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.
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.
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.
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.