanese Garden isn’t open to weddings or special events of that nature (in order to preserve the gardens), there is a small meeting room you can rent out for up to 49 people.

How to Visit and Location

The Seattle Japanese Garden is located inside the Washington Park Arboretum at 1075 Lake Washington Boulevard E.

The admission fee is $8 for adults, $6 for City of Seattle residents, and $4 for seniors, students, disabled or youth. Kids younger than 5 are free. To protect the gardens, pets are not allowed inside. On the first Thursday of each month, admission is free for everyone from 1 p.m. until closing.

What Else to Do Nearby

Seattle Japanese Garden is located within the bounds of Washington Park Arboretum, an expansive arboretum where you can walk, jog, visit botanical gardens and more.

If you’d like to pair your garden experience with a meal or snack, Madison Street, which runs past the entrance to Washington Park Arboretum, has several restaurants and cafes right near the entrance of the park. Enjoy a pastry and some coffee at Belle Epicurean Bakery or pizza at Pagliacci Pizza or choose your own adventure at any number of eateries.

Lake Washington is also nearby. Madison Park just up the street has a small swimming beach as well as plenty of green space to relax or play on.

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