Japanese gardens AZ

The Japanese Friendship Gardens in PHX are a far cry from the ones in other major cities, but they are peaceful in an arid desert kind of way.

The Japanese Friendship Gardens, PHX
The Japanese Friendship Gardens, PHX

I have been to Japanese Friendship Gardens in several cities, including the ones in San Diego and in San Jose, both in California.

 My grandpa used to take me to the Japanese Friendship Gardens in San Jose, because he enjoyed the atmosphere. He was in the navy in World War II, and he stayed to help re-build Japan after the war. I remember the Japanese things he kept; ink sticks for grinding to write, good luck charms, and scrolls. He said the purpose of the garden in San Jose was to remind people of San Jose’s sister city in Japan that had to be re-built after we destroyed it in the war. He said there were gardens in most big cities to remind us.

 

House for tea ceremonies
House for tea ceremonies

When I went to the Phoenix Japanese Friendship Gardens, there was a plaque from Phoenix’s sister city in Japan. But, it didn’t say anything about WWII. It felt oddly sanitized, as though the Phoenix designers thought it would be good to show friendship for Japan, but not good to tell our kids why it’s so important we do this.

 I know why it was important to my grandpa. He said we destroyed Japan in ways the country would never recover from. After the US occupancy the geisha districts where transformed into places for… less savory women in less clothes. And we changed their government, cultures, and attitude. Maybe it was for the better, and maybe it was for the worse; but my grandpa said the important part to remember was that it was changed forever, and we couldn’t take what we did back.

Water Lillies
Water Lillies

 

The Phoenix Japanese Friendship Gardens are pretty. They have nice bathrooms, and a house for tea ceremony and other Japanese traditions. They have koi ponds too, like most Japanese Friendship Gardens. But I guess we have a shortage of Japanese people in Arizona, because the gardens are not maintained by Japanese gardeners, and the fish aren’t even trained to come for food like they are in most cities. In San Jose you lightly clap your hands and all the koi hear the sound and come swimming from the many connected ponds. Then you feed them and they jump out of the water in excitement. The koi in Phoenix don’t come until you start feeding them, but they figure it out eventually.

The Koi
The Koi

 Another thing that makes the Phoenix gardens different is the complete lack of Japanese plants. It’s not their fault- of course. We are in Phoenix. As a gardener myself, I have full appreciation for the fact that when a plant is rated for “full sun” they mean full sun in Washington or something. Full sun in Arizona kills everything but a rare few plants, and so those few plants are what are cultivated in the Japanese Friendship Gardens. The gardens really are very pretty, all things considered. But the water is murky and they sun is hot, and they close in the summer because it’s simply too miserable out. I would say the gardens are worth checking out. But for the real experience, go to the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco or the Japanese Friendship Gardens in San Jose. I suggest this for the same reason I would not suggest eating Chinese food in Rocky Piont, Mexico. It’s just not going to come close to the “real experience.”

 Usually, I am gung-ho about everything Phoenix. Those who know me know that this City is my home, and that I always come back, no matter where I roam. But I am willing to admit to the limits us Phoenicians bear. We don’t have enough Asian gardeners, and we don’t have the environment for gardens. What can I say? The Phoenix Japanese Friendship Gardens are just not as nice as the gardens in other cities.

Do leave a prayer if you go to the Phoenix gardens though, as it never hurts to ask the Buddha for a favor.

A Single prayer (traditionally rolled up in Japan).
A Single prayer (traditionally rolled up in Japan).
And look for the very peaceful spot in the back to meditate.
Peaceful Stream
Peaceful Stream

Sens

Sens Asian Tappas is awesome and out of my price range. But you should try it anyway, because it’s not just a place to eat, it’s an Experience, with a live DJ and a killer Sake bar.

Fate (now Nine 05) was a favorite restaurant of mine as soon as I tried it. It was in a run-down old house, and my first time there, the bathroom still had a shower, and a shower curtain. Over the years, my favorite back room for eating in was converted into more bathrooms and storage, and the house’s original bathroom with a shower was converted into a spacious handicapped bathroom. There were many other changes, and the city permits took years to go through. In the end, I find that I love it even more now with its improvements. (Although the first date I took Rob on we sat in the long-ago converted back room, and I do miss the privacy that room afforded diners.)

 

The house next door has become part of the whole Fate experience, and has a full bar. But alas, the best part of Fate was Johnny Chu, the devoted owner, chef, often hostess, and all-around energetic force behind the unique little spot. Now that Johnny is gone, it’s not quite the same…

 

I went to Johnny’s new restaurant, called Sens Asian Tappas on 1st Street just north of Fillmore. I had heard several months ago that Johnny moved on to something else, so I had to see what that something else was.

 

I’ve always liked Johnny. I used to work at a restaurant downtown that was also in a historic house like Fate, and Johnny came to check it out after it opened. The restaurant didn’t end up working out, but Johnny was supportive through the attempt, and I was always grateful for that. It’s been so many years (five, in fact) and I don’t see a glimmer of recognition in his eyes anymore when he sees me. The poor guy has too much on his mind, I suppose. Sens Asian Tappas is a place that requires a lot of work, because the plates are small and the prices are high enough that the quality has to be excellent for people to come back.

 

The $4 tofu dish
The $4 tofu dish

 

Now, the quality is excellent, I have to say. The fresh wasabi is amazing, and the duck was to die for in its citrus sauce (such a creative taste to pair with duck!) Still, as much as I would hate to give any restaurant Johnny owned a bad review, I do have to admit that Sens Asian Tappas is a little out of my price range for the moment. That’s not Johnny’s fault- it’s mine. I haven’t been able to land a full-time job with medical insurance since I graduated. And with another radiation treatment likely in my future, I would probably get fired anyway for taking too much time off. So, a $60 meal is an awful lot to me right now. If it was not, I would eat at Sens Asian Tappas often. The food was great! But the portions are very small, and Rob and I ordered five dishes to share just to fill up.

 

While Sens Asian Tappas is right next to the new ASU downtown campus, Johnny is not worried about students coming in. He said the downtown crowd was enough to sustain Fate, and so it should be enough to sustain Sens as well. The students would be a bonus, but that’s all. Fair enough. It’s a bit too classy for drunken college kids. 

 

Sens is definitely worth seeing for yourself, with its nifty wall designs and classy atmosphere. There is a DJ mixing hip music and the sake bar is full of tasty treats (they do have a full bar though; not just Sake.)

 

And as with the first time I visited awhile ago, it’s good for a snack. If you just want to grab some tofu on the way to class, this is the place to go. The tofu is filling, and only $4.

 

Look for this storefront.
Look for this storefront.

Origins, ASU

I just wanted to write a brief note on the Origins Symposium at Arizona State University yesterday. The goal of the day was to bring together some of the most famous and cutting edge scientists, and have them discuss life, how it began, its place in the cosmos, etc… It was really amazing and I hope they do it again.

I just wanted to write a brief note on the Origins Symposium at Arizona State University yesterday.

 

First, ASU in the spring time is nice. If you don’t beleive me, check it out:

Spring Blooms
Spring Blooms

 

Anyway, the goal of the Origins Symposium was to bring together some of the most famous and cutting edge scientists, and have them discuss life, how it began, its place in the cosmos, etc… It was really amazing and I hope they do it again.

 

I did not know that my friend’s children were deprived until I found out Lucy Hawking writes books for kids. How great is that! Lucy is the daughter of Stephen Hawking, who wrote “A Brief History of Time,” and who must have a sense of humor, because the book was actually a history of the universe since the Big Bang. I think it’s wonderful that Lucy is bringing Stephen’s theories to children’s level. It was also great to hear both of them speak.

 

The whole day was really great, and more importantly, it reminded me that we have a scientific community here. I just read “Escape” by Carolyn Jessop, which is about a part of Arizona where they burn books.

 

So Arizona is a contradiction. We have very smart people who live and work here at ASU, and then we have Colorado City (where “Escape” takes place) and many who are only slightly more advanced.

 

First Friday

A few things I saw this week that were great was Ben Bedell’s “Time Recycled” clocks made of computers, Michelle Geiss’s “Unique Recycled Sculptures” made from old car parts, and of course, the Cucumber Kamikazes at Fate. All these things are worth trying.

I know I must have said this several times before, but you should all check out First Fridays in downtown Phoenix. Every time I go they get bigger and more impressive. I could never cover all of what a First Friday is, but here are my three favorite things from this month.

 

Unique Recycled Metal Sculptures

Michelle Giess is excellent with a blow torch, and I sincerely regret my part-time employment status, because I wanted to buy everything she had.

 

Flowers
Flowers

 There is a wide variety of artists on a First Friday, but this was by far the most unique. You can see from the pictures that it’s some original stuff, but my favorite didn’t come out. It was a three-panel screen-style set of Chinese bamboo, and it was amazing.

 

Spider
Spider

 Cucumber Kamikazes

I know I have said you should all eat at Fate, because it’s great food. But now that Johnny has expanded his place to include a large bar, I have to mention that too. The cucumber kamikaze is a brilliant invention that should be celebrated far and wide.

 

Yum
Yum

 

Fate is at 4th Street and Garfeild, and it’s been one of my favorite places for a long time, but it seems to get cooler every time I go. (Although it really was cold and windy this month.)

 

Me windblown
Me windblown

 

Time Recycled

The strangest thing I saw was the recycled time. Perfect for any geek, these clocks are made from old computers. I wondered what my machine was good for once it got so outdated I couldn’t open the files people sent me anymore, and now I know. Ben Bendell makes these creative clocks, and they are definitely worth checking out.

 

Time Recycled
Time Recycled

Random

The Mustache Massacre at Chaser’s was fun. Here’s a little about it and who was there. And then here are some other great things to do in the area this time of year.

Well I did make it to the Mustache Massacre, and it was great. The show was held at Chaser’s Music Venue at Hayden and Roosevelt, and Chaser’s has always been one of my favorite places to see a show. It’s something about the checkerboard ceiling and the shape of the place… not to mention Shaun, who is the best bar tender ever.

 

Hardwire is still such a great show. They had a hard time doing all their favorite things, since the ceiling is so low. Ikonoklast was also good, but their hearts weren’t in it and I don’t blame them. Keegan, who I have blogged about as being an amazing artists, died last week. He was a friend of the band and many of the fans (and me!), so there were subdued moments in the crowd whenever it came up in conversation. Well, it was a good time even with the clouds hanging over us. And speaking of us, here we are:

 

Hanging out at the show
Hanging out at the show

 

Now, on to other things:

 

I have a few things on my to-do list. I hope to make it to the last weekend of The Renaissance Festival. I haven’t been able to entice my old friends from the faire to come out for any shows, so I’ll have to go see them the last weekend in March.

 

I still want to go to the Ostrich Ranch between here and Tucson. I used to live by an ostrich farm and I have always got a kick out of them. When I was a kid I wanted one to use for transportation. They can run really last and they can hold an adult human on their back. It was only later I found out they aren’t really bright and training one would take more patience than I had. But I still want to see the Ostrich Farm.

 

I’m also still trying to get out to Kartchner Caverns. It’s hard because you have to have a reservation, and I have a tough time committing to being somewhere far away on a day that’s a month away. I’ll get there eventually.

 

Another great destination is Rocky Point, Mexico. Some of you made have heard that Mexicans don’t want us in their country since we’ve been “fighting a war on immigration” and we’ve “tried to restrict trade.” Some of you made have even heard that drug cartels are kidnapping people. I want to dispel all these rumors in the case of Rocky Point.

 

You see, the road there has recently been re-paved. It’s smooth and beautiful from the moment you cross into Mexico all the way to the beach. This cost the government a huge amount of money, and it was done to encourage more tourists to come to the beach. Hotels have been built, and condos. Many people have invested their entire lives works and savings into Rocky Point. And then the rest of Mexico got a little offended and people stopped coming out of fear. When I went recently, every single person I saw was bending over backwards to help me. They are always polite people, but lately they are thrilled to see tourists and desperate for you to tell your friends.

 

The violence throughout Mexico is not something you see on the drive from the boarder to Rocky Point. There are not drug cartels, and there is only a police station because they were told tourists would feel more comfortable if they could “call the cops” when they felt cheated. The cops do not other tourists; they are only there to help. They aren’t the Federalis with their huge guns either, these are Rocky Point cops with tasers.

 

So if you’ve been missing the beach, don’t forget that there is a beach only a few hours drive from Phoenix. And if you go, get tacos at the giant sombrero because they’re the bomb.

 

The best view ever
The best view ever

Where I’ve been

I’ve been away from my blog due to an illness, but I’m back now and I promise to to try write often!

I’ve been sick. Not your average, run-of-the-mill sick, but getting radiation treatment sick. It wasn’t easy, but I made it through finals and graduated while being sick and even had one of my finals (in my magazine writing class) turn into my teacher asking me to write a first-person account of the whole thing. It’s not much of a story, but it got published.



My hormone levels are still not balanced after having my thyroid gland killed and getting on a synthetic, but I am getting closer to feeling normal again. And at least I graduated, (Magna Cum Laude even.)





Graduation day
Graduation day






With that said, I haven’t been able to get out much, and when I have it has been into nature (which is healing to the soul) instead of the party scene in Phoenix. I’d suggest things, but unfortunately even the places I’ve been getting out aren’t places I can suggest to you, as they are mostly no longer available due to the state’s budget shortfall.






Me and my freind
Me and my freind







Also, I did make it to the Alwun House art show on Valintine’s day, and it was great!




Me at The Erotic Art Show
Me at The Erotic Art Show

The Firehouse Gallery

Fire dancers from Plaza de Anaya in Tempe are one of the many great things you can see at The Firehouse Gallery in downtown Phoenix.

The Firehouse Wall
The Firehouse Wall

 

 

 

The Firehouse Gallery is located on First Street, just north of Roosevelt Road. Managed by Michael Hudson, it is a mellow artist’s collective with an art space in front and a stage in back. Currently, The Firehouse Gallery is sticking to only doing events on Fridays. In the future, they hope to have the gallery open several days a week.

 

First Friday at The Firehouse are exciting because the fire dancers from Plaza de Anaya in Tempe perform on First Fridays at The Firehouse Gallery. These girls are good; it makes you want to sign up for lessons yourself. And, it’s memorizing to watch people dance with fire.

 

I highly recommend checking out The Firehouse, which is a great example of the sorts of cute little places that make downtown Phoenix unique and special.