Visit the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, in Lethbridge Alberta, both a traditional and uniquely Canadian place.
Spend a relaxing time in this traditional Japanese garden with some Canadian twists. See the blending of the Japanese garden elements with the local prairie and mountain landscapes.
Enjoy this peaceful, beautiful garden.
Table of Contents
Your Garden Visit
A visit to the garden begins at the Pavilion. If interested, take part in a Tea Ceremony there.
Follow the garden path from the pavilion, under the maple and crab apple trees, to a large Waterfall.
The path continues to the Gazebo and the Friendship Bell.
Walk around the central pond to the Prairie.
Turn around and follow the path back to the exit and see the garden from a different perspective.
This beautiful building is constructed of yellow cypress and cedar without the use of nails. The wood is never painted but allowed to age naturally. The pavilion was built in Japan, taken apart and the pieces shipped to the Lethbridge. They were meticulously reassembled in the Nikka Yuko garden by master craftsmen.
Upon entering the pavilion, all shoes are to be removed and carried.
Tea Ceremony Room
Traditional Japanese tea ceremonies are held in the tearoom in the Pavilion. The floor of the tearoom is covered with thick woven straw mats called tatami mats. A scroll and often flower arrangements are placed in the totonoma, an alcove. During Ochakai (tea) ceremonies, a host prepares the tea and serves their guests through an intricate presentation.
Dry Rock Garden
Sliding doors, called shoji, open to the west and reveal the dry rock garden. This garden is often called a zen garden and displays traditional Japanese aesthetics, called wabi-sabi, meaning ‘beauty in simplicity’.
Rocks are placed in clusters of 3, 5 and 7, representing islands in a sea of sand. It is a place for quiet meditation, observing the patterns in the sand and rocks.
Nikka Yuko Garden Design
The garden, while designed in the traditional Japanese style, uses rocks, stones, trees and shrubs all native to southern Alberta. The smaller, flat stones that line the garden’s creek and pond were collected from the nearby Oldman River Valley by Lethbridge residents. The garden symbolically unites the mountains, lakes, and prairies of Canada with Japanese heritage.
Miegakure, translated as ‘hide and reveal’, is a time-honoured principle in Japanese garden design. The garden is intentionally designed to prevent the visitor from seeing the entire garden at once. New areas become visible at different spots along the paths.
The integration of physical structures with the natural elements of trees and water, create peace and harmony with nature. The rocks are set in the ground instead of on it, giving the appearance that the rocks have been there for a long time suggesting permanence and stability.
Within the garden, trees, stones and water provide the garden’s basic framework.
Evergreens line the perimeter of the garden, creating a wind break and a separation from the outside world. Deciduous trees and shrubs provide lovely colour in the fall.
Water – Streams and Islands
Water is the heart of the garden and represents purity in Japanese culture.
The sound and flow of the water changes walking through the garden. This is intentional in the design of the garden. The stream rushes under the gazebo, then widens and become quiet. It tumbles over waterfalls, under the bridge and eventually becomes part of the central pond.
The central pond symbolizes the seas. The island in its center is in the shape of a turtle, which symbolizes longevity in Japanese culture. The surrounding earth mounds and rocks represent the local foothills and Rocky Mountains.
Along the Garden Paths
Wander the garden paths which narrow and widen, symbolizing the visitor’s own changes of pace and life.
This beautiful waterfall represents waterfalls in the Rocky Mountains. On our fall visit, the waterfall together with the colourful maple trees was a spectacular picture.
Enjoy the view from the gazebo, or Azumaya. Sit and listen to the sounds of the stream. From the Azumaya, Henderson Lake is visible in the distance.
The granite Pagoda has five tiers representing earth, water, fire, wind and sky.
The well, just to the left of the entrance gate, symbolizes the deep forest well where clean, fresh water required for the traditional tea ceremony is found.
Japan-Canada Friendship Bell
The bronze bell symbolizes the friendship between Japan and Canada and was made in Japan. It weights three-quarters of a ton. The bell is rung by being struck on the outside. Make sure to give the bell a tap to send out a message of goodwill and understanding.
The open grassy area represents the Alberta prairies. Use the stepping stones to cross the prairie and stand at the edge of the pond. The flat stones represent a beach. All of these stones were individually selected and carefully placed by hand. Enjoy the peaceful solitude at the water’s edge, with its lone stone lantern.
Leaving the garden, notice your calmness after spending some time in harmony with nature.
Nikka Yuko – Know Before You Go
What does ‘Nikka Yuko’ mean?
ni – This Japanese word refers to Nihon, meaning Japan.
ka – is taken from Kanada or Canada.
yuko – the Japanese word meaning friendship.
Therefore, Nikka Yuko translates to Japan-Canada Friendship.
What is the history of Nikka Yuko?
A local group of Japanese-Canadian citizens wanted to honour the contribution made by people of Japanese heritage to Lethbridge. The Japanese Garden Society was formed to oversee the development of the garden. Tadashi Kubo, a highly respected Japanese garden designer was hired to design it.
When did the garden open?
The garden officially opened in 1967, as a part of Canada’s centennial celebration.
Are there guided tours?
Yes. Guided tours are available, but optional. A host or hostess, in traditional Japanese clothing, will greet you at the front gates. Take a guided tour, or walk the gardens by yourself at your own pace.
How long does it take to tour the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden?
We spent 1 hour enjoying this tranquil garden. But spend as much time as you like or need. Rejuvenate and relax
Can I take part in a traditional tea ceremony?
Yes. However, it is recommended that you purchase tickets for the ceremony presentations in advance. Check the Nikka Yuko website for more details.
Be sure to check out our post Things To Do in Lethbridge for more ways to spend your day in Lethbridge, Alberta.
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