Rich culture a cornerstone of Hayward Japanese Gardens

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Bay Area Beyond

For Kimio Kimura, the Hayward Japanese Gardens is more than water, stones and plants.

“It is visual, cultural, philosophical,” says Kimura, designer and creator of the garden. “Water provides comfort and relief. The stones represent stability, longevity and permanency. The plants provide oxygen. Each help each other.”

Every day of the week, visitors meander through the tranquil gardens that are one of Hayward’s best kept secrets. The gardens are bordered on two sides by tributaries of San Lorenzo Creek and stands of trees and vegetation.

Visitors sit quietly reading or meditating in the several pagodas on the grounds. Parents bring children to watch plump koi fish swim lazily in the pond. And the site is a popular spot for wedding pictures.

Kimura explains how the plants and trees are “tamed,” not controlled, to provide a dynamic balance and please the senses.

“See that huge redwood tree over there?” he asks, pointing to one growing outside the garden. “This small one here in the garden is the same age.”

With artful pruning and shaping, trees and shrubs maintain a smaller scale, just like Kimura.

“I am a small man. I don’t want things bigger than I am,” says the 78-year-old, who is writing a book about his unique style of Japanese gardening.

He steps quickly along the paths, pointing out the Japanese black pine, mondo grasses, Mexican weeping pine, incense cedar

and junipers, all part of a graceful, natural palette.

“You never want things 50-50,” he says. Plants and trees vary in size, shape and number as you wander through the garden, “but no more than three elements in a grouping.”

There are 1,500 plants in the garden, and 70 types. When volunteers spring up, such as the aggressive glossy privet or an oak seedling, they too are “tamed” to become part of the plantscape. Lantana, rhododendron and a few other flowering plants are interspersed for spots of color.

Kimura speaks with sadness of the beautiful koi fish, which can live for 50 years. There were 250 of them in the pond until two years ago, when vandals poured detergent into the pond and killed most of the fish. A dozen or so survived and keep company with a family of snapping turtles that languish on warm rocks in the autumn sun.

Driving one day, Kimura spotted a little turtle by the side of the road and brought it to the garden pond.

“I don’t know how they multiplied, but they did. Maybe the turtle laid some eggs. Now there are many,” he said.

Work started on the 1.2-acre gardens in 1976, but not without controversy. From 1913 through June 1962, the site housed the botanical gardens for the Hayward Union High School, for horticultural studies and 4-H programs. The high school moved, and Hayward Area Recreation and Park District acquired the site to create a park.

A flap erupted over removal of large trees from the site, but finally subsided.

Kimura, a licensed landscape architect who studied in Japan and at San Francisco State, got to work designing the garden. It and an on-site theater were completed in 1978.

The Douglas Morrisson Theatre and a senior center, both of which echo the Japanese architecture of the gardens, were incorporated into the plan. The community theater presents plays and musicals year round. Its extensive costume, scenery and property inventory is available for rental by visiting

“The King and I” opens Nov. 11 and runs through Dec. 4, followed by a holiday choral program Dec. 16 to 18.

Kimura conducts free lectures and tours of the garden at 1 p.m. the first Saturday of every month.


Hayward Japanese Gardens: 22325 N. Third St., Hayward;; 510-881-6700. Open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. No dogs, bicycles or skating permitted. Available for wedding rentals and other family events.
Douglas Morrisson Theatre: 22311 N. Third St., Hayward; 510-881-6777; $18-$28 general, $12-$25 seniors, $10-$20 students.

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