Famed Japanese castle builders to construct Kubota Gardens structure

An artist’s rendering of the Terrace Overlook planned for Kubota Garden.


There is something that draws us to castles. Maybe it stems from our childhood days full of wonder and fairytales. Maybe it’s our awe of brave knights and jousts. Or maybe, dare we admit it, it comes from an obsession with Hogwarts and Game of Thrones.

There is also something intriguing about the people who build castles.  Jyunji and Suminori Awata are father and son, 14th- and 15th-generation stonemasons who are known for restoring medieval castle walls throughout Japan. The men are from the Ano-shu guild lineage, famed carvers whose castles are celebrated for being impervious to seismic activity, having stood for hundreds of years due to the concentrated dry-stone stacking of their walls.

In August, the Awatas will be in Seattle for two weeks leading a workshop to construct an eight-foot tall “ishi-gaki” or dry-laid stone wall that will serve as the base for a new terrace overlook in Kubota Garden.  Fifteen to 20 masons will work with the Awatas, sorting through more than 300 tons of stone, sizing and setting the wall into place by hand. The participants will be assisted by local stone mason, artist and translator Kentaro Kojima of Marenakos Rock Center.

Kentaro Kojima performs tests on High Cascade Granite to ensure that Kubota Garden has efficient tools for the August workshop.

The idea to bring the Awatas to Seattle came from Kojima who attended their workshop in Ventura, Calif. in 2010. “Kentaro came back from the workshop and he was so jazzed,” Kubota Garden Foundation President Joy Okazaki said. “He was determined to do one in the Northwest.”

Kojima looked into many private businesses that had Japanese connections to serve as hosts, but realized the wall would be located in a private place after completion and thought that went against the spirit of the project. He searched for a more public venue with no luck. Then one afternoon, Don Brooks, the chief gardener at Kubota Garden, walked into the Marenakos Rock Center.

“I know Don, so we started talking and he brought up this crazy project he read about on the internet,” Kojima said. “The project entailed bringing some guys from Japan and building a stone wall somewhere in California. Don seemed to think that that project took place long time ago, but in fact it just had happened and I had many, many pictures to show him. As I was showing him the images, he said, ‘Oh, how I wish we could do something like that in Kubota.’ And it all connected in my mind. It will be educational, historical and cultural. It will be involving the community and it will be a heritage project.”

During the past year, Seattle Parks and Recreation crews have been busy preparing the Kubota Garden site for the workshop. Crews have relocated trees and large stones to create lines for paths to the overlook. In February of this year, Kojima began doing some tests on High Cascade Granite.

After the workshop, when the stone platform is in place, Seattle Parks Carpentry and Cement crews will build the shelter structure. The overlook terrace will include a stone platform and modest shelter structure, integrated paths and landscaping. It will be located at the north end of the Kubota Garden Terrace above the Spring Pond, providing a much-needed informal event space and casual viewing area.

“We are really excited for the opportunity to promote cross-cultural artwork and highlight the partnership we have with Seattle Parks,” Okazaki said. “Plus, people are really interested in learning about castles.”

To see a video about the upcoming workshop, click the following link: Rock, People, Chisels