Isamu Taniguchi was born in Osaka, Japan, and by the age of 16 he was raising bonsai. He migrated to Stockton, California in 1915 where he continued to farm for many years during which time he returned to Japan only once--to marry his childhood sweetheart. During World War II, he and his family were placed in a detainment camp for Japanese Americans. After the war he moved his family to the Rio Grande Valley where he continued to raise vegetables and cotton, but always made room for some flowers. He sent his two sons, Alan and Isumu, to the University of Texas at Austin. It was Alan who convinced his father to move to Austin upon his retirement in 1967.
Taniguchi wanted to give the city of Austin a gift of an oriental garden. It would be his gesture of gratitude to the city that had provided an education for his two sons. The Parks and Recreation Department in conjunction with the Austin Area Garden Council agreed that such a generous gift could not be ignored. There was no contract, no design, and no blueprints of any kind because--as Taniguchi explains--gardens are not created by such methods. Instead, the plans for the Oriental Gardens existed only in Taniguchi's mind, in his soul and in his heart. He died in 1992.
A labor of love best describes the magnificent Oriental Gardens created by Isamu Taniguchi. Working feverishly for 18 long months without a salary, Taniguchi transformed a 3-acre tract of land in the Zilker Gardens into a spiritual retreat. The gardens were completed in 1969.
Taniguchi recalled approaching local nurseries for the plants that were needed. "We have money to pay for this, but you will feel so much better if you donate it." He was able to obtain everything for the Oriental Gardens--from lotus seeds to goldfish--through donations.
The teahouse, which is constructed of bamboo and cedar, posts bears a plaque inscribed with an essay written by Taniguchi--"The Spirit of the Garden"--which describes the garden and the man who created it:
"…When a man, with such pure appreciation in his peaceful mind, tries to compose with stones, grass, and water in order to create one unified beauty--the formation is called a 'garden'. In this context, the garden is the embodiment of the peaceful coexistence of all the elements of nature…
It has been my wish that through the construction of this visible garden, I might provide a symbol of universal peace. By observing the genuine peaceful nature of the garden, I believe that we should be able to knock on the door of our conscience, which once was obliged to be the slave of the animal nature in man rather than of the humanity which resides on the other side of his heart. It is my desire for the peace of mankind which has endowed this man of old age the physical health and stamina to pile stone upon stone without a day's absence from the work for the last 18 months. It is my desire for peace of mankind which encouraged me in my voluntary labor to complete this long-dreamed gift for the city of Austin--this 'Oriental Garden'…It is my wish that you have pleasant communion with the spirit of the garden."
This photo of Taniguchi wearing a traditional kimono was taken in 1988 while he was giving a personal tour to some visitors to the Oriental Gardens.
Most people are unaware of the fact that the ponds at the gardens spell out the word "Austin" if viewed from above. The gardens feature a twelve-foot waterfall, a Half Moon bridge, and a lotus pond constructed around a miniature island flocked with native Japanese trees.
It is difficult to believe that the gardens, which include paths, streams, bridges, ponds, a teahouse and extensive landscaping, were created with Taniguchi's own hands. Working with very little equipment and no more than one assistant at a time, Taniguchi planned the waterfalls, placing each stone where he knew it belonged.