Hana Matsuri at the Cowra Japanese Garden

Last Spring, which is in September down here in Oz, Superman and I took a drive through country Victoria and New South Wales to spend the Spring Equinox at the Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre. I was going to blog about it then but I often find myself reading about wonderful events I’d have loved to attend when it’s too late to do so, so I decided to wait until it was a good time for planning such a trip – and 2019 is the 30th anniversary of the Garden, so this is the year to go!

The Cowra Japanese Garden is a huge (5 hectares!) garden designed in 1977 by Ken Nakajima (a name well known to any child of a landscape architect with a penchant for all things Japanese) and is “a copy of the first Japanese landscape garden (Strolling garden) built by the first Shogun Tokugawa in the 16th century A.D, the Edo period of Japan in what is now called Tokyo (Edo).” (www.cowragarden.com.au) The full circuit walk leads up and around a peak with this magnificent view over the whole garden.

Just how much of an oasis this garden is, and the skill of the garden’s construction and maintenance, is also made strikingly apparent from this lookout spot, by simply swivelling around to see what is beyond the boundary fences.

Nakajima was commissioned to design the garden by the local community who had developed a strong connection with the Japanese community after World War II, when a Prisoner of War camp had been built to imprison Japanese Soldiers from the Pacific Theatre. In October 1944, over a thousand prisoners made an escape attempt, during which 231 Japanese Soldiers were killed. In the decades after the War, the local Returned Servicemen’s League took on the job of looking after the graves of their fallen foes and a relationship developed which encouraged healing between the communities. The garden was constructed as a “powerful symbol of good will, encouraging reconciliation and peace.

But the Spring Event isn’t just about the garden. Throughout the garden are positioned practitioners (some from Australia, some from Japan) of various Japanese cultural arts, in 2018 there was KyuuDou (Japanese Archery), Karate, Shibori Weaving, Origami, Metal smithing (no forge, but plenty of hammering), a small Bonsai display, and a Kimono fashion show.

The large lawn in front of the entrance building (which houses a permanent shop and cafe) served as a theatre, the audience sitting on some chairs but with plenty of space to sit on the lawn and picnic from the food trucks lined up behind it. On the stage there were various demonstrations from those arts with all day displays but also some other performances, including traditional Japanese singing and dancing, sword demonstrations and other martial arts, and my favourite: a Taiko group!

The Garden is open year-round with various events for every season but the Spring Equinox celebration is their most popular and booking accomodation even 6 weeks before was difficult – a group was booking for the next year as we were checking in, so don’t wait!

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