Construction began in December on a new Japanese garden near Kaneko Commons and Tokyo International University of America. The garden will be dedicated later this month.Construction began in December on a new Japanese garden near Kaneko Commons and Tokyo International University of America. The garden will be dedicated later this month.

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Gift leads to new Japanese garden at Kaneko Commons

The themes of sustainability, cultural heritage and community service that define Willamette University’s Kaneko Commons will be again encapsulated in the newest feature of the award-winning residential facility — a traditional Japanese garden on the northwest corner of the grounds.

The feature will be called the Tomodachi garden in recognition of Tokyo International University of America’s Tomodachi “friendship” program, which allows community members to interact with and form bonds with TIUA students.

Margaret Bagley, who participated in the Tomodachi program since TIUA was established in 1989, recently gave a donation to Willamette to establish the garden in honor of her husband, Bruce, who passed away last year. The couple frequently promoted TIUA and helped recruit other Tomododachi participants as well.

Since TIUA opened, 2,275 Tokyo International University (TIU) students have enrolled to live and learn for a year with Willamette students, immersing themselves in American university life while also affording a unique opportunity for the Willamette community to engage with Japanese and other Asian cultures.

The 23rd incoming class — which includes 93 students from Japan, China and Korea — arrived on campus this week. Three students from Saudi Arabia also joined the program this semester.

“Cultural exchange is a two-way street — it goes like a spiral back and forth across the sea,” says Gunnar Gundersen, executive vice president of TIUA. “The students love to share their culture with us as well as learn about American culture.”

Illustrious Japanese landscape designer Hoichi Kurisu planned the garden at Kaneko. His past projects include the Anderson Japanese Garden in Illinois and the Portland Japanese Garden, as well as private home gardens.

“We were very fortunate to work with someone of his stature,” Gundersen says.

The Tomodachi garden features a traditional hand-made bamboo fence, authentic stone and plant arrangement, and a water fountain. In addition, there are plans to convert a once-dance studio into a Japanese-style conference room next to the garden, creating a more complete ambiance for the area as well as a place where the Willamette community can immerse itself with the theme.

“If you look at the garden space from a variety of angles, you have a different experience each time,” says Barby Dressler, director of university relations/special programs at TIUA. “It feels different from the walkway, inside the conference room and within the garden itself.”

The garden is the first in a projected series of authentic Japanese fixtures to be added to the Kaneko grounds. According to Gundersen, the Japanese installations symbolize the deep connection between Oregon and Japan, and are a reminder of the unique cultural dimensions Willamette is privileged to have.

“Without TIU students, Willamette would be a completely different place,” he says. “Since 1965, we have had the most comprehensive, complex and long-lasting relationship between an Asian and an American university, and Willamette is characterized by it.”

Construction on the garden began in late December, and is projected to be complete by late February. At that time, TIUA will host a dedication ceremony commemorating the Bagleys.