Docents Wanted at the
Japanese Friendship Garden!

The Japanese Friendship Garden (JFG) is now recruiting volunteers to become docents at the JFG. The docent program size has been growing exponentially with the size of JFG over the past three years. This program is a bit more demanding than other volunteer roles at JFG, but it is incredibly rewarding where you also have a chance to join an group of exceptional volunteer docents.

Training will run for ten weeks on Wednesday mornings,
10:00 AM - noon, beginning on September 26.

What is a Docent?

Docents are volunteer interpreters, or tour guides, who are widely knowledgeable about the subject they are curating. Their ultimate mission is to satisfy and pique public curiosity about a field they may have had little or no prior exposure to. The word docent derives from the Latin word docere, which means to teach. You can become a docent as long as you are willing to put in the time and effort. We will provide the training and support to help you succeed.

The Mission

JFG Docents serve as the public face of the garden, a voice of authority, and the initial impression its patrons form of this garden. Therefore, it is incumbent that docents have this important responsibility in mind as they help accomplish some of the broader goals below:

     - Educate and inspire a whole host of visitors about the "Hidden Gem of San Diego" and Japanese style gardens.
     - Motivate adults and children to share what they have learned about the JFG and continue to attract more visitors.
     - Promote the JFG brand within San Diego and abroad.
     - Inspire people to think of the JFG as a primary destination and a community resource for leisure, travel, wellness, field trips, private events, and so on.

Who are the JFG Docents?

JFG Docents are a team of individuals from all walks of life and at different stages in their careers. Several docents have lived in or traveled to far flung corners of the globe. Many of them have an existing connection to Japanese culture or gardening while many others are wading into the exclusive world of the niwa for the first time. 

What unites all the docents is a burning desire to learn, discover, and share their knowledge and passion with the world. They continue learning and improving themselves throughout their tenure. They are a voice of authority, as stewards and ambassadors of the garden. They dedicate themselves to creating positive visitor experiences all the time.  JFG docents strive for excellence and take great pride in representing the Japanese Friendship Garden.  

If this sounds like your kind of company, we earnestly invite you to become a JFG docent. We welcome people of any age (18 and older), profession, and demographic to join our docent program. Please attend the orientation on September 26 to learn more about the program and training first hand. You will have an opportunity to meet seasoned JFG docents and hear their experiences and ask your questions.

What are the Requirements?

* 18 or older

* Background check

* Active JFG Member

* Attend all autumn training sessions (case-by-case exceptions possible)

* Reliable, outgoing, punctual, honest, and friendly

* Interest in interacting with people from diverse backgrounds

* Courteous, professional, patient, and respectful at all times

* Able to commit, at minimum, 4 hours a month for 1 year

See further details at the "JFG Docent Position Description" link on the bottom of this page. 

What does Training Entail?

JFG Docent Trainees will undergo an intense ten-session training that introduces them to basic information relevant to public tours. Example areas include: JFG history, gardening aesthetics, presentation skills, customer service, botany, taxonomy, bonsai trees, koi biology, Japanese traditional architecture, religion, art, clothes, folklore and other traditions. Several sessions include talks and presentations by area experts and additional outside reading is required.

Part of the training entails shadowing current docents on their public tours any time during the week. Mentors will be provided. Trainees are highly encouraged to be with a mentor docent for any questions and support they need during and after the two-month training period. Trainees are given a chance to give practice tours throughout the winter of 2018-2019 before committing to regular public schedules in February of 2019.

Docents cover a lot of subjects and material over the course of their two month training, and of course, the learning doesn't stop there. Continuing education is emphasized for the duration that they serve as garden docents.

JFG provides thorough training through carefully structured lectures, review, peer evaluation, and a mentorship program. You are never alone. At any point in your training and afterwards, you can contact the Program Coordinator, a mentor, or fellow peers for guidance with any questions or for feedback.

How do I Sign Up?

If you are currently a JFG volunteer, please directly contact the Programs Coordinator, Frederic Hewett at to RSVP for the September 26 orientation.

If you are not a JFG volunteer, please click here to continue to the JFG volunteer application. A volunteer orientation, some paperwork, and background checks will be required. Inquiries in regards to the volunteer application can be e-mailed to

If time does not permit you to complete the above steps before the start of JFG Docent Training, upon the Program Coordinator's consent you can begin attending the training on the condition that you formally register as a JFG volunteer by the end of October 2018.

In Their Own Words

What has attracted several of our volunteers to become docents? What benefits have they enjoyed? View some of their testimonies in their own words below:

"My experience of being a Docent at the JFG has far exceeded pre-training expectation. It has been an awakening to learn concepts of Japanese Culture and how they are expressed in Japanese Gardens to provide a place of balance, harmony and relaxation.  Sharing a JFG experience each week affords the purpose for continued learning. "          - Mari

"While living in Japan, I fell in love with the people and the culture. I was an active adventurer. One of my favorite adventures was 2 years of tea ceremony lessons. Another was traveling the country visiting gardens. Each of these adventures were filled with sacred moments I will never forget. The Japanese Friendship Garden provides a beautiful place here in San Diego in which anyone can experience a bit of Japan and it's culture. So please join me for a tour. Come and learn new things. It would be my pleasure to share our garden with you."  - Rhonda

"As a student majoring in East Asian Studies, I love Japanese art and culture. Being a docent has allowed me to increase my interpersonal skills with people far and near."            - Cindy

"I became a Docent in 2012. I love to guide Lower Garden Canyon Tours on Wednesdays at 1 pm. and occasional school and private tours. My first trip to Japan was in 1980 for a wedding: my son married a Japanese woman! Iā€™m retired now, but my first career as a nature teacher in Massachusetts and a second career as an environmental impact report preparer in California were good backgrounds for learning about and cherishing the living art of Japanese gardens. I have returned to Japan three times, most recently to Kyoto on a garden tour led by Allan Mandell."  - Joan

"I am a native San Diegan, a UCSD Alumni, with a love for tea, the Japanese culture and psychology. I became a member of the Japanese Friendship Garden in 2016 after falling in love with the tranquility and serenenity the garden provided. I hope to provide you with the same experience and share knowledge." - Vanessa

"I lived in Japan in the 90s and want to expand my learning and sharing of Japanese culture and my volunteer work in Balboa Park. I have been a docent at the Mingei International Museum for several years. As a former teacher, I enjoy touring school groups. I have lived and worked in 4 other countries and travelled in more than 80 countries worldwide. I was a Director of Development (fundraising) for several nonprofits in the Bay Area for 12 years. I currently have a business making art-to-wear, globally-inspired jewelry."  - Sandra

Banner photo by Dominic Nepomuceno