Jay van Arsdale, a master of traditional Japanese woodworking, and Friends of the Japanese Garden designed, built, and installed 238 lineal feet of fencing, executed in the traditional Japanese method and style, to enclose and announce the revival of Oakland’s Japanese Garden near Lake Merritt. The Japanese Garden is more than 50 years old and was designed and built primarily by members of the Japanese-American community of the East Bay according to traditional principals of Japanese design. It fell into disrepair and, in the 1980s, the Merritt College Pruning Club commenced a project to restore and maintain it. A dedicated group of volunteers through Friends of the Japanese Garden has continued this work and began collaborating with Jay van Arsdale to enclose the garden with authentically detailed and styled Japanese gates and fencing. Also assisting with the project were van Arsdale’s Laney College joinery class students, Oakland Park and Recreation Department, Oakland Public Works, Merritt College Pruning Club, and other volunteers.
The son of a blacksmith and a fifth generation craftsman, van Arsdale was introduced to his vocation more than 30 years ago at a demonstration given by Japanese daiku (carpenter) Makoto Imai. He followed the daiku from that demonstration for a number of years, learning through observation and practice, and continuing later with other daiku when his original teacher returned to Japan. He is the author of Shoji, Designing, Building, and Installing Japanese Screens, and contributing editor to The Complete Japanese Joinery. He is a long-time leader of workshops in these art forms. Friends of the Japanese Garden is a volunteer group operating under the fiscal sponsor Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation.
Representatives of the Friends write that the cedar fence “makes a statement that captures the essence of a Japanese garden.”