Vancouver’s Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC is considered one of the top five Japanese gardens outside Japan. It is a must-see for anyone who likes gardens.
We lived in Japan for over 5 years and can vouch for the authenticity of the garden at the University of British Columbia. It reminds us a lot of where we lived and gardens we visited while abroad.
This article contains the following information about the Nitobe Japanese Garden:
Nitobe Japanese Garden
Nitobe Garden is a small Japanese-style garden with a couple of ponds, bridges, Oriental art, walking paths, trees and other plants. It’s run by the UBC Botanical Garden but located in a different area on campus.
Where is UBC’s Japanese Garden?
You’ll find the garden at 1895 Lower Mall, near the corner of Memorial Road and Lower Mall. It’s not far from the Museum of Anthropology in the northwest part of the university’s campus. It’s about 3 kilometres or a 30-minute walk from the UBC Botanical Garden.
What to Expect
At Nitobe Memorial Garden you can expect to see an authentic-looking Japanese garden. It’s not a large area, but large enough. It’s also very pretty. The place is full of trees, ponds, bridges and trails. Also at the garden is a traditional-style Japanese building where tea ceremonies take place in the summer. There are also a small number of other structures.
Just outside the garden there is a booth where you can buy your tickets or show the ones you have already purchased online. You then enter through a Japanese-style entrance. Inside you’ll see trees, plants and a pathway. Ordinarily you can wander around wherever you want. While COVID-19 is still a problem, however, you have to go one-way beginning in a counter-clockwise direction.
The Ponds, Bridges and Trails
At the garden there are two ponds, sort of. There is a larger one with a bridge in the middle and a pathway going around the area like a figure eight. There is also a smaller pond area, which is a bit more like a miniature marshland. It has a path with stepping stones you can walk across. There is a smaller bridge that separates this area from the main body of water.
Also at the garden is a path down to a tiny island in the larger pond area, and a path in the northern tip of the garden where you can walk over a tiny babbling brook.
Near the start, not far from the main entrance, is a path that leads you down to a tiny bridge and the small island. From the island you can get a pretty good view of the place. It’s a beautiful spot.
At the far end of the garden from the entrance, past the main bridge separating the two main parts of the pond, are more trails around the water. Throughout the property there are trees, plants and manicured lawns. In spring the place is full of cherry trees with white and pink blossoms. In fall the garden is a great place to admire autumn colours.
Buildings at the Garden
In the middle of the garden is a very Japanese-looking bridge. It’s an especially popular location for photos. Not far from this main bridge is a gazebo-style shelter.
A short walk from the shelter, between there and the exit, is the Japanese-style building where tea ceremonies take place. You can’t normally go in the building, but you can usually get a peek inside. It’s worth taking a look. There are rooms inside with authentic tatami floors (which is common in Japanese homes instead of carpeting).
If you’ve ever been to Japan, or lived there like we have, you’ll agree that Nitobe Memorial Garden is an authentic-looking Japanese Garden. From the outer walls to the gate at the entrance, the stone statues, the koi fish in the water and the types of plants, you’ll think you’re in Japan.
Best Times to Visit Nitobe Garden
Nitobe Memorial Garden is a nice place to visit any time of the year, assuming you like gardens. The place is at its finest though in the late spring, summer and late fall.
For different reasons, the best times to visit are from November to early March (when the park isn’t at its finest but entry is by donation so it’s extra cheap), in the spring (to see the cherry blossoms), in the summer (when it’s beautiful and in the shade), and in the fall (when the autumn leaves are at their best).
Summer is an especially good time to visit. The venue has an authentic tea garden and tea house with traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. They usually take place once an hour between noon and 4 pm on the last Saturday of the month from May until September (or at least that was the case in previous years when there wasn’t a pandemic).
The cost for the tea ceremonies when they have taken place has been about $10 in addition to the regular garden admission fees.
The garden can be busy on tea ceremony days, but it’s a great and truly Japanese experience that’s highly recommended. There are no guarantees that you’ll like the tea though as it can be an acquired taste.
Nitobe Memorial Garden is usually open from around November 1st until early to mid-March by donation on weekdays from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm. They are open daily for the rest of the year from 10:00 am until 4:30 pm with an admission fee.
As of February of 2022, the garden’s hours of admission are Wednesdays to Sundays between 10:00 and 2:00. Beginning on April 1st the closing time will extend to 5:00 pm but the gardens will remain closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The regular cost of the garden is free year-round for UBC students but normally about $7 for adults the last time we checked. Information on rates including a combined entrance with other UBC garden facilities can be found at the UBC Botanical Garden‘s website.
Check out Nitobe Memorial Garden for a map of the garden.
Nitobe Garden Video
Watch the video below to get an idea of what Nitobe Memorial Garden looks like in the spring. Filmed in mid-April of 2021, it shows what the venue looks like during cherry blossom season (which is later in the garden than in most other parts of Vancouver).
The video begins at the entrance gate (which is also the exit). From there the woman in the video goes over the small bridge to the island for a look around. From there you can see the main Japanese-style bridge in the distance.
The next scene you’ll see in the video is of the stepping stones over the small stream in the northern corner of the garden. You’ll also see the garden’s various pathways, bridges and cherry trees in blossom, as well as the small gazebo-style shelter. Not featured in the video is the building where the summer tea ceremonies take place. To see it you’ll have to visit yourself!
Suggestions and Extra Information
Below are some tips to help you make the most out of your UBC and other garden visits.
TIP #1: There is free parking along Marine Drive but spaces are hard to find because it’s free. The cheapest paid parking at the University of British Columbia is at the UBC Botanical Garden (but you have to be visiting those gardens in order to park there). If you plan to visit both gardens and don’t mind walking between the two venues, park in the lot by the main garden. It’s about a 30-minute walk from one garden to the other.
TIP #2: The Japanese garden is especially beautiful in the spring. Dates for cherry blossom season (or “hanami”) vary from year to year. The cherry trees are usually at their peak of colour in the garden between mid to late April and early May. The place is again full of beautiful colours in the fall. That’s when the Japanese maple trees (or “momiji”) are at their prettiest.
TIP #3: Don’t forget to take your camera! The gardens are stunning, especially on sunny days and when there are leaves on the trees.
TIP #4: If you like the Nitobe Memorial Japanese Garden, other places you might enjoy include Stanley Park, VanDusen Botanical Gardens and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden — the first of which is free and the last of which is arguably the most similar.
To learn more see the section about the Nitobe Japanese Garden on the UBC Botanical Garden‘s website.
To see a layout of the garden, click Nitobe Garden Map.
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- University of British Columbia
- Vancouver Parks and Nature
- Metro Vancouver’s Top 100 Places
- The A to Z’s of Vancouver