The Incredible Story Behind San Antonio’s Japanese Tea Garden

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,” says San Antonio
Parks Operation Supervisor Don Pylant. He says that 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.

“My suspicion is that
perhaps they consulted on the design of the tea gardens and maybe that’s
how it morphed from the municipal water lily garden into the Japanese
Tea Garden,” Pylant says.

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, ‘If I build you a home in the Tea Gardens will you come move
there and stay there and help take care of it?’ And he said yes.”

Kimi
and 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.

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