A California garden in Japan


A California garden in Japan

The Oakland Garden is a regional landscape.   It shows who we are, what we have been and future possibilities.  It features the things that tie diverse individuals together: the natural and built environment where we live, work, and play; our city's history and ecology; and the influence of Japanese immigration and cultural exchange.  The garden reveals many similarities between Oakland and Fukuoka, as well as some differences between the two cultures.

Feature-oriented layout

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In recreating the essence of a far away landscape this design borrowed from centuries of feature-oriented landscaping in Japan. The garden design also expresses the concept of native-to-site ecological restoration by using Japanese analogs of the plants native to Oakland. The state of California has many unique kinds of vegetation and native gardens are an important style in Oakland.

Similarity of sister cities


The hill & pond garden style shows the fundamental geographic similarity of the two cities. Each port city lies between a range of hills and a bay. Each is the gateway into the rich interior farmland, and out to the world beyond. Both have a history of cultural exchange on behalf of their wider societies.

In cultures shaped by the belief in exile from paradise, the natural and built environment are often believed to be in opposition; one or the other being corrupt. The Oakland garden expresses the insight of mystics east & west; that all material creation is unitary. It celebrates what could be experienced as a paradise on earth, here & now.

Entry bridge


Approaching the garden, a panel shows photos of Oakland people and places. Then you cross over the pond, representing San Francisco Bay-estuary, on a small model of the new Oakland span of the Bay Bridge.

Port town


The port is on the right. Oakland is a transportation hub. The port drives the economy of Oakland. Here, a swing hangs from a five meter tall cargo loading crane. On the colorful playground surface, a container truck is pictured pulling under the crane. This modern, industrial dock has Japanese garden precedents dating back to the Heian-era boating garden.



At the north end of the pond, marsh plants create a sinuous and partially obscured shoreline, enlarging the apparent size of the water. To the south, a peninsular marsh directs your attention back into the center of the garden, while also enlarging the apparent extent of the water through use of the 3-depths principle from landscape painting.

Historical settlement

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Three Oak trees represent the historic Oak-woodland that gave Oakland its name. At the time of it's founding, people lived among these trees. Oakland was regarded as a biblical garden of paradise compared to the urban industrial city of San Francisco across the bay. There’s a cultural simile with the popularity of western paradise gardens in medieval Japan. A shelter is nestled among the Oaks. It is built in the First-Bay/Craftsman architectural style popularized in the Oakland-Berkeley area. This style borrowed a lot from Japanese architecture, including the ornamental use of timber framing, rafters and roof profile. The roof's rough planks recall nearby Fort Ross, the first wooden structure in California grown graceful with age. The Convex-concave rhythm of boards is similar to tile roofs in Japan.

Redwood forest


On the hills at the east end of the garden grow Oakland's Coast Redwood forest. From the garden entry, the near-grove tree arrangement (which includes the Oaks) creates a forced perspective, rendering the illusion of greater width & depth. The grove is asymeticaly balenced. There are three asymetrically balenced sub-groves within it. Two big Redwoods represent the historical "Navigation Trees". Sailors used these to avoid shipwreck on the submerged Blossom Rock in the San Francisco bay.

The western view


Exiting over the bridge, you pass through a gallery field of murals that show views towards San Francisco, the Golden Gate and Mount Tamalpais--the same spectacular borrowed scenery that residents of Oakland enjoy. In time the same hedges that enclose the entire garden will grow around the murals, hiding unwanted views and revealing the distant scenery. The murals will become like windows.

Japanese design, California landscape


In the recreation of a distant landscape ("fuzei"), the arrangement of many features around a pond ("kaiyu"), the hill & pond topography ("chisen kaiyu shiki"), the shared architecture, the bonsai near-grove tree arrangement, the painterly use of three depths, the hide & reveal ("miegakure"), the use of distant scenery, and the integration of humanity and nature, the garden relies on principles of Japanese design to recreate the essence of Oakland. This honors the influence of Japanese immigration and cultural exchange on Oakland.



Lead designer:  Peter Thomas Bowyer, Oakland CA USA

Assistant to designer:  Junko Higashi, Fukuoka JN

Mural original artwork:  Elizabeth Kavaler, Kensington, CA USA

Shelter architect:  Bennett Christoferson,, AIA, Oakland CA USA

Steel detailer: Kenneth N. Knudsen, Oakland CA USA

Play surface graphic:   RockyBaird, Oakland CA USA

Pamphlet:  Yae Murasato, Fukuoka JN

Construction details:  Sohgoh Landscape Planning Office, Fukuoka JN

Project management:  Fukuoka City Parks Department

Funding:  National Urban Greening Fair, JN; Fukuoka-Oakland Friendship Association; Oakland-Fukuoka Sister City Association

Additional project contributions: Ed Bantilan, Kate Bean, John Boyce, Len Cardoza, Rosalie Carlson, Bill Castellon, David Delaney, Daniel Fontes, Daniel Galvez, Jody Gianni, Mary Gribbin, Robin Grossinger, Tim hansken, Marie Higashi, Christian Karl Janssen, Glenn Keator, Randall Lee, Chihori Lietman, Alex Loughry, Jay MacDonald, Dennis Makishima, Fred Martin, Jeff McKenna, Paul Miller, David Ruiz, Rebecca Sablo, Michael Scollard, Liane Scott, Paul Shimotake, Kathy Shaner, Terry Smalley, Joyce Stanek, Ray Vickers-Traft, David Wagner, John & Susie Wherlie, Darren Wong.

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