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March 10, 2014 at 8:00 AM

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Northwest Wanderings | Portland Japanese Garden


Justin Blackwell thinks round as he creates patterns of ripples in the stones at the Portland Japanese Garden, a 5 1/2 acre oasis in the city.

The circles are not circular in the Portland Japanese Garden .

Gardener Justin Blackwell says the key is to "think round" as he maneuvers a 35-pound, handmade rake.

Gardener Frank Tree explains, "If you try to make it perfect, the imperfections stand out."

The flat garden conveys ripples in water with an expanse of rocks in a dry landscape.

The mossy islands within the stones symbolize enlightenment and happiness.

It's tranquil and quiet. Signage is minimal, with gentle reminders instead of commands.

Steps are uneven. Paths are designed to slow you down.

The 5 1/2 acres are high up in the city's Washington Park.

The plants and trees cushion visitors from the sounds of the city below.

Instead, they hear the wind in the trees and the songs of birds.

People tend to speak in hushed tones as in a museum.

The goal is to take them away from the world out there to a quiet space and contemplativeness in here.

The garden is its own form of art, and Nobuo Matsunaga, former ambassador to the U.S., has said it's "the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan."

Blackwell says, "I'm learning how they would do things in a different culture. Don't go too fast (and) get out of one's head. It takes a lifetime of dedication."


Ryan McLean and Diane Avitable spend a quiet moment at the "sand and stone" garden, one of five, at the Portland Japanese Garden. The place is meant to slow you down and give the visitor an aesthetic experience.


Light and shadow emphasize the ripples in the "sand and stone" garden's surface.

For more photos, visit the gallery.

Alan Berner: 206-464-8133 or

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