(We will be putting some early photos of the Garden here soon.)
We welcome you to the beautiful and serene 5-acre Shinzen Friendship Garden located within Woodward Park adjacent to Freeway 41 in the City of Fresno, California.
In 1967 when the Park was being developed, the idea was proposed to create a Japanese garden complete with stone lanterns and a teahouse to be dedicated to Fresno's Sister City Kochi, Japan, as a symbol of friendship and international brotherhood, and for the promotion of cultural relations between the two cities. A committee was organized to develop plans and to raise the required funding.
Later that year the Fresno City Council approved this concept and allocated the acreage for such a garden. A group led by Ben Nakamura, a Fresno accountant, was formed to enlist the aid of the Japanese-American community. During the next few years, several trips were made to Japan to seek support for the Garden.
In 1972, Paul Saito, a Landscape Architect from Orange County, California, was chosen to design the Garden. He was assisted by a master teahouse designer from Japan, Shiro Nakagawa. The Garden was planned around the four seasons, with distinctive plantings in each area. The plans were completed and approved in 1974.
The ground-breaking ceremony was held in 1975 with Bishop Matsui of the Shinto Church officiating, and Fresno Mayor Dan Whitehurst, Councilmember Ted Wills, Ben Nakamura and other members of the Shinzen Friendship Garden Committee present. Construction then began with the addition of 30,000 cubic yards of earth and 600 tons of granite boulders. Stream beds with waterfalls, seven bridges (including the stone double-moon bridge for double good luck), and the Koi Pond were constructed. The plantings of many trees, shrubs and lawn areas in the various sections were begun. Paved pathways lead you through the Spring Section where azaleas, camellias, crabapples, irises, flowering cherries and plums are a viewer's delight. The cooling waters of the Koi Pond are the centerpeice of the Summer Section. Tulip trees, Chinese pistache and tallow trees display their bright fall colors in the Autumn Section. A large waterfall, pines and evergreens dominate the Winter Section.
By Spring 1981, the Garden was developed enough to be open for public viewing. It was dedicated in May with a contingent of forty visitors from Kochi present to witness the planting of a Japanese maple near the entrance (Mon, which was a gift from the citizens of Kochi). Later that year the Shinzen Garden Committee was incorporated as a separate entity. The City of Fresno owns the property and is responsible for its upkeep and security, but all additions and improvements are funded by members' dues and private and corporate donations.
In September 1989, a thatched-roof teahouse, only one of the two authentic teahouses in the Continental United States, was added to the Garden. It was built in Japan and re-assembled (by three master carpenters and a master thatcher from Japan) in the Spring Garden on the lake shore. It was dedicated the following year. Other additions and improvements to the Garden include: Viewing shelters (Tembo Dai) in the Autumn and Winter Sections and the Taira Ume Grove. New paving before the Mon and a wrought iron fence have been installed and dedicated to the Japanese American Citizens League for their support and donations. Other additions include a Koi Pon Deck (donated by the Biglione family and East Fresno Rotary in memory of Jeffrey Biglione), the Ronquillo Meditation Vista and the $92,000 pathway restoration.
In 1999, permanent signposts were added to the Garden denoting the areas of the four seasons, and the Alice Levin Standeford open-air shelter was constructed north of the Mon Gate with funds from her estate. It was dedicated in February 2000, and officially named the "Azumaya" which means Open Air Stucture. In 2001-2002, the Taira Ume Grove was developed with a waterfall, streambed, pond, two bridges, a tembo dai, and pathways. Future plans for the Garden include a utility/classroom, restrooms, museum and gift shop, and tearoom. Additional plantings and improvements make the Shinzen Friendship Garden an ongoing project.
The annual events in the Garden include the Spring Blossom Festival held the weekend closest to the vernal equinox; Spring Artists in the Garden Day; Membership Meeting and Dinner in September; Toro Nagashi (Floating Lantern) Ceremony in August; the Shinzen Run in April; the Shinzen Cultural Faire held in November in conjunction with the Fall Color Festival; and Fall Artists in the Garden Day.
Garden hours are from 10:00 a.m. to dusk on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays. From May 1 through September 30, the Garden is open daily from 5:00 p.m. to dusk. The cost to visit the Garden is $3 for adults ages 15 to 55 years, and 50 cents for seniors and children 4 to 14 years of age. Shinzen Garden Members are admitted free of charge. Special Docent-guided group tours can be arranged by calling Fresno City Parks office at (559) 840-1264.
You are invited to become a Shinzen Garden member, and you may volunteer to be active on one of our committees: Docent; Fundraising; Landscape and Maintenance; Membership; Planning and Projects; and Publicity and Promotions.
Source of information: Edwin R. Streit (deceased), Member of the Shinzen Garden and Fresno
City and County Historical Society,
Edith Puckett (deceased), Shinzen Garden Historian Angel Abajian, former Executive Secretary