Visiting the Gardens

Traditional Japanese gardens surround Japan House. These gardens are very different than Western gardens, with a focus on the natural landscape, utilizing plants, rustic stone, and water. Instead of bright color and symmetry, these gardens focus on green foliage and natural shapes of plants. The design of the gardens creates an extraordinarily peaceful and tranquil environment. Japan House is proud to be a member of the North American Japanese Garden Association.

Planning Your Visit

The gardens are free and open to the public from dawn to dusk, spring through fall. You are always welcome to walk through the gardens on your own. There are no public restrooms in the Arboretum - please plan accordingly for your visit. For safety reasons, the tea garden with its rocky path is closed during the winter. Japanese gardens are a natural sanctuary for tranquility, not a playground or photography session backdrop - please see our list of garden etiquette and guidelines below.

Tea Garden

The present-day Japanese Tea Garden has a history dating back to the sixteenth century and the great developer and teacher of the tea ceremony, Sen-no-Rikyu (1522-91). Before then, Japanese gardens were not so much for walking but more for viewing from nearby buildings or from boats on the garden ponds (Heian period 794-1185, and later). The Tea Garden established a number of elements such as lanterns, stepping stones, bamboo fences, and water basins which were an enormous influence on Japanese landscaping to follow, especially in the expansive Stroll Garden (Kayushiki) style built by the regional rulers (Daimyo) for their pleasure and as evidence of their importance.

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Dry Garden

When Westerners think of Japanese gardens, it is usually only one garden that comes to mind, an area of raked sand or crushed rock interspersed with a few large rocks and a scarcity of plants, or none at all. To Westerners, it is thought of as contemplative, mysterious, or unexplainable. The Dry (Karesansui) Garden (often erroneously called Zen) is a garden that does not fit the Westerner’s mind of a garden.

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Garden Visitor Etiquette

  • Be respectful of other visitors and the gardens
  • Be kind to wildlife - the gardens are their home!
  • Please do not climb the trees or stand in the bushes
  • Please do not pick or step on flowers and other plants
  • Children should be closely supervised and accompanied by an adult guardian
  • Pets must be on leashes
  • Clean up after your pets
  • Do not let pets roam in the tea garden or dry rock garden
  • Garbage cans are located at the North and South Parking lots - please do not litter and take your trash with you!
  • Please stay on the paths
  • Please stay out of the dry rock garden
  • Please do not put rocks in the tsukubai (water feature in tea garden)
  • Fishing and swimming are not allowed
  • Do not bring fire, fireworks, furniture, or grills to the gardens
  • Smoking is prohibited on all campus property at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
  • Please do not carve, deface, or nail anything into garden fixtures. Acts of vandalism or unsafe behavior should be reported to Public Safety at 217-333-1216
  • Bike racks are available at both North and South parking lots. For accessibility, please do not leave bikes in the gardens or block the paths. Bikes and strollers should not be brought through the tea garden.

We ask that visitors be respectful to our requests to keep you safe and keep the Japan House gardens beautiful! Thank you!

Photography Policy

Visitors are welcome to take photographs and videos for their own personal use and enjoyment. The Japan House gardens cannot be closed off or reserved for private photography sessions or events. Visitors cannot block off or restrict traffic to the tea garden or dry rock garden for any reason. To ensure a positive experience for all visitors, please abide by the following photography guidelines:

  • All visitors should remain on garden pathways at all times.
  • Do not disturb or remove plants.
  • Do not block pathways.
  • Do not climb garden fixtures, trees or rocks, enter water areas, or step into garden beds for photos.
  • Please do not bring furniture, decor, and props into the Japanese gardens (e.g. tripods, chairs, confetti poppers, balloons)
  • Japan House is not responsible for loss, theft, or damage to personal belongings
  • Drone aerial photography must abide by University of Illinois public safety guidelines for drones

Getting to Japan House


Love the gardens? Volunteer with us!

“Sei” or purity is the third of four principles of Chado (the Japanese Way of Tea) as established by tea master Sen Rikyu (1522-1591). The principle of purity in the Way of Tea is not just about the act of physical cleaning, but it is about a true intention. As we strive to clear the “dust of the world,” we strive to guide our minds and hearts to be open and pure. Through these efforts, we are able to see the true essence of all things and all people. We hope that when you walk through the gardens, you may enjoy the sincerity of all who contribute to their maintenance.

If you or your organization are interested in volunteering in the Japan House gardens, please send an inquiry to We ask that you share with us your gardening experience, availability, and why you would like to volunteer in the gardens.

Our gardeners typically work weekly on Tuesday and Friday mornings and our gardening dates depend on the weather (we do not have any tasks during inclement weather). If you have little to no gardening experience, we suggest volunteering on Friday mornings to do simple tasks like raking and picking up sticks. We provide the tools and gardening gloves and all we ask is that volunteers arrive on time and dress appropriately to work outside (if you bring a backpack, you may store it safely inside the building).

Thank you to Alpha Phi Omega! APO members have volunteered with us on a weekly basis since 2021.