The history of the Hasselt Japanese gardens starts in 1985, when the city of Hasselt and the Japanese city of Itami signed a friendship charter, thus becoming sister cities.
At the request of the city of Itami, who sought a permanent symbolic presence of both cultures in the two sister cities, Hasselt decided to donate a tower carillon (inaugurated in 1990) and Itami decided it wanted to create a Japanese garden in Hasselt.
Looking at the pictures of the carillon in Japan and having visited the Japanese gardens in Hasselt one can’t help but thinking that the Belgians got the better deal. But hey, if the Japanese wanted a guarantee on their deal they should have bought a toaster “made in Japan”
Anyway, I love to digress but back to the gardens in Hasselt for now.
Japanese architect Takayuki Inoue (pronounced I Know You and younger brother of Saiko Fukuyo - pronounced Psycho Fuck You) was invited to Hasselt to choose the location for the garden and it quickly became clear that this would be no small city garden as first thought, but a Japanese garden of 2,5 ha where once was nothing but pasture (holy cow!) But the miserable carillon was already on its way to Japan so the merry folks of Hasselt decided to throw in some extra crates of Hasselt jenever (the local gin) to just hope that the overly polite Japanese would not dare deny the gesture and generosity of the Belgians.
Which seemed to have worked as the financial and material contributions to realise the gardens were supplied by Itami. Although, truth be said, there were some remaining costs but Hasselt was able to rely on significant input from the European Regional Development Fund, Japanese institutions, some Flemish companies and Japanese companies in Belgium.
And thus the construction of the garden began. Trees and bushes were planted, stones were brought from Austria to Hasselt and were carefully placed in the garden, bridges were built, rivers and waterfalls were created, and a number of traditional Japanese buildings were erected. For these buildings, all the material were brought in from Japan. And in less time than it takes a Japanese to correctly pronounce “Pearl Harbour" the gardens were ready to be inaugurated (November 20, 1992)
Fast forward to 2018 when the Japanese garden in Hasselt is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. A perfect setting to meditation and reflection. Plenty of benches to enjoy the sound of the waterfalls, look at the majestic multicoloured koi fish, many picnic places and many paths to walk around peacefully.
The latest addition came in 2016 when, to celebrate the 150-year diplomatic relationship between Japan and Belgium, Hasselt inaugurated a peace bell in the Japanese Garden, similar to the bell in the Peace Park in Hiroshima.
We wanted to visit the gardens when the cherry blossoms were blooming this year so we had to carefully time our visit. If you want to witness the Japanese cherry blossom, or sakura, and don’t want to travel to Japan you might get an idea what all the fuss is about if you visit the Japanese gardens in Hasselt during the spring season and view the wondrous spectacle of these white or pink flowers blooming en masse.
There are no less than 250 cherry trees in the garden - you can imagine our anticipation. What we did not anticipate was that about a million other visitors had exactly the same idea at exactly the same time. So very busy and crowded - as is the case for many of these attractions avoid weekends and school-holidays. Kids have a tendency to produce around 150 Db when in quiet mode so not very conductive for a Japanese Zen experience.