Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre


Nestled on the Lachlan River in Central West, New South Wales is Cowra. A town that is known for its special relationship with Japan - surrounded by rolling hills, sheep grazing and the dusty furrows of ploughed paddocks.

The history of Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre

The garden was designed in 1976 as a symbol of the historical links between Japan and the people of Cowra. Located near the site of a World War Two Japanese prisoner of war camp, and the infamous Cowra break out in 1944 – the garden is a tangible monument to peace and reconciliation between two countries.

Designed by Japanese garden architect Ken Nakajima, it represents a horticultural map of Japan, and each feature depicts symbolically a different part of the landscape. The rocks symbolise mountains; hedges the rolling hills; running water and ponds represent rivers, streams and oceans. The garden has more than 113 different plant species, but a feature is a grove of native gums representing four Australian soldiers who also tragically died in the breakout.

The Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre is operated by a not-for-profit community company with a volunteer board, on Crown land leased through council at a nominal rent.

How has the last 12 months affected the business?

In 2019, 100 per cent of Cowra was in drought or drought affected, with many businesses in the town having to restructure and resize to reduce overheads – Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre was one of those businesses.

The garden is currently facing severe financial difficulties having been forced to close due to government restrictions around COVID-19.

“The garden relies entirely on public admission charges to operate on a daily basis with approximately 40,000 visitors each year,” said garden manager Shane Budge.

"For the past 40 years, this income, together with gift shop sales, has been sufficient to cover operating costs and host major events such as the annual Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival each September.”

As the garden has no other source of income, serious reductions in funds are already occurring, and once reopened it will take many months to restore the garden to a sustainable financial position. With the 2020 Sakura Matsuri Festival forced to cancel due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Cowra Japanese Garden had hoped to bring weekly Japanese cultural activities to the town as a replacement. Unfortunately they have also had to be cancelled due to the ongoing uncertainties around the pandemic.

“The JobKepper package had enabled the garden to retain staff on a part-time basis,” said Shane, which means the local landmark has been well maintained despite being closed since 26 March.

How are things today?

With the relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions, the garden was able to re-open on May 20 with restricted hours in place for the enjoyment of locals and the Friends of the Garden pass holders. The garden is now fully open, however golf buggies are not available for hire due to COVID-19 concerns. Like other regional towns, Cowra relies heavily on drive tourism.

“Without regular flights from major centres and the rail network not reaching many of us, we rely on people coming to our town by road,” says Shane.

“Since the restrictions have been eased more people have been travelling intrastate and have been discovering what we have to off south-west of the Blue Mountains.”

Yet, the numbers do paint a dire story. Visitation numbers for the last financial year were around 44,000 – while this financial year it stands at 32,000.

How you can help

Shane believes the garden would still be a perfect destination for the family throughout spring.

"Come September we'll be open from 9am to 5pm and extended once daylight savings kicks in in October," he said.

"The blossoms will be arriving around mid-September we expect, depending on the season and weather, they should be there through to early November.”

"At that time of year, the garden is at its most vibrant, there’s a whole lot to see in terms of blossoms and plant varieties. “

"The wildlife is active, fish feeding will be available again and it will be a great time of year to bring a picnic or pop into the café.”

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