I hadn't heard of this place before we arrived in San Antonio, and this garden was a hidden gem, complete with walkways, waterfalls, and beautiful scenery. There are no guardrails and this place isn't accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. It's a beautiful spot! The restrooms...More
You may wonder why the ornate entry gate at San Antonio’s Japanese Tea Garden instead says “Chinese Tea Garden.” The reason links back to a Japanese-American family who once lived in the garden, and altered forever by... More
You may wonder why the ornate entry gate at San Antonio’s Japanese Tea Garden instead says “Chinese Tea Garden.” The reason links back to a Japanese-American family who once lived in the garden, and altered forever by dramatic events in World War II. The story is a fascinating one, and begins back in 1908 when the future Japanese Tea Garden was just a great big, gaping hole in the ground. It was the remnants of a cement quarry. That was the first cement plant west of the Mississippi River, so it was quite a thing in its day. When the seven-acre quarry played out, Parks Commissioner Ray Lambert planned to re-design it into a water lily garden. Lambert shared the idea with a Japanese American friend, Eizo "Kimi" Jingu, who was an artist and a tea importer. He was also a man of ideas. So the lily pond became a tea garden, with limestone bridges, stone-lined walkways, Japanese Koi ponds, a huge pagoda and a 60-foot waterfall. Then Lambert offered Kimi a deal. He said he would build Kimi a home in the Tea Gardens if he moved there and stayed there and helped take care of it. Kimi agreed and he and his wife Myoshi moved their young family into the stone home. Five of their six girls and two boys were born there and grew up with the garden as their back yard. The Jingus opened the Bamboo Room Restaurant, serving light lunches and tea. The garden became a popular tourist spot, with the family’s Japanese culture on display as their kimono-wearing daughters served visitors. Life in the gardens seemed idyllic until 1938, when father Kimi died suddenly from a heart attack. His widow and children stayed on, but three years later, tragedy again visited the Jingus. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. The United States quickly entered the war and anti-Japanese sentiment ran rampant. More than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps, mostly on the west coast. While that didn’t happen to the Jingus, the city of San Antonio told them to leave the Tea Garden. Even though son Jimmy joined the Army, earning a Purple Heart, Cabot says the family was no longer welcome in the garden. The electricity was turned off, the water was turned off. They didn’t know what to do. Thank goodness, I think it was the Methodist Church helped them find housing. I just can’t even imagine the turmoil they must have felt. The city renamed it the Chinese Tea Garden, and a Chinese family named Wu moved in. In the 1950s, the Jingus moved to California, putting Texas behind them. Their story might have disappeared were it not for Mayor Henry Cisneros in 1984. As he tried to lure Japanese businesses to the city, the family’s story and the oddly-named Chinese Tea Garden came to his attention. Cisneros decided that after 42 years, the garden should again be known by its original name since it seemed like the logical thing to do: to re-name it for the original people who had the idea, did the work and should get credit for it. The remaining Jingu family returned to San Antonio for the re-naming ceremony, and they've been back several times in the 30+ years since. In 2007 the former family home was officially named The Jingu House. A restaurant bearing their name and showing pictures of the family throughout still serves tea and light lunches. Despite the betrayal so long ago, bitterness has never taken root. There’s a term used in Tea Ceremonies called Ichi go Ichi ay. It means "one moment, one time and then gone forever.” That means we should treat each moment with others as if it’s our last, because it might just be.