Step through the traditional Japanese wooden gate at the back of the Gardens at Lake Merritt, and become mesmerized by the soothing sounds of a koi pond fountain. A small arched and bridge and waterfall add to the soundscape. Colorful flowers and soaring trees help create the serenity that is the traditional focus of a Japanese garden. These gardens have a thousand-year-old history.

Beyond the present green oasis and waterfall, the early sound track was the steady sound of rakes and hand shovels, saws and mallets for the development of this beautiful spot. Our Japanese style garden was originally designed by Hisaichi Harry Tsugawa. It was built in 1959 by members of the Japanese American community of Oakland and the East Bay, supported by the California Association of Nurserymen, the Oakland chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, and various citizens and businesses.

By the mid 1980’s the garden had suffered from lack of maintenance. Then vice-mayor Frank Ogawa asked Dennis Makishima to bring his students to the garden to improve it. Makishima had initiated and taught the Aesthetic Pruning classes at Merritt College.

Merritt College’s Aesthetic Pruning Club started maintaining this garden in 1985. Now under the direction of Bill Castellon, it continues to provide maintenance and improvements. The Friends of the Japanese Garden was formed to raise funds so that the irrigation system could be installed by the Merritt College landscape irrigation class.

The stunning Japanese Garden fence and gate was made possible in 2009-2011 by a grant from the Creative Work Fund, a program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and The James Irvine Foundation, and support from the Friends of the Japanese Garden. Carpenters for the project were Jay van Arsdale’s Laney College Daiku Dojo students. Van Arsdale has studied this and taught for more than 25 years. For more information about Daiku Dojo, visit, Construction is not your typical western style nailed fence. This is mortise and tenon work using hand tools, the crafter’s ancient way of doing this joinery work.

As lead carpenter for the project and a Daiku teacher at Laney College (perhaps the only class in the world taught outside Japan) van Arsdale understood that the new fence was an extraordinary gift to the carpenters, the Gardens and Oakland.

The Merritt College Aesthetic Pruning Club provides monthly maintenance and twice-yearly daylong pruning workshops for the garden. This is a group of
current and past students of the College’s Aesthetic Pruning classes.

To rent this garden for private functions, call the Oakland Parks and Recreation Central Reservations Unit at 510-238-3187.

For general information contact <>