The main feature of Seiwa-en is the four-acre lake, the principal design element in any chisen kaiyushiki, or “wet-stroll” garden. The chisen garden is the most orthodox and popular style among all Japanese garden designs. The lake is of irregular shape. Such forms are popular because they permit the garden visitor to observe different vistas from divergent locations around the lake’s perimeter.
Water is always present, either actually, as in the lake symbolizing the ocean, or symbolically, as in the dry garden where the gravel is raked into patterns representing waves on the ocean. The small waterfalls suggest mountain cascades. The Blue Boulder Cascade, Seigan-no-taki, is constructed with three great steps symbolizing heaven, earth, and man. Cho-on-baku is the Waterfall of Tidal Sound. Water’s sounds are music in this environment.
Included in the lake are four islands. Tortoise Island and Crane Island, both symbols of longevity in Japanese lore, are inaccessible to the public. No bridges reach them. On Crane Island, trees planted to extend over the water represent the wings of cranes in flight. The head of the tortoise on Tortoise Island is the tilted stone at the north end of the island, the tail is at the opposite end, and the legs are stones on both sides. Two additional stones in the water at the head of Tortoise Island suggest other tortoises swimming.
Paradise Island, formed by three large boulders in the Japanese Garden lake, is the symbolic center of the garden. Stone are important features, almost always used in groupings of uneven numbers, typically three or five. Stones form the backbone of the garden and lend a sense of stability to the landscape.
Nakajima, Teahouse Island, is the innermost island. It is connected to the mainland by two footbridges. The delicate, authentic teahouse is a gift from Nagano Prefecture, Missouri’s sister state in Japan. It was constructed in Nagano according to traditional methods and was then dismantled for shipment to St. Louis. A team of Japanese craftsmen from Matsumoto City traveled to St. Louis to reconstruct the teahouse and perform the elaborate Shinto ceremony signifying the structure’s completion.