Who Was Juki Iida? ~Insights from the Designer's Diary, Part 1~

During the garden construction in 1960. Photo: University of Washington.

During the garden construction in 1960. Photo: University of Washington.

By Mark Bourne

Editor's Note: anyone who has been on a guided tour of our garden has heard the name Juki Iida. Mr. Iida is largely credited for designing Seattle Japanese Garden in 1959, as well as personally overseeing the installation. His hopes for this garden, and the challenges he faced in the process of bringing it the garden to life, were documented in a diary he kept. In the coming months, our new Scholar-in-Residence, Mark Bourne, will be taking us through the "origin story" of our garden over the course of several blog posts. This is the first installation in the series.

Choosing where to start a history is challenging. There are back stories and pre-histories; vital asides; minor events that determine the course of major decisions. These tributaries and backwaters will be explored here as much as possible. There is a starting point for this story, and like many other starting points it places us in the middle of the story, but at a moment that is a watershed in the creation of the garden.

First, some context is necessary: The Seattle Japanese Garden is widely considered the work of J­ūki Iida (飯田十基, 1890-1977), a landscape architect and garden designer from the Kantō region. Throughout the process of creating the garden, Iida kept a log of significant events. This log is being translated at this time, and here I would like share the first two entries from Iida’s “Overseas Garden Journal” (海外造園日誌). These entries shed light upon the moment when the garden made a decisive step out of the realm of ideas, and into the shape of the garden that now exists:

5/17 Kiyoshi Inoshita came to visit me recently and discussed a garden that is to be built in Seattle in the United States, of some 9000 tsubo1. The selection process is currently underway, and he thought that I would likely be chosen. He asked if I would be available.

5/28 I went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Department of Parks to speak with Professor Inoshita and Director Moriwaki about various matters concerning the creation of a Japanese-style garden. They said that they had received a request from the University of Washington in Seattle, which had put its request to the Japanese Consulate in Seattle, which then relayed it to the embassy, which in turn sent it to the metropolitan government. They informed me that I had been chosen to be responsible for the details of planning the garden as well as overseeing its creation.

After that I thought about various items, and two points piqued my interest: the questions of how pressed we would be to find enough materials such as appropriate rocks, trees, and other materials to create a Japanese garden on such a large scale outside of Japan, as well as whether or not it would be possible to create the garden using only white and Nisei2 gardeners. Thinking I could learn from these two points with which I had no experience, I decided to accept the task.

1. The tsubo is an historical measure of Japanese floor area or land area, defined as an area of 6尺 by 6尺, which is the area of 2 tatami mats, roughly 1.83 m2, or again in American measurement, 35.6 square feet. The actual area of the garden is 3.5 acres; thus, the estimate that Iida was given of roughly 7.4 acres is quite different from the actual size of the garden.

2. Iida used the term Nisei in his original entry, and it is used here as I believe it will be a term familiar to the audience. As used by Iida, it seems to incorporate any Japanese person living overseas without significant direct experience in Japan. I will explore this term further in later posts.