Have you ever visited a traditional Japanese garden? If not, you’re missing out. There is something completely unique about how the Japanese construct their gardens. It goes far beyond the materials used and the flowers they plant and penetrates into the very soul of what a scenic garden is – a place to find peace. Ohori Park (大濠公園) in Fukuoka (福岡) is a hubbub of activity – kids shrieking on swing sets, couples paddling around in pedalos, grim-faced runners in teeny-tiny shorts… it’s hardly a place to find peace and quiet. But near the Fukuoka Art Museum is a secluded little garden that is so relaxing and ambient that it seems like another world.
After five years of construction, the Japanese Garden was completed in 1984 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ohori Park. Designed in a ‘scenic promenade style,’ the garden has been fashioned so that visitors can flow around the various viewpoints like a fallen leaf ebbing down a stream. Immaculately landscaped, the garden is so picture-perfect that it almost doesn’t look real.
Ponds, trees, hills, plants, rockeries – each has their place in the garden and serves a different purpose, creating connotations and allusions to ancient stories or natural phenomena that are well known to the Japanese.
The park has three waterfalls – one is the large waterfall (Sandan ochi no taki) that represents the water that tumbles down between high mountainous cliffs. Another is the Keiryu no taki waterfall that represents a valley with a stream, reflecting verdant green grass.
Everything in the garden has meaning and nothing is there without purpose. The large pond in the middle of the garden represents the ocean, and the three little islands in the pond are there to signify an ancient legend of a hermit who lived on an island and enjoyed eternal life.
In the dry landscape garden, rocks and pebbles have been arranged in a calming, pleasing pattern, with the white sand meaning to represent water, and the big rocks jutting from it are mountains. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some fauna as well as flora – I spotted several different Japanese lizards in the park, both the colorful young ones and the boring brown adult ones too. Like me, they were enjoying the sunny weather and relaxing on the warm rocks.
The tea house has been built in a ‘Sukiya style’ which lends itself to blending in with the appearance of the garden. Traditional tatami floors are present in the building, and yukata-clad waitresses perform the tea ceremony with humble grace, letting visitors try to stir the matcha themselves if they wish. It’s all quite formal, with the sort of glassy silence that makes you afraid to breathe – not the kind of place where you can kick back with a mug of coffee and have a laugh with your mates – but if you want to experience the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, it’s a great place to do it.
Open from 9 am to 5 pm, the garden is generally closed on Mondays and costs 240 yen for adults and 120 yen for kids aged 6 to 15 years. In the summer months of June, July, and August, opening hours are extended until 6 pm. The tranquillity of the garden is undeniable – it’s a beautiful place and well worth a visit, particularly if you’re in need of some relaxation!