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.