Special Interview Bloom x Kato x Yamaguchi “Engagement That Creates a Harmonious Relationship Between People and Garden”


Stephen D. Bloom

Portland Japanese Garden

On October 16, 2015 (Friday), the Cooperative Agreement of Mutual Exchange was signed between the Portland Japanese Garden (Oregon, USA) and Ueyakato Landscape Co., Ltd., designated by Kyoto Prefecture to manage and operate the Keihanna Commemorative Park, to contribute towards the international development of Japanese garden culture. Mr. Stephen D. Bloom, CEO of the Portland Japanese Garden attended the signing event and afterwards, discussed with Tomoki Kato, our company president, and director Takashi Yamaguchi of the Keihanna Commemorative Park about information on exchange of reciprocal activities, potential future exchanges, and visions about Japanese gardens.

Tomoki Kato (Ph.D.)

Ueyakato Landscape Co., Ltd.


Commemorative signing between the Portland Japanese Garden × Ueyakato Landscape Co., Ltd.

Takashi Yamaguchi

Park Director
Keihanna Commemorative Park

Participation Type Programming Triple Park Visitors

Kato: Thank you for coming all this way today. It is an honor to be able to sign this Cooperative Agreement. Now as a stronger team, we can assist each other to flourish.

Bloom: Since our first meeting in January 2013, we have cultivated our relationship where even our staff have become friends. Realizing that we are also a very good match on a professional level, this signing seemed to be the next logical next step. We are very honored and humbled to have this kind of relationship in Kyoto, a known mecca for Japanese gardens. We, the Portland Japanese Garden*1 are just starting-out in terms of garden history and techniques. We hope to learn much from our seniors in Kyoto and Japan.

Kato: In terms of the technical side, we may be your seniors, but I believe the Portland Japanese Garden is our senior in management of park usage. In 2014 when you came to Japan and conducted the discussion study session at our office, you mentioned the key points of success for the Portland Japanese Garden*2, from which we greatly learned. I was especially impressed by one of your points, which was the change from a city funded park to a successful citizen funded non-profit organization (NPO) garden system. With about 8,000 members who pay an annual fee of $55 – 75 (USD) a year as of October 2015, creates a wonderful base of community support. I feel it reflects the community’s wish that you will continue to be a “wonderful Japanese garden.”

Bloom: When I took the post in 2005, the first thing I did was to establish programming that would make the local community interested. I started by creating the job position, and assigning a personnel in charge of programming. Previously, there were no programming where the citizens could participate and experience the Japanese garden. Diane Durston was selected for this important role. She utilizes her 18-years of experience living in Kyoto and profound knowledge of Japanese culture and art into producing a variety of programs.

Kato: What kind of programs for example?

Bloom: From Hanami (flower viewing events) to Tsukimi (moon viewing events), to celebrating Kodomo-no-Hi (Children’s Day), as well as art exhibitions and workshops, and of course cultural classes on Kimono (traditional Japanese clothes), Ocha (Japanese tea ceremony), and Ohana (flower arrangement). We have a variety of annual events and a diverse programming of rich Japanese culture and art. What is most important is that the visitors are not just viewing these programs, but are able to participate and experience the programs. I learned from my experience while managing a symphony orchestra that “engagement” with the local communities and parties are most important when working for a NPO. First, it is necessary to be known, next to be of interest to the community, then through fun and enjoyable experiences you become important to them.

Kato: What do you aim for in order to provide enjoyment to visitors and participants?

Bloom: “Quality” and authentic “Japanese touch.” If we aim for programming where “everybody can enjoy,” then nobody will be highly satisfied at the end. It is necessary to arrange programs suitable for targeted age-range or public taste. In fact, many of our events are specifically catered to our targeted audience.

Kato: I see, those efforts lead to many supportive fans. That is fantastic! The Portland Japanese garden’s current annual visitors are 350,000 people. I understand the number of visitors have tripled since you took the position.

Bloom: Sometimes, too many visitors can become hard for the garden. However, I hope for more people to enjoy and love Japanese gardens. Currently, we are temporarily closed for about 5 months until we re-open in March 2016. This is necessary for our expansion project which will be completed by Spring 2017. There will be an addition of 7 gardens of various sizes and the International Institute (building) will be designed by Mr. Kengo Kuma, a world famous Japanese architect.

Kato: What a large expansion! What are the highlights?

Bloom: The characteristic of this plan is the harmonization of local materials such as trees and stones, with Japanese traditional skills and methods. There are a couple features that will be first of its kind in the USA. Such as the Anou-style stone wall made by a group of specialized Anou craftsman, another is the grass-roof made of new building materials. Both of these are attracting much attention from all directions of the world.

Kato: That is definitely something to look forward to. The Portland Japanese Garden was designed in 1963, so the garden is around 50-years-old, however I feel the garden has aesthetically grown and aged much more than it actually has. It has some qualities that coincide with old gardens of Kyoto with histories of 100-years and 150-years. Therefore, the next 50-years and 100-years later will be exciting to see.

*1 Portland Japanese Garden

The Japanese garden located within the Washington Park in Portland, Oregon on the northwest coast of the USA. In 1963, landscape planning was commenced, and opened in 1967. 2013 marked the 50th anniversary. Designed by a Japanese landscape architect, Mr. Takuma Tono (Professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture). Gross area of 2.2ha.

≫Portland Japanese Garden web site

The tranquil flow of a waterfall, a beautiful summer scenery at the Portland Japanese Garden
Photo: David Cobb

*2 Key Points of Success for the Portland Japanese Garden

Physical Aspects

(1) Similar climate and terrain as Japan.
(2) The design is a balanced harmonization of traditional Japanese garden elements with the sense of beauty of the Pacific Northwest coast. Also, the garden contains 5 different types of gardens that can be used for educational purposes. The Flat Garden, the Sand and Stone Garden, the Tea Garden, the Strolling Pond Garden, and the Natural Garden.
(3) Consistent involvement of a professional Japanese architect from the construction of the garden up to today. The implementation of the Japanese Director System made it possible for a Japanese professional to be involved in the construction, management and maintenance, and operation. (Since 1964, there have been 8 garden directors every 2 ~ 5 years, and since 2008 a garden curator had been assigned.)

Less Physical Aspects

(4) NPO from the beginning, rather than a city funded garden. This allows donations to be received to support the garden management.
(5) Obtained operational funding just through annual memberships. (There are various types of annual memberships, such as students, adults, family type, photographers, and sponsors. There are a variety of merits along with the annual free park entrance. The current annual membership is 8,000 members which covers annual operational costs, allowing for accumulated financial flexibility.)
(6) There are various cultural programming, such as flower arrangement lessons, tea ceremony lessons, flower-viewing events, moon-viewing events, celebration of Children’s Day, and also a variety of Japanese art exhibits. These programs allow the garden to simultaneously function as a cultural center, which increases the garden’s value and interest as a venue.
(7) Establishment of a volunteer system. (A volunteer must first conduct 8 weeks of training with the garden curator before they are recognized as a volunteer.)

The Keihanna Commemorative Park was a park built in commemoration of the establishment of the Keihanna Science City (Kansai Science City). The theme of the park is nostalgic Japanese countryside scenery. Visitors can enjoy various areas, such as the Suikei-en (Japanese garden), Mebuki-no-Mori (Budding Tree Forest a countryside mountain scenery), and the rice paddy style Hiroba (Open Space).

≫Keihanna Commemorative Park web site