Chicago hosted the Columbia World's Fair and Exposition in 1893. These world's fairs occured every few years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and were enormously influential events for the history of art and design as well as for exposing Americans to a range of cultural influences and potential trade partners. Japan was just emerging on the international stage as an important world power, and it was the first foreign government to commit support to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It gave $500,000 to the Fair and built a replica of the Phoenix Hall (Byodoin) in Uji on Jackson Park's Wooded Island (near the site of the Fair). This structure, then known as 'Ho-o-den', along with some minor landscape elements, became the core of what is now called the Osaka Garden.
The area nearby was re-developed as the 'Japanese Garden' in 1934 as part of the Century of Progress World's Fair. A tea house, built as part of the garden, was moved to Wooded Island shortly after the end of the Fair. The Park District also constructed a peninsula, added a Shinto-style gate (torii) and enclosed the site, giving it a more private, garden-like atmosphere. The Phoenix Hall replica was destroyed by fire in 1944, but the garden continued to be maintained. The Park District renovated the garden in 1981 and added a waterfall. The name was changed to 'Osaka Garden' in 1992, to honor Chicago's Sister City. At that time, the City of Osaka donated $250,000 for some renovations to the garden, including a new entrance gate, built in 1995 by Okumura Designs.
Like most Japanese gardens in North America, this is a melange of many influences, including elements of stroll, tea and pond gardens. The site has ostensibly been layed out as a stroll garden, alternately hiding and revealing its elements as one walks through it. The visitor enters through the new gate and follows a stone path leading to the tea house (which survived the 1944 fire). Along the way, one finds meandering streams, the waterfall composition added in 1981 and a small turtle island (kame-shima). The color scheme is relatively subtle with various shades of green becoming the canvas for the rest of the garden elements.
A master plan for repairs and renovation of the garden was prepared in 2001 by Sadafumi Uchiyama. Phase I construction took place in summer 2002 and the garden was officially re-opened in fall 2002. The Phase I work included reconstruction of th waterfall, pond and lagoon shorelines ($400,000). The remaining work has continued since then and include: re-alignment of the path system; new plantings; re-construction of tea house; addition of a new tea garden; addition of pavilion at edge of the Lagoon; and construction of new entrance gate (the current one is at the tail end of the garden).
This entire area of Chicago has a great deal to offer. The garden site lies near the Lake Michigan shore and is just a few minutes walk from the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), the University of Chicago and the DuSable Museum of African-American History.
The Garden is now managed by a consortium of partners including The Chicago Park District,
Chicago Sister Cities International Program,
The Chicago Botanic Garden,
The Master Gardeners Program of the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension,
The Museum of Science and Industry, and
Friends of the Parks
Chanting the Nembutsu,
Fields and mountains.