Kumamoto En at the San Antonio Botanical Garden

Posted on July 13, 2012 by usjapanesegardens

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Oribe lantern at the entrance

(For more information on this type of lantern and others, check out the story on the Japanese Gardening Organization web site: http://japanesegardening.org/lanterns/index.html)

Kumamoto En, the Japanese garden at San Antonio Botanical Garden, is a small polished gem set amid 33 acres of living museum.  Enclosed by four bamboo walls, the garden presents a series of scenes reminiscent of famous gardens in Japan.

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Approaching the entry to Kumamoto En, we were struck by the detailed workmanship in the daimyo or shogun style bamboo fence.       -Photo by Bill F. Eger

(More information on how to construct such a fence is available here: http://www.japanesegardening.org/reference/daimyo_fence.html)

The garden was a gift from Sister City Kumamoto and first opened in 1989. Landscapers and craftsmen from Kumamoto, Kyoto, Tokyo and San Antonio participated in its design and construction. A complete restoration was accomplished in 2005.

“Upon entering the garden, you enter a place apart from the everyday world, a safe and peaceful haven where all anger, prejudice, and worldly problems are left at the gate,” writes Don Pylant in an article on the garden and its Sister City relationship with the City of San Antonio in http://japanesegardening.org/kumamotoen/

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Exquisite workmanship gives the Katsura style bamboo fence a subtle checkerboard pattern.    -Photo by Bill F. Eger

(More information on construction technique is available at: http://www.japanesegardening.org/reference/bamboo_fence.html)

“Kumamoto En was designed to demonstrate the beauty of authentic Japanese gardening and introduce visitors to many elements used in Japanese Gardens. It is designed to be enjoyed one scene at a time, like a scroll painting, unrolling as you stroll through,” Pylant said.

Pylant was our guide through Kumamoto En.  And what a perfect person to have as a guide to this lovely garden!  Although Don currently serves as Park Operations Supervisor in a different area of the City of San Antonio Park Development Division, he spent nearly 24 years working in the San Antonio Botanical Garden.  His love of Japanese gardens goes back further to his time in Dallas where he was Director of Horticulture at Dallas Civic Garden Center in Fair Park. He would spend time at the nearby Fort Worth Botanical Gardens’ beautiful Japanese garden, which inspired what would become a deep appreciation of Japanese gardening and a life-long commitment.

In 1980, Don moved from Dallas back to San Antonio to become part of the brand new San Antonio Botanical Gardens, where he participated in the development of gardens, growing facilities, educational programs, and construction of a botanical conservatory.

In 1985, the Japan America Society of San Antonio was formed to foster increased understanding and cooperation between the citizens of San Antonio and the citizens of Japan. Among early efforts was the construction of a Japanese garden in San Antonio.

In 1989, the City of San Antonio and sister city, Kumamoto City in Japan, jointly agreed to construct an authentic Japanese garden in San Antonio’s botanical garden.  Don was involved in the planning and construction of this garden, working with architects in Kyoto and gardeners in Kumamoto, Kyoto and Tokyo.  Don studied under master Japanese gardener Katsuoki Kawahara, a respected craftsman known for his work in temple gardens as well as commercial and residential gardens in Japan and around the world.  Kawahara directed the team of professional gardeners selected from Kyoto, Tokyo and Kumamoto in the construction of Kumamoto En.  After the construction, Don was responsible for the care and maintenance of the garden, and worked with gardeners from Japan in the garden.

In 2001, Mr. Kyoshi Yasui of Yasui-moku Company and the architect for Kumamoto En invited Don to come to Kyoto to train under master Japanese gardeners, architects, and bamboo craftsmen.  He studied under Yasui, a respected architect nominated by the Emperor as a National Living Treasure of Japan. Don also studied under the master bamboo craftsmen at Otsuka Bamboo in Kyoto. The benefit of this training is evident in the four different bamboo walls surrounding Kumamoto en.

“All of this leads to a beautiful and authentic experience for our visitors,” Don said.

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A suggestion of Mt. Aso-san, one of Kumamoto’s volcanoes, awaits the viewer to the right of the end of this pathway. An otsu-gaki or woven style bamboo fence is visible in the background along the back boundary of the garden.

Yasui asked Don to help sustain and manage the Kumamoto en.  He also asked Don to take what he had learned and teach others about the benefits, methods, and enjoyment of Japanese Gardens.  In addition to continued study and demonstrations in Japanese gardening, the Japanese Gardening Organization was created with the mission of spreading the benefits of Japanese gardening for individuals, groups, communities, and society.  JGO provides educational resources to foster the exchange of culture, knowledge, appreciation and application of Japanese gardening, striving for the highest level of accurate information and resources for Japanese gardening.  It continues to grow, with its associated forum accumulating over 11,000 posts from Japanese gardeners worldwide.

Today, Don Pylant works for the City of San Antonio developing and managing the resources for more than 6,000 acres of Natural Area Parks and Edwards Aquifer Protection preserves.  He has continued to assist in the maintenance of Kumamoto En and is consultant for the Japanese Tea Gardens in Sunken Gardens, Brackenridge Park in San Antonio, Texas.  He designs and constructs Japanese gardens by request.

The Japan America Society of San Antonio continues to support the garden with annual co-sponsorship of Kumamoto En Day providing Japanese cultural, art, crafts and gardening demonstrations, along with tours of of the garden.

As previously explained, the Kumamoto En is located within the San Antonio Botanical Garden, which opened May 3, 1980 after nearly four years of construction.  The Botanical Garden is operated under the auspices of the City of San Antonio Department of Parks & Recreation.   Bob Brackman has been executive director since 2006.

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The azumaya completed in the 2005 renovation of Kumamoto En. A kennin-ji style bamboo fence lines this side of the garden.     -Photo by Bill F. Eger

(More information on making this style is available here: http://www.japanesegardening.org/reference/kenninji_fence.html)

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View across the central pond toward the azumaya in the back corner

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Detail of bench in the azumaya

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A favorite about this pond are the stepping stones that disappear into the water.

(photo by Bill F. Eger)

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Detail of otsugaki

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Detail of kennin-ji

Unless otherwise credited, photos in this blog are by K.T. Cannon-Eger.

San Antonio — Kumamoto Sister City Relationship


There are two plaques commemorating the Sister City relationship between Kumamoto in Japan and San Antonio, Texas: one from the original garden dedication in 1989 and another from the renewal in 2005. Here is the English text from both.



“In the spirit of this relationship, both cities hope for eternal peace and continuing friendship between our two cities and our countries as we work together to create this Japanese garden on San Antonio soil.

“It is our desire that this garden, as a symbol of our cordial relationship, will provide an introduction to one aspect of Japanese culture, and be cherished by the peoples of both cities in years to come.”

San Antonio City Council                      Henry G. Cisneros, Mayor



“To honor the spirit of friendship between the Sister Cities of San Antonio USA and Kumamoto Japan, we celebrate the renewal of the Kumamoto En Japanese Garden.

“The Japanese Garden was a gift to the people of our two cities and a desire to share in each other’s culture and spirit of friendship.

“The renewal of this authentic Japanese Garden is completed in cooperation with many citizens as well as the San Antonio City Council and the Kumamoto City Council. This renewal is a symbol of the continuing friendship between our two cities and the commitment that we will work together to strengthen our relationship and foster eternal peace.”

November 19, 2005

Hon. Phil Hardberger                            Hon. Seishi Kohyama

Mayor, City of San Antonio                   Mayor of City of Kumamoto



Kumamoto Gardeners Association       San Antonio International Affairs Foundation

Toyota Motor North America Inc.          Japan America Society of San Antonio

San Antonio Botanical Society