To a native desert dweller like myself, Japan sounds like an exotic and interesting place that's half a world away. And yet, Japan is not as far away as you might think!
Everyone is always surprised to hear that Phoenix is home to one of the best Japanese Gardens in the Southwestern US. Known as Ro Ho En, it's located right in the heart of downtown Phoenix in Margaret T. Hance Park. Yes, that's the park on top of the Interstate 10 "Deck Park" Tunnel. How's that for a surprise?
So how did the Japanese Friendship Garden come to be? Well, back in 1976 the City of Phoenix officially became a "sister city" of Himeji, Japan. By becoming sister cities, Phoenix and Himeji agreed to work together to promote each others' culture as well as international goodwill and understanding.
The City of Phoenix decided that the best way to strengthen the shared cultural vision of the two cities was to construct a Japanese garden. To raise money for construction, the city held a bond election that raised $3.8 million dollars for Ro Ho En. An additional $1 million came from private donations.
Architects and designers from Himeji made numerous trips to Phoenix to assist with the garden's design and features. The completed garden is approximately 3.5 acres with a 5/8 acre koi pond. The garden retains an Arizona feel thanks to the 1,500 tons of hand-picked rock from all over the state including Jerome, Superior, Congress, and Florence. It is an absolute treasure to visit!
Ro Ho En is representative of Japan in many ways with over 50 varieties of plants and bamboo. An authentic tea house is used for tea ceremonies and private events. There are many decorative and symbolic elements around the park including a waterfall, a footbridge, and traditional statues.
Visiting Ro Ho En is a very calming and relaxing experience. The sights and sounds of the busy city seem to melt away as you follow the walking path around the garden. Observe the exotic grasses and carefully-trimmed shrubs of the forest region in contrast to the openness of the grassland region. It's like a whole other country in Phoenix!
If you have never been to the Japanese Friendship Garden before, I highly recommend it. There are also volunteer opportunities available. As a former volunteer of Ro Ho En, I can say it is a wonderful experience for those looking to learn about Japanese culture and gardening in general. Until next time, Sayonara!