Ro Ho En: Shared Vision in the Desert
Unexpected experiences can be the most enlightening. New discoveries, particularly those not part of ordinary day-to-day living, can yield insights. They can also open new doors, ones that you may not be aware, but are close at hand. If you are the type who is seeking something that is not typical, or at least not part of daily life in this country, it could be time to visit The Japanese Friendship Garden.
As the result of a sister city connection in 1976 between the Japanese City of Himeji and Phoenix the Ro Ho En was born. A combination of several words, Ro which means Heron, a bird symbolic of the City of Himeji, Ho which is the Japanese word for the Phoenix, symbolic of the Valley’s largest city and En, which means garden, the creation of this oasis in the desert is a shared vision. It is also the realization of a cultural connection between two places separated by more than just distance.
Covering 3.5 acres, complete with a 5/8 acre Koi pond, landscape architects from Himeji made 60 trips to Phoenix during the construction phase. In total, 50 architects from our Japanese sister city contributed to the completion of the $3.8 million project, with $1 million coming from private donations and the remainder via bond funds.
Among the first elements to be constructed was the Tea House, which is based on Japanese traditions and given the name by Sen Soshitsu. The former tea master of the Urasenke School of Tea in Japan, he has the distinction of being the fifteenth generation descendent of Sen Rikyu, who is still held in high regard. The name, Musõan, translates roughly into “Dream of the Future,” no doubt a reference to the hopes and aspirations tied to this joint venture.
In following with established customs, the tea garden consists of stone footbridges, lanterns, sculptures, a cobblestone bench, waterfalls and streams. Fifteen-hundred tons of rock handpicked from quarries near the Arizona cities of Jerome, Superior, Congress and Florence were utilized. A few concessions were executed to harmonize with Phoenix’s warm dry climate, but all attempts were made not to deviate from traditional Japanese gardens. These were kept to the barest minimum.
Two varieties of bamboo and 50 varieties of plant life can be found in the garden. The result of the care and precision that went into creating this environment is something of an unexpected piece of Japan resting within Margaret T. Hance Park. On my first visit, a friend of mine from Japan made note of how much it reminded her of home, which speaks a great deal to the authenticity of Ro Ho En. Only the tips of buildings in the distance give any indication that you are in the center of Phoenix, not within a carefully cared-for garden in Japan.
But there is more to the experience than structures and carefully arranged stones; it is the experience of the tea ceremony itself.
Available by reservation at $20 per person, you can tour the gardens and sample an actual Japanese Tea Ceremony. The tour includes a guide providing insight into the gardens related to their construction followed by a tea ceremony in the Tea House.
Entering the space takes you to a world were every gesture is filled with purpose and drinking tea becomes an act of meditation and relaxation. Unlike most dining experiences in a fast paced world, this one is filled with meaning and nuances. As to be expected, those conducting the ceremony are attired in Japanese traditional wear. What truly makes this a restful, as well as educational, experience is watching those versed in the many subtle acts of the ceremony performing the many gestures, manners and movements that constitute a tradition steeped in antiquity.
Yet for all of the tradition, there is something very contemporary, quiet, and philosophical about the process that turns the act of drinking tea into something of a mental exercise in relaxation and focus. Instead of strict rituals that feel cold and barren, the ones that constitute a tea ceremony lead to peace of mind and tranquil thoughts. For those that are seeking a release, or just relaxation, this ceremony offers all of that, as well as a glimpse into a culture in which art, beauty and intellectual contemplative thinking are unified. They are considered an essential part of life, not something separate from one’s day-to-day living.
Luckily for those of us that reside in the Valley, Ro Ho En is a convenient short trip to a world far removed from anything like it the United States. It is a pleasant excursion into a way of thinking and being that has no real equivalent in the West.
For those that cannot make the journey to Japan, this is a way to experience a culture that continues to fascinate and educate. With the popularity of Japanese art and culture on the rise, there is much to enjoy and see here. For those willing to learn and experience what this rich world has to offer, the rewards for time invested are very great.
The Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix Arizona
Located at Margaret T. Hance Park at the top of the I 10 Tunnel in Downtown Phoenix
1125 North 3rd Avenue, Phoenix Arizona
Hours of Operation
Saturday 10:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m.
Sunday 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
October to May, Closed June to September
Admission General $ 3.00
Senior, Military, Student $ 2.00
12 and under Free
(Please note, some information is subject to change)