In January, Tom and I traveled to the Phoenix, Arizona, area to visit family. Snow on the Mogollan Rim made it feel as if we had made a wrong turn somewhere and inadvertently headed north instead of south but as we dropped into the “Valley of the Sun” it became apparent that wasn’t the case.
Snow, sunshine, saguaros and palm trees, all in the same day. During our visit, we had a great time and thought the weather was incredibly nice but those who live there were not very happy with the low night-time temperatures and cool days. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.
A rather-hidden gem in Phoenix is the Japanese Friendship Garden. This garden is a direct result of the sister-city relationship between Phoenix and Himeji, Japan. Himeji became a Phoenix Sister City in November 1976 and is one of ten Phoenix Sister Cities around the globe. This global network is anchored in formal city-to-city agreements which translate into long-term relationships. Phoenix and Himeji participate in business, governmental, cultural and educational exchanges to promote international goodwill and understanding.
The Japanese Friendship Garden is the shared cultural vision of the cities of Phoenix and Himeji. The devoted and friendly relationship between the cities is reflected in the name chosen by its creators: Ro Ho En.
鷺 RO: Japanese word for Heron, a bird symbol of Himeji Castle, White Heron Castle, Shirasagijo stands watching over Himeji
鳳 HO: Japanese word for the Phoenix bird
園 EN: Japanese word for garden
The garden was designed to be viewed from within, a style known as “hide and reveal” as visitors discover new visual composition as they proceed along the path. The garden is divided into four main sections symbolic of the major types of terrain found in Japan: low-lying grasslands, forested mountains, stone beaches and woodlands.
Himeji Mayor, Matsuji Totani proposed the garden in 1987 to cement the bonds of friendship between Japan and the United States and particularly between the peoples of Himeji and Phoenix. The Himeji Gardening and Construction Contractors Association was formed for the specific purpose of designing and constructing the Garden. Many visits ensued to select the site, investigate soil and climactic conditions, determine suitable plantings, select rock, and oversee construction details. The teahouse and surrounding tea garden were completed in November 1996, the 20th anniversary of the Sister City relationship.
Intended for strolling through slowly and simply enjoying nature, the Garden has an overlying sense of calm and peace. Each of the decorative and physical features of the Garden is symbolic. The various features work in harmony with each other.
The Kasuga-Doro is ten feet tall. Kasuga stone lanterns are the style of lantern most frequently used in Japanese gardens, originating at the Kasuga Shrine in Nara, Japan’s ninth century capital.
The Koi Pond holds 50,000 gallons of water in a closed recirculating system and is home to approximately 500 koi and a large number of western mosquito fish.
The waterfall is a highlight of the garden bringing to mind a natural mountain waterfall surrounded by boulders. Cascading from a height of fourteen feet, it divides into two falls.
Yukimi-Doro is the style of stone lantern placed near the water’s edge to appear floating above the surface of the water.
The thirteen levels of Tasoutou are representative of a pagoda. Such stone towers are traditionally placed in a garden for artistic effect.
Crossing the curved bridge (Taiko Bashi), you reach the Middle Island (Nakajima) which represents a mythical place inhabited by cranes and tortoises, associated with long life and prosperity.
As beautiful as the Japanese Friendship Garden was in winter, it’s easy to imagine how incredible it would be with spring blossoms.