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Nurturing Future Keepers

People often take a stroll through a Japanese garden to admire the simplicity and serenity. But those looking for a piece of tranquility in the US are seeing the exact opposite. Many Japanese-style gardens are being abandoned due to a lack of care-takers. And now one man is trying to change that. NHK WORLD's Yukiko Makino explains.

This is the Portland Japanese Garden in the western State of Oregon.
It was created in the 1960's to commemorate Portland and Sapporo in northern Japan becoming sister-cities. Every year about 200,000 people visit here. And they come to take in the sites, smells, and beauty.

"Being in a Japanese garden is like...it's been a part of nature."

"I love the gardens, they are very peaceful and inspiring."

Landscape architect Sadafumi Uchiyama offers workshops to visitors about how to take care of trees and plants.

He was born into a family that's run a gardening business for three generations in western Japan. Uchiyama came to the US to study, and his roots are now firmly planted in Portland.

"Human beings were born from nature, too. Deep in our heart I think we all yearn for nature...to return to nature..always."
Sadafumi Uchiyama / Curator, Portland Japanese Garden

The Japanese government first exhibited a traditional-style garden at the 1893 International Expo in Chicago.

Today the garden is still here, and it's adored by many citizens.

"For the people in Chicago, this garden really reflects their relationship with Japan, which is quite strong. So we work very hard to keep this garden intact."
Robert Karr / Board member, Garden of Phoenix Foundation

But, some gardens are in bad need of a makeover. This one in Nashville, Tennessee has seen better days. The caretakers found it too expensive to maintain. And they didn't have enough people with the right skills to take care of it.

And that's the worry of delegates who've gathered at this meeting of the North American Japanese Garden Association in Chicago.
It was founded three years ago by people who manage the gardens...and share similar concerns.

"Many gardens were facing problems...bad condition, not enough money, people are not using them."
Kendal Brown / Professor, California State University Long Beach

Back in Portland, Uchiyama has started to eye a new labor force. He's begun to invest in training young apprentices. Desirae Williams has been learning not only gardening techniques, but also the philosophy behind it.

"I think that Japanese gardens offer of a spite from technology. But a way to connect with others, and a way to really connect with nature in spite of crazy busy life just is non-stop, I think offers..."
Desirae Williams / Assistant curator, Portland Japanese Garden

"One can touch the heart of arts by working on it, and directly experience it. I would like Desirae to understand that."
Sadafumi Uchiyama / Curator, Portland Japanese Garden

More than a century after the first garden was dug on US soil. Uchiyama is working hard to help plant the seeds of success to make sure the Japanese tradition will continue to grow.

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