Lecture: Sadafumi Uchiyama
A Spiritual and Professional Journey through the Japanese Gardens of North America
American culture, specifically during my years at the University of Illinois, served as a mirror to reflect on my family tradition of Japanese gardening. Much to my surprise and wonder, my education at UIUC ultimately triggered a spiritual journey back to my ancestral land of Japan.
Building gardens has been my family occupation and tradition for over three generations. To become a gardener was my destination from birth and rigorous training began at an early age. As a teenager, however, I did not embrace or possess any passion for this occupation and even dreaded the thought of taking on this family tradition. Ironically, it was a 20-year journey to become a true Japanese gardener and I took many detours across many different continents and cultures along the way. Far away from the homeland, the Japanese garden grew in my heart and eventually its true depth in meaning and spiritual capacity was revealed.
Japanese gardens have special spiritual properties just like any other form of a garden, however, they are strikingly different in their longevity, persistence, and cross-cultural adeptness. Thus, many Japanese gardens were built and still exist in the US and beyond. More than unique cultural artifacts, these gardens serve people in tangible ways. Most importantly by being “spiritual infrastructure” that is universally available to all people. My experience tells me that their time-tested existence and geographical extent demonstrates that these gardens are much needed and thus worthy of the world’s focused attention and investment.
The Portland Japanese Garden is my current observation field and research ground to test this hypothesis. Beyond Portland, hundreds if not a thousand of Japanese gardens exist in foreign lands with an equally large need for caretakers. Portland Japanese Garden also provides a new and comprehensive training ground for these Japanese garden professionals.
This lecture summarizes my journey and current efforts to bring the true value of the Japanese garden to all who hope to make the world a better place.