Home Canada Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden – A Tranquil Afternoon

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden – A Tranquil Afternoon

by Andy Vanr

Visit Lethbridge’s Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden to experience a traditional yet uniquely Canadian place.

Spend a relaxing afternoon in this traditional Japanese garden with some Canadian twists. Enjoy the blending of the Japanese garden elements with the local prairie to mountain landscape.

 Your visit begins just through the gate in the beautiful building in the center of the garden.

Pavilion reflected in pond Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
The Pavilion


The pavilion is the focal point of the garden. This impressive building was built in Japan.  It was taken apart and the pieces were shipped to the Lethbridge. They were meticulously reassembled in the Nikka Yuko garden by master craftsmen.  The pavilion is constructed of yellow cypress and cedar without the use of nails.  The wood is never painted but rather is allowed to naturally age.

Upon entering the pavilion please remove and carry your shoes.  Traditional Japanese tea ceremonies are held in the tearoom in the Pavilion.

Person inside Pavilion Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
Inside the Pavilion

Tea Ceremony

The traditional tea ceremony is held in a room where the floor has been covered with thick woven straw mats called tatami mats. The room also has an alcove called a tokonoma. Here a scroll and often flower arrangements are placed.  At Nikka Yuko, you can take part in a Ochakai (tea) presentation. Your host prepares the tea and then serves you, the guests, through an intricate presentation.

Dry Rock Garden

Zen Garden of raked sand, rocks Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
The Dry Rock Garden (Zen Garden)

Sliding doors called shoji open to the west and reveal the dry rock garden.  The garden, often called a zen garden, is shaped by traditional Japanese aesthetics, called wabi-sabi, meaning ‘beauty in simplicity’.

The rocks are placed in clusters of 3, 5 and 7, representing islands in a sea of sand.  This is a place for quiet meditation as you observe the patterns in the sand and rocks.

After exploring the pavilion take a walk around the garden.

Foreground pond Background paths and bell Nikka Yuko
Walking the Paths

Nikka Yuko Garden Design

The garden was designed in the traditional Japanese style. Its designers wanted to make it authentically Canadian so all the rocks, stones, trees and shrubs are native to southern Alberta.  For example, the smaller flat stones that line the garden’s creek and pond were collected from the local Oldman River Valley by Lethbridge residents.  The garden symbolically brings the mountains, lakes, and prairies of Canada together with Japanese heritage.

Foreground stream and bridge Background gazebo

Miegakure, translated as ‘hide and reveal’, is a time-honored principle in Japanese garden design.  The garden is intentionally designed to prevent the visitor from seeing the entire garden at once.  As you walk the garden’s paths, you’ll find new areas are revealed.  The integration of physical structures with the natural elements of trees and water, create peace and harmony with nature.

You’ll note that the rocks are set in the ground instead of on it.  This gives the appearance that the rocks have been there for ages.


Trees reflected in pond Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
Evergreens, stones and water provide the garden’s basic framework

Evergreens line the perimeter of the garden. They create a wind break and a separation from the outside world.

Within the garden, evergreens, stones and water provide the garden’s basic framework.  Deciduous trees and shrubs provide lovely colour in the fall.


The waterfall is beautiful symbolizing waterfalls you’ll see in the Rocky Mountains. On our fall visit, the waterfall together with the colourful maple trees was a spectacular picture.

Waterfall reflected in pond Nikka Yuko


Sit in the gazebo, or Azumaya, and enjoy the view and sounds of the stream. From here, you can see Henderson Lake in the distance.

Bridges, paths and ponds Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
The view from the Azumaya

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 as you walk through the garden.  This is intentional in the design of the garden. The stream rushes under the azumaya, then widens and become quiet.  It tumbles over waterfalls, under the bridge and eventually becomes part of the central pond. 

Turtle shaped island in pond pavilion in background
Turtle Island

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.

Similar to the water flow, the garden paths narrow and widen, symbolizing the visitor’s own changes of pace and life.


The granite Pagoda has five tiers representing earth, water, fire, wind and sky.

Pagoda with pond in background Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
The Pagoda
Nikka Yuko Wishing well
The Wishing Well

Wishing Well

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 can be found.

Nikka Yuko Friendship Bell

Japan-Canada Friendship Bell and ringer
The Japan-Canada Friendship Bell

This 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 you give the bell a tap to send out a message of goodwill and understanding.

Prairie Area

Left stoney beach Right stepping stones through grass prairie area
Stepping stones through Prairie area to the pond.

The open grassy area represents the Alberta prairies.  Use the stepping stones to cross the prairie and make your way to the pond.  The flat stones you see 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.

As you leave the garden, you’ll notice your mind is calmer 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 honor the contribution to Lethbridge by people of Japanese heritage. The Japanese Garden Society was formed to oversee the development of a Japanese 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. You may 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, relax and refresh yourself.

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.

Once you leave the garden, be sure to check out our post Things to Do in Lethbridge for more ways to spend your day in Lethbridge, Alberta.

couple with Nikka Yuko pond in background
Tranquility on the Pavilion deck

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