Japanese Garden of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Within the largest green space in the City of Buenos Aires, the Parque 3 de Febrero (inaugurated in 1875 from lands belonging to Juan Manuel de Rosas), there is a haven of tranquility that contrasts sharply with the chaotic city that surrounds it. Entering into the JAPANESE GARDEN is moving for a day to a culture full of mysticism, spirituality, respect, and silence.

In a culture where the spiritual means the biggest part of life, where silence allows you to meditate without the contaminations of the outside world, without the interference of thoughts, it is necessary to have an adequate environment. A place without great luxury more than the one of the harmony and the absence of chaos. A place ordered and full of symbolism.

With winding roads and high planes, water that purifies, and stones that represent silence and perpetuity, the JAPANESE GARDEN is a small Japan in Argentina. At least that is how the prince heirs to the imperial throne of the Japanese country, Michiko and Akihito, felt when they visited Argentina in 1967.

 

THE ORIGINS OF THE JAPANESE GARDEN

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“I will be extremely pleased if a visit from us, even if it is of short duration, allows us to serve as a bridge [between Japan and Argentina] for a closer connection…”

 

The words of the then prince heir to the Imperial Throne of Japan, Akihito, on his visit to Argentina on May 15, 1967 with his wife, the consort princess Michiko, began to become reality two days later.

On Wednesday, May 17, 1967, the doors of the wonderful JAPANESE GARDEN opened to receive members of the Japanese imperial family for the first time in the history of Argentina. For the Japanese community, it was an unprecedented fact and something for which they felt extremely happy and honored.

That is why in just 50 days they, together with their descendants, managed to raise the necessary funds to transform part of the Parque 3 de Febrero into a visual wonder, worthy to be considered as one of the most beautiful Japanese gardens in the world. Then, through the Embassy of Japan, it was donated to the Municipality of Buenos Aires as a sign of gratitude for being Argentina the country that received them with open arms.

In 2004, the Ministry of Tourism of the City of Buenos Aires declared the Japanese Garden “a place of tourist interest” and, in 2008, the National Executive Power declared it “of historical and artistic interest to the Nation”.

 

UNDERSTANDING THE JAPANESE GARDEN

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Beyond its phenomenal visual beauty, its magical parade of aromas and colors with the perfect mixture between native plants of Japan and Argentina, its strange silence so close and so far from the city bustle, the JAPANESE GARDEN gives us an approach to the Japanese culture that perhaps many visitors overlook.

That is why I want to propose to you a kind of “dictionary” so that you can understand, the next time you visit the JAPANESE GARDEN, its symbols, the meaning of each element that composes it. Because we are not talking only about azaleas, magnolias, camellias, water lilies, and cherry trees. Because the bridges are not there simply to cross the lake. Because everything in Japanese culture is there for something.

ISHIDORO: THE FOUNDATIONAL STONE

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The Japanese Government donated to Argentina, in 1960, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the May Revolution, a stone lantern known as “Ishidoro”. Its installation gave rise to what was known as Japan Square (Plaza Japón). What better place then to build the JAPANESE GARDEN than in Japan Square? So it was there that the Ishidoro became the foundational stone.

But what is the Ishidoro? Its literal meaning is “stone lantern”, but what are its origins and importance?

The lanterns of Ishidoro were generally used to decorate gardens, and Japanese temples, and not to illuminate, although occasionally they were lit with candles inside during festivals. The Ishidoro was introduced to Japan through China in the 6th century. The first lanterns, which were found only on the grounds of the temple, were designed to hold the flame that represented the Buddha.

Light helps us overcome the darkness of ignorance. The Ishidoro were originally used in temples, gardens, and shrines. Around the sixteenth century, stone lanterns were adopted and placed in the gardens of tea houses, to illuminate the path for visitors.

 

KOI FISH: THE LIVING SYMBOL OF THE JAPANESE GARDEN

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Legend has it that a group of Koi fish was swimming in the river. When arriving at a huge waterfall all the fish decided to turn around and return where they came from. All but a small group of certain fish that began to swim upstream. They went up and down, and they got up and went up again. The demons saw these fish trying to climb the waterfall and began to play with them, making the wall of water higher and higher.

But the fish did not give up and for 100 years they kept trying to climb, until one day one of them succeeded. God looked down upon him and, smiling, transformed him into a beautiful golden dragon. Now, every koi fish that manages to climb the waterfall known as “The Dragon Gate” will be turned into one.

Koi fish are undoubtedly the most representative animal in Japan. They are long-lived, strong, perseverant, and swim against the current. They represent good fortune, abundance, and perseverance, and are the symbol of overcoming adversity and fulfilling one’s destiny.

There they swim, in the waters of the JAPANESE GARDEN, piling up when people feed them (with food made especially for them), swimming strong and untiring.

KOINOBORI: THE CELEBRATION FOR CHILDREN’S DAY

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Every year, in the month of May, the beautiful koinobori (serpentines) in the form of Koi, are transformed into flying poles in celebration of the Children’s Day Festival. The streamers symbolize that Japanese parents expect their children to show courage and strength, such as the Nishikigoi.

The koi fish is a popular symbol for the family, black koi for the father, red koi flame for the mother, blue and white for the child and pink and red for the girl. When the koinobori are filled with the wind they promote health, happiness and beauty.

During the celebration, the children put on a kimono and a samurai helmet that represents strength, such as the koi, known as “The Fish Warrior”. On many occasions, they sing a well-known song:

 

Higher than the roofs of the houses, there are the koinobori
The biggest carp is the father
The smallest carps are the children
They seem to have a good time swimming.

 

THE BRIDGES OF THE JAPANESE GARDEN

The bridges symbolize movement and transition. They are the link between two sites, between two worlds. They are straight or curved, sinuous or wavy. And in the JAPANESE GARDEN, they are not only the most photographed image but they have a powerful meaning.

CURVE BRIDGE (Taiko-Bashi)

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“After suffering, happiness comes.” The Taiko-Bashi is the symbol of the JAPANESE GARDEN and represents the passage from earthly life to the heavenly life. Hence the complexity to cross it: it is difficult to reach God and paradise. For that, you have to go through difficulties.

Crossing the Taiko-Bashi you will reach the “Island of the Gods”, to paradise, where there is a beautiful waterfall that represents the vicissitudes of life: strong birth, strong flow at its beginning, strong passing, and a faint end, in the calm waters of the lake. A wonderful place to meditate.

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BRIDGE OF DECISIONS (Yatsu-Hashi) AND TORII

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At the beginning of the visit to the JAPANESE GARDEN there is a zig-zag bridge known as Yatsu-Hashi, or “Bridge of Decisions”. Its form derives from the ideogram that symbolizes number 8, a number that in Japanese culture is related to infinite wisdom.

To cross this bridge is to meet each step with a cut, a sudden change of direction where one must make important decisions. Therefore, according to Japanese tradition, people must go through the Yatsu-Hashi before making a weighty decision in their life.

From the bridge, you can see the Torii, a beautiful portico that was built to commemorate the 50 years of the JAPANESE GARDEN. On that porch the phoenix lodges, hence its name: Tori (bird) i (place), the place where the bird perches.

The Torii is the traditional arches of Shinto shrines that mark the border between profane and sacred space.

 

SHUREI MON

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In Naha, capital of Okinawa prefecture, Japan, stands an imposing portico that gives access to Shuri Castle.

In Argentina, 85% of Japanese are from Okinawa, this beautiful town in southern Japan. That is why the JAPANESE GARDEN has this beautiful replica. In it, two Shisa pose: a mixture of lion and dog that drives away evil spirits so that when you enter the portico, you do it with good energy.

Shisa´s Legend
(Adapted from Okinawan Legends by Chizue Sesoko) On one occasion, an emissary sent to China returned from one of his trips to the court, at Shuri Castle, bringing a gift for the king: A choker with a small figure of a shīsā. It seemed adorable to the king, and he put the choker under his clothes. Then, it happened that in the bay of the port of Naha, in the village of Madanbashi, a sea dragon terrorized the population, devouring the inhabitants and destroying buildings and crops. One day, while the king was visiting the small village, one of the attacks of the sea dragon occurred and all the people ran to take refuge. The village priestess (noro) had been revealed in a dream that she had to convince the king to stand on the beach, holding up the small figure of the shīsā towards the dragon. He then sent a boy named Chiba to warn the king of what he should do. When the king confronted the monster with the shīsā aloft, a tremendous roar enveloped the village. A roar so deep and powerful that even the dragon was surprised. Then, a gigantic boulder fell from the sky and crushed the dragon’s tail. The dragon could not move, and finally, he died. Over time, the stone and the remains of the dragon were covered by vegetation and can be seen today in the forests of Gana-mui, near the Ohashi bridge in Naha. Since then, the villagers made many stone shīsā to protect them from the spirit of the dragon and from any other threat.

 

SAKURA: THE CHERRY BLOSSOM

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Photo owned by Japanese Garden

The most representative flower of Japan is that of Sakura. To see it is to imagine a trip to distant lands. It is the symbol of ephemeral happiness and the transience of life. In its most splendid moment of flowering, the petals begin to fall, to fill the floors with color. It is time to celebrate life and contemplate the inevitable mortality.

The samurai culture of Japan also greatly admired this flower as it was considered that the samurai (like the cherry blossoms) had a short life. The aspiration of a samurai was to die in its moment of maximum splendor, in the battle, and not to grow old and “wither”, nor does the cherry blossom fade; which falls from the tree before withering, pushed by the wind. In fact, it is said that the cherry blossom was white, but then it was slowly turned into pink by the blood of the Samurai who, to avoid dishonor, took their own lives in front of Sakura.

In Japan the Hanami takes place every year – it goes on into the night and is known as Yozakura (night cherry trees): people gather under the Sakuras, contemplating the beauty that will go fast.

 

KANETSUKI: THE WORLD PEACE BELL

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In the JAPANESE GARDEN, there is one of the 20 bells donated by the city of Hiroshima to the world as a symbol of peace. On September 21, World Peace Day, a bell is played in unison with all the bells of world peace in the world. It is a moment of reflection, of introspection. A moment to heal and build.

The JAPANESE GARDEN is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in an exciting, millenary, respectful, and thinking culture. It is an excuse to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and enter a sacred, silent, ideal place to meditate.

And now that you know the details of each symbolism, it is the ideal time to visit it.

 

HOW TO GET TO THE JAPANESE GARDEN

The JAPANESE GARDEN is located in the heart of Buenos Aires, within the Park 3 de Febrero in Palermo. It has two entrances: Av. Figueroa Alcorta corner Av. Casares and Av. Casares corner Av. Del Libertador.

By bus: any of the following lines: 10, 15, 37, 59, 60, 67, 93, 95, 102, 108, 110, 118, 128, 130, 141, 160 y 188. Those marked in red will leave you at the access door.

By subway: line D (green) and to Plaza Italia station and walk about 8 blocks along the old Zoo of Buenos Aires.

The entrance to the garden costs 120 pesos (price updated to November 2018).

The visit is even more complete if you enjoy delicious Japanese cuisine in its restaurant.

For more information: Call from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 4804-4922 / 4804-9141 int: 133/134
E-Mail: informes@jardinjapones.org.ar

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Written by Pie & Pata
Happy is he/she who enjoys family travel.