Yes, it’s a little bit strange that there’s a Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio, considering it’s one of the most majority-Hispanic cities in Texas. And there’s a lot of questionable history that can be uncovered about this gorgeous tourist spot. So before you visit the Japanese Tea Garden, read these 5 quick facts about this San Antonio gem so you can know a bit about it before you visit.
Why is there a Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio?
It’s a bit weird, right? There aren't exactly a lot of other significant Japanese cultural destinations in San Antonio.
Here’s the story: the Japanese Tea Garden was originally a rock quarry. Back in the 1800s the city would lease it out to stone cutters.
In the early 1900s, when the stone quarry had been shut down, the city of San Antonio got access to some beautiful land nearby that they wanted to make into a public park. But what about this giant hole in the ground where the stone quarry had been?
The Parks Commissioner had an idea: transform it into a Japanese Tea Garden. Western society had a new-found fascination with Japanese art at the time, and the stone quarry had some natural dips and valleys in it that looked like it could be turned into a Japanese-inspired garden with foot bridges, ponds, walkways, and waterfalls.
How was the Japanese Tea Garden built?
The Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio was built with prison labor. Between 1917 and 1918, City Parks Commissioner Ray Lambert used prison laborers to take the stone quarry and shape it into a garden. He added stone bridges, a Japanese pagoda, and lily ponds.
Since he used prison labor, had local residents donate plants and had the City Public Service Company donate the lighting, the garden only cost about $7k.
Why is there a sign that says “Chinese Tea Garden?”
This is where it gets even more interesting.
During the 1920s and 1930s, there was a Japanese artist and his family living in the garden and operating the Bamboo House tea room. But during the WWII anti-Japanese sentiment, the family was asked to leave, a Chinese family operated the facility, and, for about four decades, it was known as the “Chinese Sunken Garden.”
Finally (thankfully!), in 1984, it was officially re-titled the Japanese Tea Garden.
There’s still an archway at the entrance that says “Chinese Tea Garden.”
How long should I spend in the Japanese Tea Garden?
It’s pretty small! Even if you only have 15-20 minutes of time to spend, you could enjoy walking around the pathways, gazing at the waterfall, and taking a few photos.
However, if you have a bit longer, about 30-60 minutes will give you plenty of time to explore all of the pathways, take lots of photos, and leisurely enjoy the sights.
How much does the Japanese Tea Garden cost to visit?
The Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio is completely free to visit.
Other FAQs about the Japanese Tea Garde
Is there free parking?
Yep! There’s free parking right outside the garden
Can I take photos in the garden?
Yeah, photos are allowed. Just keep in mind that there will be people walking around at any time of the day (it’s a very popular destination in San Antonio!) so you’ll have to photograph around people.
Can I book private events here?
The Japanese Tea Garden is available for private events! You can host a wedding reception, a corporate lunch, an evening party, or all sorts of other private social events.
There’s a pavilion, patio, and upper garden that can hold 300 guests.
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