The Cowra Japanese Garden
If you are heading to the Central West of NSW, you definitely need to add the beautiful Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre to your itinerary!
“Kisetsukan” is a Japanese word that means “a sense of seasons”, appreciating each season and the garden is a perfect place for that! We visited in early Autumn, just as the leaves were starting to change, and it was magical.
Now that it is May, it is time for Koyo Matsuri - their month-long celebration of Autumn - a stunning time in the gardens and it’s a great place to revel in the beauty of the changing seasons and the rich Autumn colours.
They also have a celebration in the Spring, Sakura Matsuri (cherry blossom festival), which we would love to go back to.
If you are thinking that a town in the middle of NSW is a random place for a Japanese Garden, there is actually a fairly long (and sad) history of Japanese people in Cowra, going back to World War 2.
In the 1940s, a prisoner of war camp was set up here to place POWs (many of them Japanese) who were captured by the Allied Forces (there were 27 other similar camps set up elsewhere in Australia by the British Military Board).
In 1944, over 1,000 Japanese POWs armed with improvised weapons staged an outbreak, setting fire to the camp and burning down 18 buildings. 231 Japanese prisoners were killed and 108 injured, and it is still the largest revolt of its kind in Australia's history.
After the war, the graves of the Japanese people who died here were cared for by members of the local RSL, but in 1963, as the relationship between the two countries improved, an area of land was ceded to Japan to use as a war cemetery.
In 1964 the Japanese War Cemetery was established and it now contains the remains of all Japanese POWs and civilian internees who died during their imprisonment in World War 2.
Ok, back to the wonderful garden :)
In 1978, the relationship between Cowra and Japan continued to grow when construction began on the garden, a monument to peace and reconciliation between two countries.
It was designed by Japanese landscape architect Takeshi “Ken” Nakajima and at 12.5 acres, it is the largest Japanese garden in the Southern Hemisphere. Despite having design gardens all over the world, Mr Nakajima considered the garden in Cowra to be his finest work.
It is based upon the traditional Edo period (1603-1868) design of a “strolling garden” (kaiyushiki). It’s a place for reflection, contemplation and meditation, to be explored slowly.
The garden is a combination of the features of the natural (such as huge granite boulders and tall eucalypts, all kept in their original state) and the beautiful Japanese manicured gardens and water features, making it a garden unlike anywhere else in the world.
Mr Nakajima thought of the towering gum trees as a symbol of the Australian soldiers. He said “The spirits of the Australian and Japanese soldiers may rest in peace in this garden forever.”
There are two lakes which are home to koi fish (Nishikigoi: symbols of courage, strength and peristence) and ducks, and even with two noisy kids in tow, the garden was so tranquil and relaxing.
You can get fish food from the gift shop to feed the beautiful koi (except in winter when they eat very little) and there is a cafe (sadly not serving Japanese food, just regular cafe-style food). We bought take away and ate it in the sunny gardens, and it was so lovely!
The garden is also home to the Japanese Cultural Centre, a small museum which contains hundreds of world class Japanese art and artefacts.
It is open every day (except Christmas day) from 8.30am until 5pm, and a family ticket is $45.