San Antonio’s most famous attraction is The Alamo. But there is another site that also deserves a lot of attention, not only for its fascinating historical background, but also for its stunning beauty.
The San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden was opened to the public in 1942, but plans for a park there originated all the way back in 1899. In 1919 Kimi Eizo Jingu was invited by the city to live on the grounds and develop the garden. He and his family would regularly dress up in traditional Japanese clothing and serve tea to locals and tourists there.
Even after his death in 1938, his family continued to maintain the gardens until 1942. Unfortunately, the Jingu family was caught in the anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II. They were evicted and the name was changed to the Chinese Tea Gardens. It would revert back to its old name in 1984 - over 40 years later.
Easily accessible by bus or taxi, the Japanese Tea Garden is about ten minutes away from The Alamo. It is open to the public for free from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Just within walking distance is the San Antonio zoo.
Walking the Japanese Tea Garden is a zen-like experience.
Waterfalls, pebble walkways, bridges and a large koi pond make it easy to get lost in your thoughts just as much as in the garden itself.
And that’s what makes the Garden an unforgettable experience. It’s a great way to reconnect with yourself. In a way, walking the garden is more similar to meditation than tourism.
I got the feeling this was more than a tourist attraction almost immediately. Entrance to the garden requires walking underneath a Japanese Torii gate which is more commonly seen at Buddhist temples.
The scenery is stunning. Since the garden is sunk into a quarry, you can get a good vista from anywhere around the perimeter. Some of the most amazing views are from the giant pagoda that juts out over the pond. Getting up-close to the paths, I marveled at how each stone was placed individually in its spot.
The grounds are easy to navigate; everything is centered around the koi pond. But don’t let its simple design fool you. I found many areas around the outer edge to explore. In fact, there were some hidden spots I found that only locals seemed to know about.
The whole site is designated an engineering landmark by the state of Texas. I highly enjoyed my time there and I encourage you to see it too.
Written and contributed by Steve Bloom