A little patch of Zen

Japanese garden dedication formalizes relationships

By Jessica Corey-Butler on November 8, 2007

You know that special geographical locale when you’re in it. It might be a snowy mountain lookout, or a winding forest trail. Possibly, there’s a patch on a certain beach where the rocks, water and sound of the waves brings you to your happy place.

Students at Tacoma Community College — and community residents who know the secret — can now enjoy multiple happy places melded together in a new garden being dedicated Friday, Nov. 9, at 1 p.m. The public is invited to attend the free celebration and sneak a peek at the natural, traditional high art and culture.

The Babe and Herman Lehrer Japanese Friendship Garden located at the north end of the Tacoma campus is a sample of a traditional art form that blends the form of a garden with the function of a natural space for reflection, utilizing elements like real or symbolic water, rocks, some architectural elements, potentially rendered in stone, a bridge, and a hidden vista, or “shakkei” (borrowed scenery).

These elements are combined in a deliberate manner with elements at every turn that invite observation and quiet contemplation; all blend together to create the perfect pocket of natural escape from urban stress.

Consider college students, and you have a likely audience in need of stress relief.

 “We’re delighted and proud to have a beautiful space to have people reflect and study,” states Dale Stowell, director of marketing and communications at TCC.

He reflects on the changing face of TCC: “The college has really been transformed.” Stowell points out the new Science and Engineering building as one example. Compared to the smattering of sometimes confusing outbuildings that marked the campus 10 years ago, the new and improved campus, with new spaces joining revamped and improved buildings, has helped the college put a new face forward.

Stowell explains that as part of that revamping process, “We’ve become much more intentional about public spaces — this garden is a great example of that.”

The garden also represents, according to Stowell, “how much we value diversity at TCC.”

The strong International program, diverse community, generous donors, committees developed at TCC, and the relationship between Japanese sister city to Tacoma, Kitakyushu, all came together in this project. Japanese landscape architects Sadaaki Mizuno and Toshiyuki Yano from Kitakyushu made several trips to TCC to develop and implement the “karensansui”(waterless) garden, which includes a dry waterfall flowing down to a sea of white sand, along with a pebble beach, a central stone island, stone bridges, and “human artifacts” including a 12-foot tall pagoda and several stone lanterns.

The garden is named in honor of Babe Lehrer and her late husband Herman, recognizing her 22 years of service and leadership in the TCC Foundation.

With so many connections helping to bring the Japanese Friendship Garden about, the different components of the garden seamlessly flowing together serve well as a symbol of the college and its local and global community. “The Japanese Friendship Garden is really a living, breathing work of art,” Stowell adds.

For the event that will take place on Friday, sponsored by the Port of Tacoma, the outdoor dedication will be followed by an indoor celebration of Japanese art, flower arranging and music. Kitakyushu Mayor Kenji Kitahashi is expected to attend the event alongside Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma, along with a delegation of more than 20 Kitakyushu officials.

[Tacoma Community College north end, garden dedication, Friday, Nov 9, 1 p.m., 6501 S. 19th St., Tacoma, 253.460.4379]