Monday, 2 September 2013

Japanese Garden Seeks National Heritage Designation

The following article appeared in the July 24, 2013 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times newspaper and website.

By Judy Westcott

The Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden has been providing a sanctuary of inner peace and serenity to visitors from around the world for 46 years and now plans are underway to have it designated a national heritage site by 2017.

Photo by Tom Buchanan

“We have a fiftieth anniversary committee working on plans for 2017,” says Lindy Rollingson, executive director of the Lethbridge and District Japanese Garden Society, which operates the Garden for a fee on behalf of the City of Lethbridge.

“We are also in the process of applying for municipal heritage status, which will lead to applications for provincial and then national heritage designations,” she says.

The heritage designations will be the icing on the cake for Nikka Yuko, which has received numerous awards from Communities in Bloom over the years and has been voted as one of the top 10 Canadian gardens to see by MSN’s Canadian travel website. It is also ranked 21 out of 330 Japanese gardens in North America by Sukiya Living Magazine, a bi-monthly English-language print publication dedicated to the special world of Japanese gardens and Japanese architecture.

Nikka Yuko also received a Commendation from Susumu Fukuda, Consul-General of Japan in Calgary during its 46th anniversary celebrations this month for its achievements in contributing to the mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and Canada.

“This was very special for us and we feel very honoured to have received this,” says Rollingson, noting each Consul-General is allowed only one Commendation per year.

Opened in 1967 to celebrate Canada’s centennial, Nikka Yuko was built to recognize contributions made by citizens of Japanese ancestry to southern Alberta and as a symbol of international friendship. Its name was created from the Japanese words Ni (from Nihon meaning Japan), ka from Kanada or Canada, and Yuko, which translates as "friendship" to mean “Japan-Canada friendship”.

Nikka Yuko is rich in symbolism, capturing elements of the southern Alberta landscape while simultaneously integrating traditional Japanese philosophy and symbols.

“Every tree, shrub and rock has been carefully chosen and placed to create perfect harmony,” says Rollingson.

Japanese garden designer and landscape architect Tadashi Kubo, of Osaka Prefecture University was commissioned in the 1960s to design the 1.6 hectare (four acre) garden. His colleague, Masami Sugimoto, also of Osaka Prefecture University, oversaw the construction, evaluating and adjusting each detail on site until every aspect of the garden was harmoniously balanced.

Now professor emeritus of Kobe Design University, Sugimoto recently made his 10th visit to the Garden to celebrate the 46th anniversary and to provide guidance to the three full-time staff arborists. Masa Mizuno, a master arborist from Portland, Oregon who visits annually to provide guidance.

Rollingson says all the structural components of Nikka Yuko were handcrafted in Kyoto, which includes the teahouse/pavilion, bell tower, azumaya shelter, gates, benches and bridges.  They were built of aromatic wood from yellow cypress and cedar, dismantled, and shipped across the ocean to Canada. Five master tradesmen from Kyoto travelled to Lethbridge to reassemble the structures on the garden site with assistance from Canadian tradesmen.

Rollingson says the bronze Friendship Bell, which hangs in the bell tower, was commissioned specifically for Nikka Yuko and cast in Kyoto. 
Artisans in Kyoto carved the stone lanterns and pagoda (composed of five tiers to represent earth, water, fire, wind and sky) that are located in the Garden.

Originating from the Crowsnest Pass, the rocks throughout the Garden play an important role. Each one, weighing several tons, was carefully chosen, transported and then lifted into the garden by crane. Water elements are also present through a musical waterfall, gurgling stream, and reflective pond.

Even adjacent Henderson Lake Park has been incorporated into the garden by providing the “shakkei” borrowed view valued in Japanese garden philosophy.

Rollingson says visitors come from all over the world and range from seniors on bus tours to local schoolchildren.

“Our role here is to provide a glimpse of Japanese culture and interpret it for any one who visits here,” she says. “Last year we had 2,200 children on organized school trips go through the gate.”

Marketing Coordinator Chris Kapusta says a full calendar of events and cultural activities are offered each weekend from Mother’s Day in May to Thanksgiving Day in October and although the garden closes during the winter, a Visitor Centre/Gift Shop is now open year round. It features many unique items from Japan, as well as items created by local artisans.

Upcoming events include a Summer Celebration that is planned for August 10. All day events will include Minyo Dancers, Hibikiya Taiko Drummers, a traditional Tea Ceremony, an Iaido sword demonstration, as well as Japanese karaoke and bonsai demonstrations. Lighthouse Restaurant, which features Japanese cuisine, will be operating a food tent on site and teas will be available to sample from local retailer David’s Teas.

“Another special event this year is Artists in the Garden on September 14,” says Kapusta. Local artists have been invited to visit the garden throughout the season and create art representing their interpretations. This art will be on display in the pavilion from September 1 to 14 and then sold at an art auction on September 14. A portion of the proceeds will go to Alberta flood relief charity.

In conjunction with this event, Young Artists in the Garden is also being held to encourage local youth to create art representing their views of the Garden. Sketching workshops are being held and prizes will be awarded on September 7th for the three age categories of under 7 years, 8-11 years and 12-14 years. The art will then be on display and included in the art auction on September 14.

Kapusta says while many out of town visitors come to the Garden each year, local residents are offered the advantage of buying a season pass which gives them unlimited visits to view the Garden as it changes through the seasons. New exhibits are featured in the pavilion each month and traditional Japanese flower arrangements (Ikebana) are changed weekly.

Other special events include the Japanese Tea Ceremony, Japanese storytelling, yoga in the Garden, moonlight viewings, origami and paper lantern workshops, and a popular New Year’s Eve event involving the ringing of the Friendship Bell 108 times to represent a cleansing of mankind’s 108 vices.

Rollingson says besides the three arborists, Nikka Yuko has a small staff comprised of hosts and hostesses, maintenance, caretaking and administration. The Society has a local board of governors.

“We also have a hundred highly qualified volunteers,” she says. “We simply couldn’t run these events at the Garden without them.”

A full listing of events and hours of operation can be found on the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden website

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