Japanese Tea Garden (San Antonio)


The Japanese Tea Garden of San Antonio was a prewar tourist attraction that was managed by a resident Japanese American family, the Jingus. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the family members were evicted from the property, and the site was rechristened the "Chinese Tea Garden." In recent decades, the original name has been restored and the site renovated.

The garden has its origins with the donation of an eleven acre tract to the city of San Antonio in 1915 that was adjacent to an abandoned quarry and to Brackenridge Park, a large municipal park that had opened in 1915. Newly appointed City Parks Commissioner Ray Lambert saw what was a big hole in the ground as a sunken gardens, and over the next few years had a design drawn up and a lily pond with a central island and stone bridges constructed. Using prison labor, donated plants and lighting, and rocks from the quarry, the new garden was completed for just $7,000. To add atmosphere to the site, Lambert asked local Japanese American artisan Kimi Eizo Jingo and his family to live on the property. The family—which included wife Alice Miyoshi Jingo and what would become eight children—opened and staffed the Bamboo Garden restaurant, with the older daughters serving customers dressed in kimono. Five of the Jingu children were born on the property and they grew up on the site, becoming part of the attraction for tourists. In one case, one of the younger girls become so popular with visitors that she had a to wear a sign imploring them not to feed her snacks.[1]

Kimi died in 1938, but Alice Miyoshi and the children continued to live at and manage the property. But in the context of the rise of anti-Japanese American sentiment after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the city told the family to vacate in July of 1942, going so far as to shut off the utilities when they didn't leave in a timely manner. The family was able to relocate in rental housing with the help of the Travis Park Methodist Church. Son Jimmy left the University of Texas where he had been a student to volunteer for the army, becoming part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Many of the Jingu children as well as Alice Miyoshi moved to Los Angeles after the war. Alice Miyoshi Jingu later became an actress, appearing in bit parts in several Hollywood movies.

To replace the Jingus, the city turned to a local Chinese American family, Ted and Rose Wu, who took over the concession. Ironically, the Wus and the Jingus were friends. The sign that had been crafted by Kimi Jingu was torn down and replaced with a new entryway and sign that read "Chinese Tea Garden" by noted Mexican American artist Dionicio Rodriguez. It later became the "Sunken Gardens."

The Wus left in the 1950s and the site fell into disrepair. In the 1970s, efforts began to restore the original name. City Councilman Van Archer led the efforts, citing the rescue of the Texas based Lost Battalion by Nisei soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The council voted unanimously to restore the original name, and the site became the "Japanese Tea Garden" again in October 1984.

In 2005, a restoration of the site was launched, and the grand opening of the garden with a restored pond and waterfall took place on March 2008 with members of the Jingu and Lambert families present. The Jingu House restoration was completed in 2011, and it now functions as a restaurant. The garden is open to the public and can be rented for special events. Rodriguez's "Chinese Tea Garden" sign remains at the entrance of the garden, a symbol of its unique history. Another "Japanese Tea Garden," in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, shares a strikingly similar history.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

City of San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden official website, http://www.sanantonio.gov/parksandrec/directory_japanese.aspx.

"Japanese Tea Gardens (Sunken Gardens in Brackenridge Park, San Antonio, Texas)." Japanese Gardening.org. http://www.japanesegardening.org/sunkengardens/index.html.

Jingu House website, http://jinguhousesa.com/.

Ross, Robyn. "A Sign of the Times in San Antonio." Texas Observer, June 5, 2012. http://www.texasobserver.org/a-sign-of-the-times-in-san-antonio/.

San Antonio Parks Foundation Japanese Tea Garden site, http://www.saparksfoundation.org/japaneseteagarden.html.

Walls, Thomas K. The Japanese Texans. San Antonio: Institute of Texan Cultures, 1987.

Footnotes

  1. Eve Lynn Sawyer, "Texas Revisited," San Antonio Express, reprinted in the Pacific Citizen, Sept. 27, 1974, 1; Robyn Ross, "A Sign of the Times in San Antonio," Texas Observer, June 5, 2012, accessed on June 13, 2013 at http://www.texasobserver.org/a-sign-of-the-times-in-san-antonio/.