A crowd gathered in the newly reopened Seattle Japanese Garden on Sunday, March 4, to witness a Shinto blessing ceremony that was meant to bring good fortune to the green sanctuary within the Washington Park Arboretum.
“May the ceremony bring good fortune to the garden and everyone who visits it this year,” said Skip Vonckx with the Arboretum Foundation. “It’s truly one of the gems of the Seattle Parks system.”
Juki Iida designed the 3.5-acre garden, and oversaw its installation in 1959, the Seattle Japanese Garden opening a year later.
The Arboretum Foundation has long supported the Japanese Garden, and in 2016 it stepped up its role by partnering with Seattle Parks and Recreation through a cooperative agreement, said Jessa Gardner, programs manager for the Seattle Japanese Garden.
“Fundraising is definitely a big part of that, and some of that support is of course capital project fundraising,” Gardner said, as well as running the garden’s volunteer program and providing special arts programming.
The Arboretum Foundation introduced two new programs last year, which will continue in 2018. One provides free admission to the garden on the first Thursday of each month, and the other is the Family Saturday program, where special activities geared toward families with children take place, Gardner said.
The Seattle Japanese Garden saw more than 100,000 visitors in 2017, said Robert Stowers, SPR’s director of parks and environment, during opening remarks ahead of the Shinto blessing. The 10-day maple viewing last October accounted for 10,000 visitors alone, he added.
“October is our most popular month,” Gardner said. “People love to come and see the maples.”
Stowers thanked the volunteers that contribute to the garden’s annual success. Last year volunteers contributed 2,000 hours in the garden.
Volunteer docents will be providing daily tours at 12:30 p.m. this season, from April 1 to the end of October.
Gardner said Seattle is lucky to have one of only a few Shinto temples in the United States located in Granite Falls, Washington, where Reverend Koichi Barrish of Tsubaki Grand Shrine traveled from to bless the Seattle Japanese Garden on opening. The blessing welcomes in the ki (life energy) and is meant to provide good fortune for the year ahead.
Barrish performed the ceremony before a shrine filled with offerings, reading a prayer for the garden and scattering sake and sacred sand from a mountain in central Japan. Attendees balanced bowing with smartphone videography.
People broke off into their respective parties to enjoy the garden following the ceremony, a number ending up back at the Tateuchi Community Room for hot tea and snacks.
The garden closes at the end of November, as there are stone pathways that ice over and become a safety issue, Gardner said. It’s also a time for gardeners to move around plants and trees, as well as tackle other maintenance items. The garden’s volunteer plant committee works every year to put together a plant guide, which should be available in July.