Last year, Gene and I spent Christmas and New Years in San Antonio, Texas. One day after spending a few hours at the Alamo and River Walk, we decided to check out the Japanese Tea Garden. The Japanese Tea Gardens also knowns as Sunken Gardens is located on the northwestern edge of Brackenridge Park and was originally a limestone rock quarry. Years later, in 1880, it was a cement company called the Alamo Cement Company for over 26 years.
Around 1917 Ray Lambert, the current City Parks Commissioner, visualized an oriental-style garden in the pit of the quarry. He took his vision to engineer W.S. Delery who developed plans for the gardens. To bring his vision to life, Lambert used prison labor to shape the quarry into a complex that included walkways, stone arch bridges, an island and a Japanese pagoda. One unique piece of the garden was the entrance itself.
You can’t really talk about the Japanese Tea Gardens without speaking of Kimi Eizo Jingu, a local Japanese-American artist in 1926. Kimi was alsp a representative of the Shizuoka Tea Association and was considered an expert in the tea business nationally. He and his family moved into the the garden and opened the Bamboo Room, where light lunches and tea were sold.
After Mr. Jingu’s death in the late 1930s, his family continued to operate the tea garden until 1942, when they were evicted because of anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II. It was around this time that the garden was renamed to the Chinese Tea Garden to prevent the razing and vandalism of the tea garden during World War II, as many other cities’ Japanese tea gardens were being vandalized.
In 1984 Mayor Henry Cisneros restored the original “Japanese Tea Garden” designation in a ceremony attended by Jingu’s children as well as representatives of the Japanese government. I personally am SO glad they renamed it back to Japanese and didn’t leave it named Chinese Tea Garden. So sad that they had to do that, but it’s understandable given the circumstances at the time.
Given the Tea Garden’s origin as a rock quarry that played a prominent role in the development of the cement business, as well as its later redevelopment as a garden, the site is designated a Texas Civil Engineering Landmark and a Registered Texas Historic Landmark. It was also added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 22, 2004.
Today the Japanese Tea Garden features areas available for rent, which are ideal for small weddings, a memorial service, as well as an area for large corporate gatherings. So happy to share that while we were walking around and checking out the gardens, there was a couple who got engaged right under the beautiful water fall. How sweet and romantic!
We also saw many ponds filled with aquatic plants and many koi fish, some of the largest I have seen. There were also a lot of cute little bridges which I love and took many pictures of, lol. It was such a cool and our furbaby Dolly had a fun time running around and smelling everything shoud could. In all seriousness, it is a very peaceful place. I realy enjoyed taking a bunch of pictures, then just sitting around and relaxing while doing a little people watching. Here is a link to a website with more information if you want to plan your own visit one day. Please share your experience if you have been here in the past. I would love to hear about your experience. Happy travels.
Japanese Tea Garden Visitor Information
3853 N St. Mary’s St San Antonio, TX 78212
Daily 7 AM – 5 PM
The upper garden and pavilion areas of the historic Japanese Tea Garden and the Jingu House restaurant are accessible by ramp. The lower garden is accessible only by stairs. There are designated accessible parking in the Japanese Tea Garden parking lot.