New Dawn for Japanese Garden


Front row, from left, George Tenpo (in sun), Joe Watari, Bill Nishimura, Dennis Yamashiro, Andrew Yamashiro, Kuni Tamura, CSUDH President Mildred Garcia, George Kamio, John Fujikawa, Masumi Haruma, Naomi Moy, Don Hata. Next Row: (left-to-right): Stuart Yamashiro, Ken Nagao, Kenny Kono, Ko Endo (directly behind Mildred Garcia), Bill Ota, Ray Garcia, Martin van Zeyl, Neil Sugimoto, Tom Philo at the rededication last Saturday of the Shinwa-En Japanese Garden at Cal State Dominguez Hills. (Photo by Stuart Yamashiro)


California State University, Dominguez Hills celebrated the history and recent restoration of its Shinwa-En Japanese Garden with a rededication ceremony on Saturday, May 1. The rededication event featured a traditional blessing by Rev. Naomi Seijo Nakano of the Gardena Buddhist Church; displays of orchids by the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA); a tea ceremony demonstrated by members of the Ogasawara Ryu Senchado School; traditional dance performances by the Majikina Honryu Dance Company, koto music by Katsuko Teruya and members of the Okinawan Association of America; and taiko drum finales by the Taiko Center of Los Angeles and Matsuri Daiko.

The Shinwa-En Japanese Garden was built in 1978 by local Japanese American gardeners, landscapers, and nurserymen. Designed by landscape architect Haruo Yamashiro, it took nine months to complete.
In 2009 gardeners, arborists and landscapers from the Pacific Coast Chapter of the CLCA-again working as volunteers – restored the aging teahouse structure and garden landscape. Architect Joe Watari contributed plans for the addition of a performance deck in front of the tea house, which was built last summer by Physical Plant staff members Duke Pina and Brad Potter.

In welcoming guests, CSU Dominguez Hills President Mildred García gave a special thanks to all the volunteers who have continued to donate time and resources to the beautification of the garden and the university.
“The university is a very busy place which can be overwhelming,” she said. “[This garden] provides an important and beautiful place for all staff and students to have a quiet place to reflect.”

Okinawan dancers perform at the rededication ceremony. (RYOKO OHNISHI/Rafu Shimpo)

Thomas Philo, chair of the Friends of the Japanese Garden, presented certificates of recognition from the office of Rep. Laura Richardson (D-37th Dist.) to each volunteer and Dominguez Hills staff member who worked on the original building and the meticulous restoration of the garden.

“The amazing gift of the garden is not just that it’s a beautiful thing, and not just that it represents a great moment in campus/community relations, but that as it was given with the best of intentions, it continues to draw that from everyone who comes in contact with it,” he said.

Renowned author Hirahara gave the keynote speech and shared with the audience a few excerpts from her book “Greenmakers: Japanese American Gardeners in Southern California.” She noted the significance of having the original gardeners’ sons and grandsons commit to the restoration of the garden, not only for the relatives and survivors, but for the students of CSU Dominguez Hills as well as the community.

“Why is this garden so important?” she asked. “I think that it’s very unique and notable that this [garden]is on a college campus and that it’s right in the middle of this building for business [students]… It’s really fitting because they were tradesmen, they were contractors, and here, students are learning about that.”
Bill Nishimura is one of the landscapers who helped build the garden in 1978. He mentioned how the boulders that remain a part of the garden were dug up and brought to the site from Fillmore, Calif.

“The boulders were tremendous,” he recalled. “We had to have a forklift lift them out of the ground… and then we loaded so many into the truck that the body was pinning the wheels down and we had to take some out. It was quite an experience.”

One of the key persons who initiated the Japanese Garden project 32 years ago was Donald Hata, who attended the festivities and expressed his gratitude for the restoration of the Shinwa-En Garden. An emeritus professor of history, Hata reminisced about the fortunate events that lead to the construction of this garden.
“I learned of the gardeners’ commitment to civic engagement when I was a Gardena City Councilman,” said Hata.

“They donated time and materials generously to beautify city facilities, and constructed Japanese gardens at public libraries and hospitals. I went to them and asked if they would build a garden on my campus, as a symbol of the high value they placed on higher education.”

Thankfully they agreed. Hata says that Sundays were the only days they were able to donate their time, and that they worked diligently and faithfully every Sunday morning to give this gift to the university and the community.
Gardena Councilman Ronald K. Ikejiri was a student at the university 42 years ago.

“It’s wonderful to see the growth of the university,” he said. “The rededication of the garden represents the rekindling of the pioneer spirit of the Japanese American community and their desire to share with those in the academic community their cultural values.”

Ikejiri also said that as a representative of the Japanese American community he felt that they were very pleased that the university devoted resources towards the restoration because it demonstrated the university’s commitment to maintaining cultural diversity not only within the university but in the South Bay area as well.

The rededication of the Japanese Garden attracted students, faculty, and community members but what was most impressive was the presence of the original volunteers who have now passed on their skills to the next generation ensuring that this time honored tradition will not fade with them. Their families were very proud to have all their work and dedication recognized with the rededication ceremony.

Jacqueline Tejeda is a senior majoring in communications and an intern in the Office of University Communcations and Public Affairs. Reprinted with permission of Dateline Dominguez Hills.