Calm Downtown

There are contrasting elements that co-exist in Japanese culture: the speedy, high-tech world that inspired Blade Runner, and the earthier realm of ancient beliefs and arts. Lately, as a generation of video gamers can attest, we've become fascinated with the flash of the ultramodern. But has anyone appreciated time-honored traditions and delayed gratification?

Absolutely -- just visit the new Japanese Friendship Garden.

"In our fast-paced world, you can slow down in here," says Mark Lamm, special programs and facilities adviser for the Phoenix Department of Parks and Recreation.


The Japanese Friendship Garden

Located at 1125 North Third Avenue. For details call 602-256-3204.

Opens Saturday, November 16, with a 10 a.m. ceremony. Beginning at 11 a.m., there will be hourly entertainment, including taiko drums, an iaido sword demonstration and performances by the JACL Folk Dancers. Opening-day admission is free.

Lamm explains that although the garden took the past year to construct, it was initially conceived in 1987 by Mayor Totani of Himeji, Phoenix's Sister City in Japan. Since the project started, a team of architects from Himeji made more than 60 trips to the Valley to plan the design.

The resulting labor of love was named Ro Ho En. Garden coordinator Reiko Yasui Reavis says the three characters mean "heron phoenix garden," conjuring Himeji's famous landmark, the majestic White Heron Castle, as well as Phoenix's namesake mythological bird.

Phoenix parks staff member Lani Auwen says the design is called a "hide-and-seek" garden. "Standing here, you cannot see all the elements -- you have to travel along and then discover each element of the garden," she says.

And there is much to discover: a stunning 10-foot-tall Kasuga-style lantern, a flowing stream that cascades into a koi pond that will soon be home to 200 brilliantly colored fish, a curved stone bridge, an authentic teahouse, and countless carefully selected rocks, plants and trees, all painstakingly positioned according to the vision of the Japanese planners. Experiencing the garden, it's clear that the long years of work were worth the wait. "You can feel the sense of peacefulness," says Lamm. "It's here, right in the middle of the city.


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