The land of the rising sun might seem about as far from here as a place can be, in terms of both geography and culture, but there’s a place that brings Japan close enough to touch without your ever having to leave Belgium. The Japanese Garden in Hasselt represents a small corner of the Far East here in Flanders, giving visitors a glimpse of “the real Japan.”
The garden opened in 1992 as a symbol of Hasselt’s bond with its Japanese sister-city, Itami. Experts designed the garden according to strict principles of Sakuteiki – an eleventh-century manual of landscape design. Every element in a Japanese garden, from water to rocks to trees, has a symbolic meaning and must be carefully arranged. Craftsmen from Japan labored for months to create the garden using traditional materials and methods.
Covering 25,000 square meters, Hasselt’s is the largest Japanese garden in Europe. Winding paths lead the visitor past sights such as a Japanese tea house, a stone lantern, a rock-formed waterfall, and a tile-roofed ceremonial building overlooking a lake stocked with koi, or Japanese carp. The garden is designed to give visitors the most pleasing view of the miniaturized landscape from every vantage point.
In spring, the garden is awash in delicate pink and white blossoms heralding hanami, the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. The tradition of going out into the country to view sakura, or cherry blossoms, and picnicking under a blooming cherry tree dates back hundreds of years. The trees bloom for only a week or two at most, so it’s worthwhile to try and time your visit while they’re flowering.