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High-Ranking Japanese Officials Who Have Affirmed the Authenticity of Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden’s reputation as “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan” is one that has been burnished over the decades by the many dignitaries from Japan who have walked its grounds. To have earned this reputation is something the Garden cherishes and does not take for granted. Here are a few of the notable dignitaries who have had a presence here in Portland.

His Excellency, Takeo Fukuda, Prime Minister of Japan (1976-78)

Japan Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda walks through Portland Japanese Garden during his 1978 visit. © 1978 Randy Wood / The Oregonian. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda served less than two full years in his role, but within his tenure, he managed to pay a visit to Portland Japanese Garden. En route to Washington, D.C. for a conference with President Jimmy Carter, Fukuda would become the first Japanese prime minister to visit Portland. Greeted at Portland International Airport by Oregon Governor Bob Straub and Portland Mayor Neil Goldschmidt, Prime Minister Fukuda was originally scheduled to take a rest from his travels at the Benson Hotel, but instead called for his limousine to take him and his cabinet ministers to the Garden. On a day replete with the blooms of rhododendrons and azaleas, the Prime Minister enjoyed his visit to the Garden in its spring colors. A staff member of Japan’s Consul General’s office in Portland told The Oregonian, “Mr. Fukuda was surprised and impressed by the size and beauty of the gardens. He didn’t expect anything like that.”

His Excellency, Nobuo Matsunaga, Ambassador of Japan to the United States (1985-89)

When Ambassador Nobuo Matsunaga visited Portland Japanese Garden, it was in celebration of the organization’s 25th anniversary in 1988. He attended a luncheon held at the Garden that would also welcome Oregon Governor Neil Goldschmidt, U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield, and former Governor Vic Atiyeh. It would be there that he would proclaim the Garden to be “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.” Ambassador Matsunaga would also describe the Garden as a “unique treasure.”

Photo: His Excellency, Japan’s Ambassador to the United States, Nobuo Matsunaga. © The Oregonian. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

His Excellency, Morihiro Hosokawa, Prime Minister of Japan (1993-94)

Former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa (l) with Portland Japanese Garden and Japan Institute CEO Steve Bloom at the Prime Minister’s
workspace in Japan. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

While Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa has never visited Portland Japanese Garden, he has nonetheless been a visible presence here. In honor of the Grand Opening of the Garden’s Cultural Village, the organization’s first exhibition of 2017 was one featuring the work of Prime Minister Hosokawa. It would be his first major solo exhibition in the United States. After his career in politics, Prime Minister Hosokawa pursued the quiet life of an artist. His exhibition featured ceramic tea wares, bamboo tea scoops (chashaku), and sculptural objects, such as Buddhist figures, pagoda, and lion dogs.

His Excellency, Ryozo Kato, Ambassador of Japan to the United States (2001-08)

His Excellency, Ryozo Kato, Ambassador of Japan to the United States during his visit to Portland Japanese Garden (seated, second from the left).

In 2003, Ambassador Ryozo Kato visited Portland Japanese Garden with his wife and then-Ambassador’s First Secretary, later Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan North America Bureau Director General, and now Assistant to the Cabinet Secretary Keiichi Ichikawa. They were received by the organization’s leadership, including then-Board of Trustees Member and now Chief Curator Sadafumi Uchiyama and Board of Trustees Member Yoshio Kurosaki. Ambassador Kato has long compared the work he has done as a diplomat to that of the gardener. “Such unassuming beauty may seem to have sprung up newly formed yet there are always people behind the splendor—constant gardeners, whose efforts foster stability and growth,” the Ambassador offered before introducing the recipients of 2021 Ryozo Kato Award for Service to the U.S.-Japan Alliance. “Sometimes we each catch a glimpse of these cultivators and acknowledge them with a nod or smile, but for the most part, they work anonymously. Certain diplomats serve that way, quietly maintaining and nurturing the fabric of our societies and our alliance. The public takes for granted the benefits of their labor, assuming this is simply the natural order of things, but successful diplomacy like gardening doesn’t happen overnight. It requires creativity, patience, and above all, a commitment to what is essential. You may even have to get your hands dirty once in a while.”

His Excellency, Ichiro Fujisaki, Ambassador of Japan to the United States (2008-12) 

Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki (l) stands near the Heavenly Falls in the Strolling Pond Garden of Portland Japanese Garden during his 2009 visit. Photo by Alex Hunley.

In 2009, Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki visited Portland Japanese Garden and took a tour with Board of Trustees President Ed McVicker (2009-10) and then-Garden Curator and now Chief Curator of the Garden, Sadafumi Uchiyama.

His Excellency, Kenichiro Sasae, Ambassador of Japan to the United States (2012-18) 

Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae (l), Karen Uchiyama, and Kojiro Uchiyama, former Consul General , Consular Office of Japan in Portland. Photo by Jonathan Ley.

In 2013, Portland Japanese Garden celebrated its 50th anniversary with a gala that included several important and influential guests, including Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae. “Somewhere I read that it has been called the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. And I now believe it,” the Ambassador remarked, as reported in The Oregonian. “Someone once said that gardens are a form of autobiography, and I think there is some truth in that. So what does a Japanese garden tell us about the Japanese people? I think it says that we seek peace, harmony, serenity, and that nature is the ideal we seek. And let me add that Portland’s Japanese Garden says something about you, too. It says this is a city that is not afraid to welcome different cultures and peoples and ideas…This, in turn, builds on and promotes understanding between our two nations.” The Ambassador would return in 2017 to celebrate the grand opening of the Garden’s Cultural Village and is also a member of the organization’s International Advisory Board.

His Excellency, Koji Tomita, Ambassador of Japan to the United States (2020-present) 

His Excellency, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the United States of America, Koji Tomita looks out at the Flat Garden. Photo by Jonathan Ley.
Ambassador Koji Tomita looks out at the Flat Garden. Photo by Jonathan Ley.

Most recently, Portland Japanese Garden had the honor of Japan’s current Ambassador to the United States of America, Koji Tomita in 2022. Ambassador Tomita was greeted by Garden staff and Board of Trustee Members and given a tour of the grounds. The Ambassador would later tweet, “What a wonderful opportunity to visit [Portland Japanese Garden] in springtime, this facility is truly an unparalleled example of Japanese landscape art. I am so glad that I can support this important institution as a member of their International Advisory Board.”