I LOVE Japanese gardens. Even before the time that I spent living in Kyoto and Tokyo, I admired the beauty and serenity of the Japanese gardens I visited in San Francisco, Portland, and wherever else I happened to find one.
The last time I visited Nitobe Memorial Garden in Vancouver was many moons ago, before I had lived in Japan. I remember thinking it was beautiful, but not really knowing much about what made a Japanese garden authentic or significant.
On this visit, one thing that really stood out to me was that at eye level, everything looked very Japanese. The plants, flowers, and moss all seemed like things I had seen in Japan.
However, if I happened to look up, I realized that I was definitely not in Japan, since the large pine trees that were towering above us were unlike anything I’d seen in Japan. You can get a sense of that in the photo below.
As my friend and I wandered around, we encountered a Canadian woman, who we asked to take a photo of us. She mentioned that she had lived in Kyoto and always visited this garden when she wanted to be transported back.
I told her I completely understood how she felt because I had ALSO lived in Kyoto and ALSO love to visit the Japanese garden in San Francisco whenever I’m feeling homesick for Japan.
There’s a Japanese word, natsukashii, which basically translates to “nostalgia,” but it also evokes this feeling of intense longing, of wanting to revel in the bittersweet memories of the past. Walking around a Japanese garden with an old friend from Japan in Canada definitely made me feel natsukashii.
Next time I visit a Japanese garden, I wonder how many other visitors will be experiencing that longing along with me.