A hidden gem of the outskirts of Seattle, and Washington state at large, the Kubota Garden boasts beautiful grounds to meander through, inspiring views and incredible landscaping. Covering twenty stunning acres of land in the Rainier Beach neighborhood in South Seattle, the Kubota Garden started as a labor of love from the Fujitaro Kubota back in 1927; sixty years later, the city of Seattle adopted it into their public park system – and let me tell you, we are all infinitely better off for having such a beautiful park in our proverbial backyard.
A fun fact, and lesser known to me before my move to the Pacific Northwest – the city of Seattle has incredible ties to Japan.
Thanks to the former Prime Minister of Japan, Takeo Miki, we get to celebrate the beginnings of Spring alongside the beautiful cherry blossoms – 1000 of which were donated to the city back in 1976 to commemoration of America’s bicentennial and the long allegiance, alliance and friendship between the people of Japan and of Washington state..
Historically, Seattle is been known for hosting the second largest Japanese population on the West Coast next to San Francisco, with Los Angeles and San Jose coming in close behind.
These Japantowns (日本人街), formally known as Nihonjin-gai or informally as J-Towns, Little Tokyo or Nihonmachi ( 日本町 )were created during the Meiji period. From approximately 1870 to 1910 an outpouring of Japanese immigrants fled home to pursue better economic opportunities, initially settling along the West Coast of America and Canada.
Though at one point there were over 40 different Japantowns in California, after World War II and the unfortunate and disappointing internment of the Japanese community – only three are now left; out of the numerous Little Tokyo’s scattered along the West Coast, the only left outside of California is Seattle.
Now, back to Fujitaro Kubota – Kubota was part of the Issei immigrants; a term used to describe first generation immigrants from Japan. Though his first job was working on the railroad, Kubota forayed into his own gardening business, the Kubota Gardening Company, in 1922. By 1927, Kubota bought five acres of logged off swampland and started work on a small garden as a hobby; fast forward a hundred years later, and that small hobby has become a pinnacle of park life in the greater Seattle area. Before his passing, the Japanese government presented Kubota with the ‘Order of the Sacred Treasure’ award for his achievements within his adopted country, and for giving life to Japanese Gardens in his new homeland.
Boasting meditative monuments, waterfalls, ponds, streams and a vibrant variety of foliage and provide a novel journey into the delicate, and decorative world of Japanese landscaping. Eventually, the gardens ballooned from five acres to twenty. Unfortunately, with their families internment – no work was done on the park for several years – but after the war, with the assistance of his two sons, Fujitaro rebuilt the grounds to feature reflection pools, incredible waterfalls and plants from his nursery that he had been keen on incorporating into the garden. In 1972, the Japanese government presented Kubota with the ‘Fifth Class Order of the Sacred Treasure’ award for his achievements within his adopted country, and for giving life to Japanese Gardens in his new homeland; unfortunately, Kubota passed away at the ripe age of 94 the following year.
When the 20-acre property became a target for condominium developers, community groups encouraged the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board to designate the 4.5-acre core area of the garden as a Historical Landmark. In 1981 the American-Japanese Garden created by Fujitaro Kubota was declared to be an Historical Landmark of the City of Seattle.
In 1981, the City of Seattle was made into a Historical Landmark in order to preserve his legacy – especially as the area was targeted for housing developments; and finally, in 1987 the city officially acquired the Kubota Garden from the family and it is currently maintained by not only the city, but plenty of volunteers. To ensure further protection of the area, the city’s Open Space Program has bought an additional twenty eight adjacent acres of land to remain as a natural area to protect the ravine, as well as Mapes Creek.
Whether you’re coming to or from the Sea-Tac airport, or live in the area and are craving an escapade in your backyard – this is one fantastic field trip that I recommend to all. For more on the colorful Kubota Gardens, head to their socials – currently, you’re allowed a visit as long as you maintain your social distance, but if you’re not willing to risk it – simply take a peak using the live view of Google Maps!