Japanese garden transforms Jerusalem hills into little Israel

At the entrance to Jerusalem, carefully constructed of stones, earth and sand, is a breathtaking Japanese garden. Created in Rabin Park, the garden is based on the tradition of the Land of the Rising Sun.

It is one of the self-reclamation projects being conducted by the Jewish National Fund following a major fire in 1996, which destroyed a great many trees in the region.

The Japanese garden runs through the northern ridge above Sha'ar Hagai, from the monument commemorating the troops that forged the path to Jerusalem, to the Sha'ar Hagai interchange. It was sponsored by the JNF, with the assistance of Beit Shalom, an association of Christian Japanese supporters of Israel.

Beit Shalom was founded in 1938 by Father Osiki, after he experienced a divine revelation commanding him to pray for the establishment of the state of Israel and the salvation of the Jewish people. Ever since the association's founding, its members have actively supported Israel and the Jewish people.

The Japanese garden, which was planned and designed by Osiki and his followers, with input from the JNF, incorporates traditional aesthetic principles of Japanese gardening that have been practiced since the 15th century. It contains a miniature model of the region spanning from Mount Hermon through the winding streams of the Jordan River. A larger model shows the region running along the mountain range to the summit. The two models are made of stones, earth and sand, and each component has spiritual and symbolic significance. Mount Hermon is depicted as a white rock at the top of the mountain, overlooking the uncultivated landscape of the Judean Hills.

"The members of the congregation believe that peace in Jerusalem is the key to peace in the world, therefore they pray for the Messiah to come to Jerusalem," explained Moshe Mukhtar, a representative of the Jewish National Fund who supervised implementation of the work. "That is also the reason the garden was planted on the road to Jerusalem."

In October 1998, 23 youths and adults from the Japanese congregation arrived at the site to plan the arrangement of rocks and the design of the garden. Their work was precise, dedicated, consistent and ritualistic, and every stone was laid with the utmost care.

The garden itself shows the area rising from the Sea of Galilee to Mount Hermon, through the winding tributaries of the Jordan River.

To make the river, congregants used small rakes and brushes, which resembled children's toys, and pebbles, collected from the nearby wadi. Visitors behold an entire world of stones, earth, and sand in various shades. The areas of white gravel create an illusion of flowing water.

In the section where the waters of the Jordan River flow into the Sea of Galilee, the stones resemble a waterfall, and in the center of the garden there is a traditional lantern made of gray granite.

The plants in the garden were also designed in the Japanese style. The oak trees were trimmed to a miniature size, the myrtle trees were planted for intensified fragrance, and trees with colorful flowers were chosen that bear some resemblance to cherry blossoms. Other trees in the garden include Judas, almond and plum trees.

Volunteers from the Beit Shalom association will be returning every year to maintain and expand this Far Eastern paradise on the outskirts of Jerusalem.