The Japanese Gardens are a collection of Japanese-inspired gardens and a Japanese Cultural Center occupying a 7.5-acre wedge-shaped area at the southern end of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, closest to Mountain Brook Village. The gardens were first dedicated on May 6, 1967 and greatly expanded in 1993.
Working with several patrons, architect Darcey Tatum engaged Japanese-American architect Masaji "Buffy" Murai to create a garden design for the park. A major earth-moving project brought 600 tons of rock from Oak Mountain and excavated an artificial lake with a picturesque island surrounded by sculpted, mounded earth with curving paths. Senator John Sparkman was able to secure the gift of a tea house from the 1965 New York World's Fair, given by the Japanese Trade Association.
Sent to retrieve it from New York, architect Fritz Woehle found the building at the center of a tax dispute. He and his helpers quietly dissassembled the pegged-wooden structure and trucked it to Birmingham where it was carefully reassembled.
The 1967 opening of the new attraction was attended by the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and was accompanied by the Birmingham Festival of Arts salute to Japan. The gardens, with large, bright-colored koi swimming in the pond and red-painted bridges and a torii gate at the entrance have been a popular attraction at the Botanical Gardens ever since.
The entrance to the garden was re-landscaped in 1988 with funds donated by the Drummond Company in honor of Ezra Drummond. A tile-capped stucco wall surrounds a group of gardens and structures completed in 1993 as a cultural center. A raked-gravel "zen" garden occupies one corner of the walled area while a new traditional style tea-house, called the Toshinan, was constructed nearby for special events. Volunteer Doug Moore and Japanese temple-carpenter Kazunori Tago completed the cultural center, which won official recognition from the government of Japan.
Across an intricately-planted stream garden from the tea house is a pavilion used for open air classes and performances. Nearby in the Hulsey Woods, a large bronze "friendship bell", provided as a project of the Rotary Clubs hangs in a wooden belfry.