Naomi Hirahara and Dodger Stadium’s Japanese Garden
Oline H. Cogdill

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In Naomi Hirahara’s novel Sayonara Slam, several scenes take place in a Japanese garden hidden behind Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Here, hero Mas Arai, an eightysomething gardener who was born in America but whose parents returned to Japan, wants to find solace and comfort, remembering his past and contemplating his future.

Instead he finds sadness as he makes the climb to the gardens.

From Sayonara Slam:

“When he finally reached the top, Mas felt weak in the knees. It wasn't the climb that did it. It was what he saw. Dead, uprooted pine trees. Stones thrown haphazardly like giant dice. Dead grass. If a garden could bleed, this one would be covered in blood.”

Mas survived Hiroshima, can’t understand the modern world in which he lives, and has failing eyesight.

But his insight remains sharp as does his love of gardens.

From Sayonara Slam:

“Mas felt the loneliness creep into his bones. Who had ravaged—or perhaps, more appropriately, ignored—this Japanese garden? He stumbed around the bleak area one more time while the sky quickly lost light.”

Hirahara’s descriptions of the Dodger Stadium garden made this area seem real to me.

I’ve never been to Dodger Stadium, so I had no idea if the garden existed or not.

It does. Or rather, did.

According to urbangardens.com, “the story goes that back in 1962 when the ballpark opened, the team invited Japanese sportswriter Sotaro Suzuki to the dedication ceremonies. To commemorate the stadium’s opening, Suzuki commissioned a 10-foot tall, 3,921-pound stone lantern, which, in 1965, became the centerpiece of a traditional Japanese garden created on a hill near Parking Lot 6, just beyond the Right Field Pavilion.”

Urban Gardens also mentions that “Former Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley is said to have visited the garden regularly and brought plants and trees for it from the team’s former spring training home in Vero Beach, Florida.”

HiraharaNaomi gardensHirahara’s description of the garden as it looks today is reflected in Sayonara Slam.

At right is Hiraharas photograph of the way the gardens used to be.

The gardens don’t have a happy ending.

“For many years, groundskeepers maintained the garden, which, along with the Suzuki lantern, had two cherry blossom trees, a bridge, and river-rock paths winding through it. Although it was rededicated in 2003, the garden has since suffered from neglect and is now gated off. But Suzuki’s lantern still stands,” reports Urban Gardens.

Thanks to Naomi Hirahara and her novel Sayonara Slam for showing readers a part of Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium history we might never have known about.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 04 June 2016 10:06