Photo tour of Japanese Friendship Garden upper level.

People on a tour of the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park experience the beauty and tranquility of this unique place.
People on a tour of the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park experience the beauty and tranquility of this unique place.

I recently went on a docent-led tour of the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. I took photos and jotted down a few quick notes about the many things I learned. We first strolled through the upper level, then ventured down into the more recently opened canyon expansion.

In this blog post I’ll relate a little about what our group saw in the upper level. I’ll provide a very small taste of the beauty, history and meaning of the wonderful sights in this gem of a garden. But, of course, to truly absorb the quiet beauty, you must visit the Japanese Friendship Garden yourself. Even better, become a member!

Our friendly docent guide meets everyone in front of the Japanese Friendship Garden, near the Tea Pavilion.
Our friendly docent guide meets everyone in front of the Japanese Friendship Garden, near the Tea Pavilion.
The docent explains the kanji on a rock near the entrance. It translates Three Scene Garden. The three elements represented in every Japanese garden are mountains, water and the pastoral.
The docent explains the kanji on a rock near the entrance. It roughly translates Three Scene Garden. The three elements represented in every Japanese garden are mountains, water and the pastoral.

Before entering the garden, the docent explained some differences between traditional European and Japanese gardens.

Formal European gardens originated as demonstrations of a person’s wealth–think of the wide, lavish gardens beside the palaces and chateaus of Europe. They show man’s ability to master and order nature, with symmetrically arranged rows of flowers and grandiose columns and gravity-defying fountains.

Traditional Japanese gardens, however, are quite different. Inviting meditation and abstraction, they emphasize what is natural. They simulate a winding, personal walk through an idealized, beautiful wilderness. Rugged stones, dripping water, asymmetrical trees bent by the elements–one encounters scenes found in nature that might represent a growing human life and the experiences that shape who we become.

Walking slowly along the pathway through the upper level of the Japanese Friendship Garden. Scenes open as corners are turned; every visit is a personal journey of discovery.
Walking slowly along the pathway through the upper level of the Japanese Friendship Garden. Scenes open as corners are turned; every visit is a personal journey of discovery.
A black pine has been carefully pruned over many years to provide a sense of uplift to the passing viewer at eye level. The needles all point upward.
A black pine has been carefully pruned over many years to provide a sense of uplift to the passing viewer at eye level. The needles all point upward.
A shishi-odoshi made of hollow bamboo. When one end fills with water, the swiveling bamboo tips forward then falls back, producing a sharp clack. The sudden motion and noise scares deer and other herbivores from the garden.
A shishi-odoshi made of hollow bamboo. When one end fills with water, the swiveling bamboo tips forward then falls back, producing a sharp clack. The sudden motion and noise scares deer and other herbivores from the garden.
We continue down the winding path through the upper level of the Japanese Friendship Garden. This is a zen garden, with a focus on spiritual meditation and human appreciation of beauty.
We continue down the winding path through the upper level of the Japanese Friendship Garden. This is a zen garden, with a focus on spiritual meditation and human appreciation of beauty.
Rocks are a very important part of every Japanese garden. Representing rugged mountains, they are chosen with extreme care and the best ones are highly prized.
Rocks are a very important part of every Japanese garden. Representing rugged mountains, they are chosen with extreme care and the best ones are highly prized.
These plants have been pruned using the Japanese technique called o-karikomi to look like rounded boulders. The garden is primarily green--the most relaxing color.
These plants have been pruned using the Japanese technique called o-karikomi to look like rounded boulders. The garden is primarily green–the most relaxing color.
A tsukubai basin near the door of the Exhibit House. Kneeling, one washes hands before entering a temple. This represents spiritual cleansing.
A tsukubai basin near the door of the Exhibit Hall. Kneeling humbly, one washes hands before entering a temple. This represents spiritual cleansing.
Two long benches inside the Exhibit House look out at the carefully arranged Dry Stone Garden. This karesansui invites deep meditation; the stones appear like islands in Japan's Inland Sea.
Two long benches inside the Exhibit Hall look out at the carefully arranged Dry Stone Garden. This karesansui invites deep meditation; the stones appear like islands in Japan’s Inland Sea.

The Dry Stone Garden, in Japanese called karesansui, contains a numerologically auspicious odd number of stones. The stones all seem to bow to a vertical master stone, the first to be placed. The stones float like islands, and the raked ridges around them appear like choppy waves in Japan’s Inland Sea. Shrubs behind the rock garden simulate wooded hillsides. The extended roof and garden’s nearness draw the observer into the calm scene. Zen meditation and mental abstraction is sought.

A rain chain at one corner of the Exhibit House is used to collect water and provide a pleasing touch to the garden.
A rain chain at one corner of the Exhibit Hall is used to collect water and provide a pleasing touch to the garden.
Our group heads on a stone path past a lantern to a patio near the koi pond.
Our group heads on a stone path past a lantern to a patio near the koi pond.
Those lights dangling overhead are not typical in a Japanese garden. These were added for Christmas to please Balboa Park visitors who expect twinkling lights at night during the holiday season.
Those lights dangling overhead are not typical in a Japanese garden. They were added before Christmas to please Balboa Park visitors who love twinkling lights at night during the holiday season.
We approach the beautiful, very popular koi pond.
We approach the beautiful, very popular koi pond.
We learn about koi, their colors, value and symbolism. They originated in the desert ponds of Iran and are black when found in nature. Long-living fish, they are seen as symbols of longevity.
We learn about koi, their colors, value and symbolism. They originated in the desert ponds of Iran and are black when found in nature. Long-living fish, they are collected by the wealthy and viewed as symbols of longevity.
The koi pond and the island in its center are both shaped like turtles. Many subtle and hidden images can be found in a Japanese Garden.
The koi pond and the island in its center are both shaped like turtles. Many subtle and hidden images can be found in a typical Japanese garden.
Walking along, feeling peaceful and at one with nature. All worldly cares have been left behind.
Walking along, feeling peaceful and at one with nature. All worldly cares have been left behind.
Our docent tour guide shows us some black bamboo.
Our docent tour guide shows us some black bamboo.
Now we've arrived at the bonsai garden. Some of these weathered specimens were acquired on mountaintops and are over 300 years old.
Now we’ve arrived at the bonsai garden. Some of these weathered specimens were acquired on mountaintops and are over 300 years old.
A small juniper has been trained over time to appear like a gnarled tree in the wild.
A small juniper has been trained over time to appear like a gnarled tree in the wild.
Patience and an eye for beauty are requirements when practicing the Japanese art form of bonsai.
Patience and an eye for beauty are requirements when practicing the Japanese art form of bonsai.
Our tour of the upper level of the Japanese Friendship Garden is almost done. We pause for a moment by the Charles C. Dail Memorial Gate.
Our tour of the upper level of the Japanese Friendship Garden is almost done. We pause for a moment by the Charles C. Dail Memorial Gate.
In a coming blog post, we will pass through the gate and descend into the amazing large canyon below to see a river, waterfalls and more!
In a coming blog post, we will pass through the gate and descend into the amazing canyon below to see a river, waterfalls and more!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk! You can enjoy even more Cool San Diego Sights by following me on Facebook or Twitter!

Do you like to read original, thought-provoking fiction? To enjoy a few philosophical short stories that I’ve written, click Short Stories by Richard.

Do you love beautiful things? Visit my photography blog which I call A Small World Full of Beauty.

Christmas on the Prado returns to Balboa Park!

On Saturday, November 26, from 2-9, the public is invited to the 3rd Annual Christmas on the Prado. The charity event benefits Toys for Tots. Santa will be there!
On Saturday, November 26, from 2-9, the public is invited to the 3rd Annual Children’s Coalition Christmas on the Prado. The charity event benefits Toys for Tots. Santa will be there!

Many long-time residents of San Diego remember Christmas on the Prado, before the beloved event was altered a bit and renamed December Nights.

But how many people realize that Christmas on the Prado is returning this year to Balboa Park?  It’s true!

This next Saturday, November 26th, from 2-9, the 3rd Annual Christmas on the Prado (which is unrelated to December Nights) will be held in Balboa Park. The event will feature lots of family friendly entertainment, Christmas music, colorful lights, traditional food and drink, the beautiful Nativity Display at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion that so many love, and Santa! This joyful new Christmas on the Prado is put on by the San Diego Children’s Coalition and San Diego Community Christmas Center.

Think you might go? Check out the Christmas on the Prado website. And bring an unwrapped toy. The event benefits Toys For Tots!

The coffee and cookie shack in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion will be open providing holiday cheer.
The coffee and cookie shack in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion will be open during Christmas on the Prado providing holiday cheer.
A look at the old Community Christmas Tree in Balboa Park. The venerable old cedar was a part of many past Christmas On The Prado events. But it became sadly misshapen and is no longer used.
A look at the old Community Christmas Tree in Balboa Park. The venerable old cedar was a part of many past Christmas On The Prado events. But it became sadly misshapen and is no longer used.
Plaque at base of the old Community Christmas Tree, dedicated to the people of San Diego on December 25, 1981. For many years it was strung during the holidays with beautiful lights.
Plaque at base of the old Community Christmas Tree, dedicated to the people of San Diego on December 25, 1981. For many years it was strung during the holiday season with beautiful lights.
I took this photo a couple years ago during December Nights. The elaborate Nativity Display in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion is fully restored and set up for 2016. It will be a c part of Christmas On The Prado!
I took this photo a couple years ago during December Nights. The Nativity Display in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion is fully restored and ready for 2016.  It includes many traditional religious scenes leading to the birth of Christ.  It will be a central feature of Christmas on the Prado!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk! You can enjoy even more Cool San Diego Sights by following me on Facebook or Twitter!

Floral Association event honors Kate Sessions.

Photograph of the Marston House across the south lawn.
Photograph of the handsome Marston House across the south lawn.

Kate Sessions, the pioneering horticulturist who is often called the Mother of Balboa Park, was honored yesterday at an event held at the beautiful George Marston House and Gardens. Every year the San Diego Floral Association throws a special birthday party for Kate Sessions, who was born on November 8, 1857.

Many of the large trees that grow today around Balboa Park were planted in person by Kate Sessions over a century ago. That the annual floral party is held in the sprawling gardens of the 1905 Marston House is appropriate, because George W. Marston, successful businessman and founder of the San Diego Historical Society, was also an important advocate for Balboa Park. His old house, situated in the northwest corner of the park, is a fine example of the Arts and Crafts architectural movement. It was designed by famous architects William Sterling Hebbard and Irving Gill. Today it is the home of a historical museum.

The Marston House Museum and its lovely gardens are open to the public in the northwest corner of Balboa Park. The current exhibit is titled Irving Gill - Progress and Poetry in Architecture.
The Marston House Museum and its lovely gardens are open to the public in the northwest corner of Balboa Park. The current exhibit is titled Irving Gill – Progress and Poetry in Architecture.
Several vintage automobiles from the Early Ford V8 Club were on display in front of the house.
Several vintage automobiles from the Early Ford V8 Club were on display in front of the house.
Geraniums and other colorful plants were for sale on the Marston House grounds.
Geraniums and other colorful plants were for sale on the Marston House grounds.
The San Diego Floral Association, founded in 1907, is celebrating their second century of community service and horticultural education.
The San Diego Floral Association, founded in 1907, is celebrating their second century of community service and horticultural education.
Victorian attire and a food truck greet visitors to the fun annual event.
Victorian attire and a food truck greet visitors to the fun annual event.
Sunlight through gilded leaves.
Sunlight through Autumn-gilded leaves.
View of the Marston House from the north, across a section of the gardens.
View of the Marston House from the north, across a section of the gardens.
Beds of blooming roses in the Marston House gardens.
Beds of blooming roses in the Marston House gardens.
Sitting quietly on a bench among green hedges.
Sitting quietly on a bench among green hedges.
Fountain in the gardens of Balboa Park's historical Marston House.
Fountain in the gardens of Balboa Park’s historical Marston House.
Beautiful tiles with images of flowers.
Beautiful tiles with images of flowers.
A peek inside the lath greenhouse between the Marston House and its carriage house, which now operates as a museum store.
A peek inside the lath greenhouse between the Marston House and its carriage house, which now operates as a museum store.
A perfect yellow rose.
A perfect yellow rose.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk! You can enjoy even more Cool San Diego Sights by following me on Facebook or Twitter!

A few scenes of life in beautiful Balboa Park.

People relax and enjoy life in San Diego's beautiful Balboa Park.
People relax and enjoy life in San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park.

Every day, Balboa Park presents countless beautiful scenes of life. Life that is thriving, full of love, hope, enjoyment, curiosity, and a sense of freedom. I could post a million photographs. But today I’ll share just a few.

Flowers like bursting fireworks in one of Balboa Park's many gardens.
Flowers like bursting fireworks in one of Balboa Park’s many gardens.
Curious visitors to Balboa Park check out a small fountain near the House of Hospitality.
Curious visitors to Balboa Park check out a small fountain near the House of Hospitality.
A duck and lily pads in the Balboa Park reflecting pool.
A duck and lily pads in the Balboa Park reflecting pool.
Beautiful flowers and palm fronds along El Prado, beside the reflecting pool.
Beautiful flowers and palm fronds along El Prado, beside the reflecting pool.
And even more blooms.
And even more blooms.
My camera gets a friendly wave from the engineer as the fun Balboa Park Miniature Railroad emerges from tunnel!
My camera gets a friendly wave from the engineer as the fun Balboa Park Miniature Railroad emerges from tunnel!
A priest in long black robe ambles past Spanish Colonial Revival Style arches with friends. A perfect day to celebrate life in Balboa Park.
A priest in long black robe ambles past Spanish Colonial Revival Style arches with friends. A perfect day to celebrate life in Balboa Park.
The Japanese Friendship Garden expansion has grown out to become unbelievably lush. When it opened, the canyon still appeared a bit barren.
The Japanese Friendship Garden expansion has grown out to become unbelievably lush. When it opened, the canyon still appeared a bit barren.
Plaque near trunk of the Pan-American Friendship Tree in Balboa Park. It was planted on April 14, 1952.
Plaque near trunk of the Pan-American Friendship Tree in Balboa Park. The tree was planted on April 14, 1952.
And this is the huge Pan-American Friendship Tree today. Life thrives in Balboa Park.
And this is the huge Pan-American Friendship Tree today. Life thrives in Balboa Park.
A family flies a kite on the grass.
A family flies a kite on the grass.
Visitors apply their life's hope to a chalkboard inside the Casa de Balboa. When I Grow Up I Want To Be . . . Me
Visitors apply their life’s hope to a chalkboard inside the Casa de Balboa. When I Grow Up I Want To Be . . . Me

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk! You can enjoy even more Cool San Diego Sights by following me on Facebook or Twitter!

To read a few stories I’ve written, click Short Stories by Richard.

Late afternoon light brightens the Alcazar Garden.

Late afternoon light on tower of the Mingei Museum, as seen from the Alcazar Garden in Balboa Park.
Late afternoon light on elegant tower of the Mingei Museum, as seen from the Alcazar Garden in Balboa Park.

I got off work early today, so I walked up into Balboa Park with a couple hours of daylight left. I intended to photograph two special somethings for this blog, but unfortunately was unsuccessful. I’ll try again this weekend…

Fortunately, I did get some beautiful photos of late afternoon light beaming into the Alcazar Garden. Here they are…

Sign in Alcazar Garden details how it was designed in formal Spanish style and was originally called Montezuma Garden during the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
Sign in Alcazar Garden details how it was designed in formal Spanish style and was originally called Montezuma Garden during the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
Shadow stretches across beds of spring flowers, and slanting sunlight creates beautiful highlights.
Shadow stretches across beds of spring flowers.  Slanting late sunlight creates a beautiful picture.
Light on the green hedges of the Alcazar Garden invite a photo through the arch on the south side.
Light touching the green hedges of the Alcazar Garden invites a photo through the arch on the south side.
A monumental arch leads to a nearby parking lot and a very large tree. According to a sign it's a Ficus retusa, or Indian Laurel Fig.
A monumental arch leads to a nearby parking lot and a very large tree. According to a sign it’s a Ficus retusa, or Indian Laurel Fig.
Late afternoon sun brightens leaves of the large Ficus retusa just outside Balboa Park's Alcazar Garden.
Late afternoon sun brightens leaves of the immense Ficus retusa just outside Balboa Park’s Alcazar Garden.
One of two unique and beautiful fountains in the Alcazar Garden. Patterned colorful tiles remind park visitors of Moorish Spain.
One of two unique and beautiful fountains in the Alcazar Garden. Patterned, colorful tiles remind park visitors of old Moorish Spain.
Top of the California Tower and Museum of Man's dome as seen from the parking lot between the Alcazar Garden and the entrance to Balboa Park's archery range.
Top of the California Tower and the Museum of Man’s classic dome, as seen from the parking lot between the Alcazar Garden and the entrance to Balboa Park’s archery range.
Beautiful light on a garden sprinkled with flowers.
Beautiful light on a garden sprinkled with flowers.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk! You can enjoy even more Cool San Diego Sights by following me on Facebook or Twitter!

Early cherry blossoms at Japanese Friendship Garden!

Cherry blossoms are opening in mid-February at the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego's beautiful Balboa Park!
Cherry blossoms are opening in mid-February at the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park!

It’s mid-February and many cherry blossoms have already opened at the Japanese Friendship Garden in beautiful Balboa Park! I was told that the many early blooms are probably caused by our recent warm weather.

Please enjoy these photos from late this morning!

The Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego presents the 11th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival next month, March 5 and 6.
The Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego presents the 11th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival next month, March 5 and 6.
Balboa Park visitor gazes down into the Japanese Friendship Garden canyon expansion where groves of flowering cherry trees await.
Balboa Park visitor gazes down into the Japanese Friendship Garden canyon expansion where a grove of flowering cherry trees awaits.
Walking along a path into the wonderful canyon garden.
Walking along a path into the wonderful canyon garden.
A gardener plants azaleas, in preparation for the popular Cherry Blossom Festival in March.
A gardener plants azaleas, in preparation for the popular Cherry Blossom Festival in March.
A photographer by the canyon stream photographs cherry blossoms that have already opened.
A photographer by the canyon stream focuses on cherry blossoms that have already opened.
Some ornamental Japanese cherry trees have only a few opened blooms among many red buds.
Some ornamental Japanese cherry trees have only a few opened blooms among many reddish buds.
Other trees already have a profusion of pink flowers.
Other nearby trees already have a profusion of pink flowers.
Cherry blossoms in beautiful Balboa Park.
Clusters of pink and white cherry blossoms in beautiful Balboa Park.
One of many tranquil, sunny paths at the Japanese Friendship Garden.
One of many tranquil, sunny paths at the Japanese Friendship Garden.
People are enjoying a perfect San Diego day.
People are enjoying another perfect San Diego day.
Walking in a grove of flowering Japanese cherry trees.
Walking in a grove of flowering Japanese cherry trees.
Glossy buds and delicate blooms and blue sky.
Glossy buds, delicate blooms and blue sky.
A bee is glad these cherry blossoms are wide open.
A bee is glad these cherry blossoms are open and inviting.
Red and green buds almost ready to bloom.
Some red and green buds almost ready to bloom.
Spring is around the corner!
Spring is around the corner!
A miracle right in front of you.
A miracle right in front of you.
This year's Cherry Blossom Festival at the Japanese Friendship Garden promises to be full of beauty.
This year’s Cherry Blossom Festival at the Japanese Friendship Garden promises to be abundant with beauty.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk! You can enjoy more photos of Balboa Park and other Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Do you enjoy beautiful things? Visit my photography blog which I call A Small World Full of Beauty.