Feel pacific Japan in Atlantic Florida
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- It's easy to see South Florida as a place of palm trees, golf courses, beaches, strip malls, and sprawling development.
It is all that.
But there is a place, too, where stillness, beauty, and even solitude reign: the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.
Jim and Karen Chelotti, recent retirees from Falmouth, Mass., frequent the Morikami.
''It is peaceful and tranquil," Jim said. ''It speaks to the soul. As a former Cape Cod landscaper, I appreciate what they do here."
''My son used to like coming here," said Karen, whose son Ryan died a few years ago. ''I feel close to him when I come here."
Though it closed temporarily to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Wilma, the museum expected to reopen this weekend. Founded in 1977, it offers rotating exhibits of Japanese art objects and artifacts, including antique dolls and ancient body armor. Monthly tea ceremonies are held in the teahouse and Japanese festivals are celebrated throughout the year. A 225-seat theater features a 12-minute video giving an overview and history of the museum, which includes a library, a cafe overlooking Morikami Pond, and extensive Japanese gardens in which to walk, rest, picnic, and view bonsai trees.
There is a century-old link between South Florida and Japan that was made when Japanese immigrants came to Florida intending to start an agricultural community, the Yamato colony. (The name Yamato signifies group solidarity, embodying the idea that Japan and its people are one community. Colonies were formed in other states, such as Texas and California.) The experiment failed, though, and by the 1920s, the original families left.
One settler stayed: George Sukeji Morikami. He was a modest farmer who in the mid-1970s donated his land to the county as a park to honor the Yamato colony.
The splendid gardens are reached by a nearly mile-long path around the water. Take a tour with a knowledgeable docent, try an audio tour, or grab the map and go on your own. The terrain is mostly flat -- there are some wood and stone steps to negotiate -- while wooden bridges create walkways between islands.
A light, sweet fragrance permeates the air as walkers go from bamboo grove to waterfall, from pine needles to red and furry powder puffs, passing the purple and white Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrows. Find a bench. Enter a rock garden. Notice the quiet respected by even the noisiest of tourists.
The gardens (called Roji-en or Garden of the Drops of Dew), created by landscaper Hoichi Kurisu, reflect various styles and influences. Some have brooks and waterfalls, others more rocks and pebbles and no water.
The path winds by a waterside stone lantern, under cypress gates, near a pagoda, and through bamboo groves marred by graffiti. A shishi odoshi, or deer chaser, creates a knocking sound as water fills a bamboo chute that tips against a flat rock to startle wild animals. The centerpiece is Yamato Island, once the site of the original Morikami Museum called the Yamato-kan. Outside is a place to feed the white, orange, and spotted koi and admire the artistry of the bonsai ficus, buttonwood, juniper, maple, and other species.
The Yamoto-kan, site of a children's exhibit planned for 2006, houses the history of the Yamato colony. Photos are not permitted there and visitors must remove their shoes. Outfitted in your brown paper slippers, shuffle between rooms and test your knowledge of Japanese culture.
The bustling Cornell Cafe offers a literal taste of Japan. Bento boxes filled with teriyaki salmon, shrimp, and tofu are popular.
The Morikami comes alive during festivals that feature cultural activities like calligraphy, drumming, origami, singing, and lantern-lighting. Yet this is also a place to find a brand of stillness rare in South Florida.
Contact Marty Basch, a freelance writer in New Hampshire, through www.martybasch.com.