A just-released app is now allowing locals to view one of San Antonio’s most beloved parks in a whole new way. After 18 months of development, the San Antonio Parks Foundation debuted its Japanese Tea Garden Interactive Augmented Reality App on October 8. Users can download it on the Apple App and Google Play stores.
The app’s highlight is Kokoro, a colorful dragon that virtually takes flight at the garden’s Dragon Bridge. Visitors can watch the friendly creature swirl through the air, then take a selfie for posterity. Guests can also color a swimming koi or learn more about the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. In all, the app offers six augmented reality experiences, which are pinned to different spots around the grounds.
Local company Geomedia Inc. developed the app in collaboration with the foundation’s board of directors as a “COVID project,” but the app also serves a practical purpose. The interface tells the story of the Japanese Tea Garden without cluttering the pristine grounds with signage or plaques.
A section of the app details the property’s journey from an 1800s rock quarry to today’s widely visited attraction in Brackenridge Park. Photos from the Institute of Texan Cultures archive provide a thorough visual history, including a period when the park was renamed the Chinese Tea Garden due to anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II.
To ensure the developers kept the historical integrity of that dark chapter, the team drafted Ann Enkoji to play a pivotal role in the app’s storytelling. Enkoii is a descendent of Kimi Eizo Jingu, who the city invited to live on the grounds and run the Bamboo Room restaurant in 1926 until the city evicted the family in 1942.
In 1984, the park was rededicated as the Japanese Tea Garden. Now the onsite restaurant operates as the Jingu House Restaurant in honor of the family. Restaurant sales — along with private donations — helped fund the project without taxpayer dollars.
The app brings the location’s story back full circle, helping visitors young and old learn about its significance without sacrificing fun.
“We’re incredibly proud of the app and its ability to enhance and transform the visitor experience while adding an educational component,” San Antonio Parks Foundation director of communications Libby Day tells CultureMap. “The interactive storytelling and AR experiences shine new light on the history and cultural significance of the Japanese Tea Garden while maintaining the natural beauty and serenity of the garden for generations to come.”