Japanese Tea Garden

The Japanese Tea Garden is located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and it’s the oldest Japanese Garden in the US. It was originally built for the World’s Fair, the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894.

Over the years there have been many changes to the garden but a few of the Word’s Fair structures exist today. The garden features elements of Shinto and Buddhist religious beliefs.

Here we are.

Makoto Hagiwara, a wealthy local landscape designer and member of Japan’s aristocracy, funded the Japanese Village for the MidWinter Fair. According to wiki, he is the first person who served the modern version of the fortune cookie. They were made by a SF bakery, Benkydo.

After the World’s Fair, Hagiwara had the idea to convert the Japanese Village exhibit into a permanent garden. He became the official caretaker of the garden. He built, managed the project and funded the Japanese Garden, spending most of the family money.

Hagiwara died in 1925. His Daughter Takano Hagiwara and her kids became caretakers of the garden. WWII brought anti Japanese sentiment, they were evicted from the family home and sent to live in an internment camp. They were not allowed back or compensated for having their century long home taken away. John McLaren, the caretaker of Golden Gate Park and Makoto Hagiwara had an  a handshake agreement that he could continue the exhibit as the Japanese Tea Garden and reside there for a century.

So many of these cute little guys run around the garden.

It was renamed the Oriental Tea Garden during WWII, Chinese tea servers replaced the Japanese and the new servers wore traditional Chinese clothing. Any structures deemed Japanese were destroyed. The garden fell into disrepair.

In 1952 the name “Japanese Tea Garden” was reinstated but the city refused to reimburse the family for funding and maintaining the garden.

What happened to Hagiwara’s family is a part of American history and a major violation of civil liberties. After Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, rumors fueled by prejudice spread about Japanese-Americans trying to sabotage the American war effort. Roosevelt’s administration was pressured by the West Coast farmers to get rid of the Japanese competition. On February 19, 1942 Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which forced Japanese into interment camps. It didn’t matter if they were citizens or not, it didn’t matter if they were patriotic Americans or not.  Here’s an article in Scientific American about the Census Bureau helping the government in locating Japanese families. 

Of the estimated 120,000 Japanese that were sent to internment camps, 62% were citizens according to wiki. While Japanese-American citizens fought for the US, their families were held in interment camps.

To read more about Japanese Internment during WWI see links below:



The garden doesn’t envision what Mokoto Hagiwara created, it’s been altered a lot over the years. There’s an ongoing effort to restore the garden. The Hagiwara family left their love of horticulture legacy to the city of San Francisco. Todays garden isn’t their original vision but they created a lasting green space for future generations, locals, and tourists to enjoy. It’s a very peaceful part of Golden Gate Park.

Thank you Hagiwara family for giving us this garden we really enjoyed, you made your mark on SF history. Let’s not forget fortune cookies, love those too.

If you’re craving for fortune cookies go visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.


11 thoughts on “Japanese Tea Garden

    1. I went to an event last night about Chinese railroad workers. Now I really want to go to CA. They were taking about how we know a lot about the trains being built from the east going best but not much about west to east. They also spoke about a few museums in CA. We are also due for a visit to see relatives. Goodie, then we’ll spend extra time in Golden Gate Park. We didn’t spend much time there.

  1. It’s been awhile since I visited the Japanese Tea Garden as well. Your pictures remind me that I should go back, maybe in the fall when the leaves on the Japanese maples begin turning their gorgeous scarlet and orange. It’s a beautiful place, but with such a difficult history, it also makes me sad. The city of San Francisco did eventually compensate two members of the Hagiwara family with checks for $5000 each, but it was a paltry sum for the amount of materials and work they put into building the garden. There are many big tourist draws on the West Coast that owe their existence to Japanese Americans who were imprisoned during World War II (looking at you, Pike Place in Seattle); it still makes my blood boil, and it’s why I get so angry at the attacks on Muslim Americans since 9/11. Maybe some good came out of the lessons from the internment, but realizing that our fellow citizens who happen to resemble foreign enemies are still US citizens—that lesson hasn’t stuck yet.

    1. I always loved history thinking it’s a reminder that some things shouldn’t be repeated. I’m beginning to believe history is doomed to repeat itself. So many backs of various different types of people came to America and built it up, it’s enraging how they don’t still have to fight for recognition.

      Will update this post, should list their compensation.

  2. I saw those gardens back in 2006, thanks for the reminder of their beauty. Portland has nice Japanese Gardens as well – I haven’t checked them out since a recent expansion. Sounds like a good idea…

    1. Thank You! True about the history. I see it as a chance to make things right in the future by not allowing it to happen again. When I read about it it kind of broke my heart.

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