Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Japanese Gardens exist in all parts of the world, and the Great Plains states and provinces host some of the finest examples. Though there are important gardens in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and in Devon near Edmonton, as well as other Plains cities, the preeminent example is the Nikka Yuko Garden (Ni for Nihon [Japan], Ka for Canada, Yuko for widespread friendship) in Lethbridge, Alberta.

Japanese gardens occur in several different formations. Meditation gardens are for quiet contemplation, rather than for walking, and consist of flat, dry-raked gravel with beautiful "island" stones irregularly placed in the sand or gravel area. Certain elements pertain to the basic cosmic forces seen in all gardens. namely the air, earth, fire, and water as universal components. Some of these elements occur as garden furniture or in the form of other features such as lanterns (fire), ponds (water), stones (earth), and of course the omnipresent air. Nothing in nature is absolute; hence dry gardens contain some water– usually in a tsukubai (basin) in one part of the garden. In the case of the Nikko Yuko, water additionally is suggested by the shakkei (borrowed landscape) view of a nearby lake.

Strolling gardens can also feature roji, which include hills, streams, ponds, waterfalls, and pathways. The latter give access to all these beautiful aspects of nature as expressed within the traditions of the Japanese garden.

Another form of the garden is the cha-niwa (tea master's garden). It is always small, never pretentious, reserved in its nature, and minimal in its number of plants. Some cha-niwa are single-plant gardens reduced to the barest essentials. Plants in this type of garden are indicative of the immediate area and never rare or exotic. The tea ceremony forms the ultimate aesthetic occasion in Japanese art and it takes place in a cha shitso (tea house) in a tea master's garden, usually within a larger Japanese garden. Its simplicity causes this form of garden to be the one most easily understood of all the various forms of the Japanese garden.

The Nikka Yuko Garden in Lethbridge contains most of the above-mentioned characteristics in an area slightly larger than three-andone- half acres. The garden was established in November 1964 and was two years in construction. Dr. Tadashi Kubo of Osaka, Japan, who earlier had built a Japanese garden in San Diego, California, was instrumental in the Lethbridge project. He was assisted by Masami Sugimoto and Dr. Bob Hironaka of Lethbridge during the two-year construction phase. Mountains of earth were moved, distant stones were donated and brought to the site, and a water-circulation system was developed. A garden was born.

Plants were donated. A pebble-picking picnic produced bushels of stones from the Oldman River for the ariso beaches of the garden's pond. The necessary wooden structures were built in Japan and shipped to Canada. Prince and Princess Takamatsu of Japan officially opened the garden on July 14, 1967, Canada's centennial year. The dream of a fine Japanese garden in the Plains had come true–a place of peace and quiet, of WABI (beauty in simplicity)– in the vastness of the Alberta prairie.

Nikko Yuko Garden website.

Lennox Tierney University of Utah

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