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About the Garden

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden Lethbridge Tokitsu Family and Mas Sugimoto

Tokitsu Family and Mas Sugimoto in 1960’s Lethbridge Japanese Gardens.

Established during Canada’s Centennial in 1967, Nikka Yuko was built to recognize contributions made by citizens of Japanese ancestry to the multicultural community of Lethbridge, Alberta, and as a symbol of international friendship. Its name was created from the Japanese words Ni (from Nihon meaning Japan), ka from Kanada or Canada, and Yuko, which translates as “friendship” to mean “Japan-Canada friendship.”

The idea for Nikka Yuko began with a small group of people: Reverend Yutetsu Kawamura, a Canadian Buddhist priest, his wife Yoneko, and Cleo Mowers, publisher of the Lethbridge Herald. Their vision was to create a Japanese-style garden that reflected southern Alberta’s magnificent mountain and prairie scenery. In Japanese garden design philosophy, nature is interpreted through abstract and artistic symbolism, which results in a very intriguing landscape. When Kurt Steiner, the manager of the city tourism organization, heard the idea, he immediately promoted it, and the surrounding community came together to champion a unique event in a small Canadian city.

A Japanese garden reflects not only the local natural landscape but also the culture. From the beginning, it was agreed that the Garden must be authentic and of the highest quality; therefore, respected Japanese garden designer and landscape architect Tadashi Kubo of Osaka Prefecture University was commissioned to design it. Kubo conducted an intensive study of the land, its people and their way of life, determining how the Garden would be used before submitting the master plan. His colleague, Masami Sugimoto, also of Osaka Prefecture University, oversaw the construction, evaluating and adjusting each detail on site until every aspect of the Garden was harmoniously balanced.

As a result, Nikka Yuko expresses the merging of Japanese and Canadian cultures in a garden rich in symbolism. It captures the signature of the southern Alberta landscape while simultaneously integrating traditional Japanese philosophy and symbols. Each element of the Garden has been carefully chosen and maintained to bind the entire Garden together in perfect harmony. Water is essential, refreshing the spirit with a tumbling waterfall, gurgling stream, and reflective pond. Plantings of forest and meadow layer the Garden in soothing hues of green. Meticulously pruned trees and shrubs shape the serene setting and become focal points and seasonal symbols. A brief appearance of spring flowers or autumn colours signifies the fleeting experience of life.

Rocks are among the outstanding features of Nikka Yuko. Originating from a nearby mountain pass, the stones are millions of years old, weathered with time and embedded with beautiful lichens. Their solidity evokes southern Alberta’s magnificent mountains, tumbling rivers, and placid lakeshores. Each rock, often weighing several tons, was lifted into the Garden with a crane, deliberately positioned, considered from all angles, and repositioned until it was deemed proper. Traditional Japanese symbols, such as an island in the shape of a turtle, representative of long life, were also created with ancient rocks. Smaller rocks, arranged in patterns intended to inspire contemplation, make up the karesansui dry garden adjacent to the teahouse.

The structural components of Nikka Yuko were handcrafted in Kyoto. The teahouse, bell tower, azumaya shelter, gates and bridges were built of aromatic wood from yellow cypress, dismantled, and shipped across the ocean to Canada. Five master tradesmen from Kyoto reassembled the garden site structures with Canadian tradespeople’s assistance. The bronze Friendship Bell, which hangs in the bell tower, was commissioned for Nikka Yuko and cast in Kyoto. The bell’s deep tones ring a friendship call to all visitors.

Stone lanterns, carved by artisans in Kyoto, were placed next to the bell tower, overlooking the pond, near the azumaya shelter and beside the stream. Each type of lantern was positioned in a significant place according to Japanese tradition. Historically, stone lanterns were used to light pathways but are now purely aesthetic and symbolic of lighting the way. A stone pagoda was also incorporated, composed of five tiers, denoting earth, water, fire, wind and sky.

Beyond the Garden, a city park with its tree-lined lakeshore crowned by the endless prairie sky surrounds Nikka Yuko, forming shakkei or the ‘borrowed view’ valued in Japanese garden philosophy. The view expands the 1.6-hectare (4-acre) leafy retreat, conveying the feeling of openness, which captures the personality of the Western landscape. However, the winding path only allows the visitor to see part of the scene but sets the pace for unfolding one view at a time.

Now mature, many visitors enjoy the peace Nikka Yuko offers. The Garden also serves as a gathering place to celebrate Japanese and Canadian art and culture. It provides a full calendar of events throughout the season, with cultural activities each weekend. Take part in a traditional tea ceremony, stroll the path during moonlight viewings, or view exhibits by local artists. The Canadian climate makes it necessary to close Nikka Yuko’s garden paths in winter. The Visitor Centre/Gift Shop is now open.

Visitors who experience our world-class destination will be nurtured by the garden landscape, architecture, and programming, and be inspired by the beauty of our diverse community.

    • Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is the destination.
    • The Garden is unique and universal.
    • The Garden will be here as long as the city exists.
    • The Society is the appropriate steward to preserve and maintain the Garden.
    • The Garden represents the community that nurtures it.
    • We maintain a link to the past and a connection to the future.
    • We are the right people to tell the story.
    • Our programming and experiences provide good value for people wanting to return.
    • When people leave the Garden, they will be better and feel healthier than when they came in.

Through harmonious relationships, we grow and preserve the garden.

  • Lethbridge is celebrated and promoted through our work with local businesses and partners, and we are an integral part of a thriving community.
  • Community members steward the Garden through ever-increasing engagement and commitment that will ensure its preservation and growth.
  • Our community members and partners are enriched through the programs and experiences we deliver together.

EDUCATION: seicho 成⻑
People gain a deeper understanding, bridge cultural and generational divides, build an inclusive community, and we are inspired to share their knowledge with others.

  • People who visit us gain an increased understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture and history and collaborations of the Nikkei community in Southern Alberta.
  • People who engage with our Garden experience diversity and inclusivity through bridges to connect with different cultures and generations.
  • People will have an increased understanding and appreciation for landscape architecture and horticulture.

DESTINATION: meisho 名所
Visitors from all over the world experience our unique Southern Alberta culture, energizing our local communities.

  • The Garden is the premier attraction and the main reason people visit Lethbridge.
  • Visiting our Garden is an essential tradition for our Lethbridge & District residents.
  • People are spiritually, mentally and physically healthier because of the social, cultural and horticultural connections and memories they make at the Garden.
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Our Mission

The Lethbridge & District Japanese Garden Society, celebrates the influences of people of Japanese ancestry, narrating the history of this region through garden architecture, the natural environment, and the culture in Southern Alberta.

Lethbridge & District Japanese Garden Society

Board of Directors

Brad Hembroff

Brad Hembroff


John Harding

Dr. John Harding

Past President

Dawn Sugimoto

Dawn Sugimoto

Vice President

Tim Koba

Timothy Koba


Chiye Kinjo

Chiye Kinjo


Rick Williams

Rick Williams

Tad Mitsui

Tad Mitsui

David Tanaka

David Tanaka

Gideon Fujiwara

Dr. Gideon Fujiwara

Erin Crane

Erin Crane

Kaela Corazza
Kaela Corazza
Beautiful in the winter!
Corey A.
Corey A.
Teena R.
Teena R.
One of Alberta’s hidden gems. Put extra time aside to walk around and around this beautiful experience. The staff is beyond friendly too. A place you’ll want to experience again and again.
Tyler Froese
Tyler Froese
Nice relaxing place to go for a evening stroll during the festival of lights. Even got to go for a horse and carriage ride.
Alicia Randall
Alicia Randall
Fabulous experience, beautiful grounds, and just a pleasure to walk though!
Riley Evans
Riley Evans
My husband and I really enjoyed the Christmas lights. There were so many details and colors! Just a beautiful and fun event. We got hot drinks and cookies in the Cafe and enjoyed the live band.
Arindam C
Arindam C
The hype is way more than reality
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