Did You Know: Japanese Friendship Garden Is A Meditating Place For Phoenicians

November 07, 2013

(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
The entrance to the Japanese Friendship Garden. The "Ro Ho En" plaque adorns the entry way.

In the middle of a busy downtown Phoenix is a quiet place created for meditating. It is a garden filled with trees, fish and waterfalls. Sounds impossible, but it is true. It's the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix’s Margaret T. Hance Park.  

Since 1976, Himeji, Japan and Phoenix have been connected by the Sister City program. Himeji is a small town in the western edge of the Kansai Region. Its cultural, educational and business relationship helps build an understanding of each other’s region. Did You Know Himeji created the Japanese Friendship Garden in which Phoenicians can meditate?

“It’s supposed to be a microcosm of all the different elevations that you find in Japan,” said Debra Barnes, a docent at the Ro-Ho-En, the name of the garden.

"Ro" is for the Japanese bird Heron, "Ho" is the Phoenix and "En" means garden.  

"And then the grasslands area is reminiscent of the many grasslands that you find in Japan,” Barnes added.

I am visiting early in the morning when no one is around, since talking is to be kept at a bare minimum. We try to chat as quietly as possible. The three and a half acre garden is nearly quiet; you can barely hear the freeway below.

“If I lifted that grate right there in that grass you would hear the sounds all of the heavy traffic sounds underneath on the way east toward Tucson I-10. It’s right here,” Barnes said.

This place was just a strolling garden when first built in 1993. All it had at the time was a tea house where traditional tea ceremonies are still held once a month and the bamboo plants around it.

In 20 years, it has grown a lot. There is a heart-shaped pond where 300 Koi fish swim. Barnes said the tranquil waterfalls and concrete bridges are designed by Himeji architects.

“In Japanese folklore evil spirits can only travel in straight lines, so we try not to give them any straight lines, thus the crooked bridge, and that ends up being the favorite place of everyone to toss Koi food to the Koi,” she said.

The garden is also adorned with stone-carved lanterns and sculptures representative of the Japanese culture. They are strategically located throughout the garden as points for meditation.

At one end of the pond a cobblestone beach leads right up into the main waterfall.

“These stones, they’re so similarly gray toned that they don’t seem busy, and they don’t distract your eyes from the rest of the view,” said Barnes. “It’s amazing that this tranquility that you hear, this quiet, is right on top of the deck park tunnel."

The Japanese Friendship Garden is still undergoing changes. There are plans to create a pavilion that will have a two story open viewing area to get a bird’s eye view of the garden.