James Irvine Japanese Garden

Designers: Takeo Uesugi | City: Los Angeles, CA | Project Type: Japanese garden
Date Visited: 11.26.12

Locations: 244 S San Pedro St Los Angeles, CA 90012
Size: 8,500 square feet
Official Opening Date: 1979


A small, hidden gem tucked away in a corner of Little Tokyo, the James Irvine Japanese Garden, also known as Seiryu-en–“Garden of the Clear Stream”–is also considered “the wedding industry’s best kept secret for intimate, unique ceremonies and receptions.”

The garden was designed by Dr. Takeo Uesugi, professor emeritus of landscape architecture at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, who came to the U.S. in 1965.

From the project description on site:

“The 170-foot stream which winds through the garden gives it its Japanese name, Seiryu-en (Garden of the Clear Stream). The stream begins as a waterfall, its turbulent rush representing the struggles of the immigrant Issei generation against harsh economic realities and prejudices in an often hostile land. Pride in their heritage and ingrained perseverance helped to sustain them as they labored to build a solid foundation for the generations to follow.

In the middle cascades, the stream divides, expressing the conflicts experienced by the second generation Nisei, who volunteered out of American concentration camps during World War II to prove their loyalty to the United States of America. The stream gradually becomes a gentle murmur, ending in a serene pond, symbolic of the hope for a peaceful world for the Sansei and the ensuing generations. Finally, the stream becomes a gentle murmur, ending in a calm pond, symbolic of the hope for a peaceful world for the third-generation Sansei and the ensuing generations.”

The James Irvine Japanese Garden truly is tucked away. Located down a quiet street of Little Tokyo, the garden is only accessible through the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) building, where you’ll need to sign in at the front desk and then descend down an elevator to reach the doorway that opens out to the garden. Visitors will likely only visit if they know about the garden beforehand.

Though small, I loved the garden. Unsurprisingly, I was the only visitor at the time of my visit and was able to slowly and peacefully peel back the layers of the garden, where the details only reveal themselves through careful observation. In addition to the burbling stream that snaked through the garden, another one of my favorite features were the many winding pathways that branched off from the main walkway, a feature that is characteristic of Japanese gardens.

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