The serene Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens occupy 200 acres in a corner of Palm Beach County, Florida, near Delray Beach. You weren’t expecting that address, were you? Turns out, over a century ago, a group of young Japanese farmers immigrated to start the Yamato agricultural colony near northern Boca Raton, intending to revolutionize Florida agriculture. These settlers came from Yamato, a village in Japan. It means “great peace” and is also the ancient name for Japan.
Sadly, the group’s farming colony failed, and most colony members scattered throughout parts of the United States or returned to Japan. In the 1970s, one of the remaining few, 80-year-old George Sukeji Morikami, donated his land to Palm Beach County for use as a park in memory of the Yamato Colony.
Visiting the Garden
When you visit the beautiful Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, that opened in 1977, you will see a living monument to George Morikami and his two beloved homelands. The acres of authentic Japanese gardens are one of Palm Beach County’s most treasured attractions.
The tranquil Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, known as Roji-en, is a Japanese garden, not a botanical garden. The most notable difference between the two is the lack of botanical signs identifying the trees, plants, and flowers in the Garden. Your visit to the Garden is meant to remove you from distractions and restore your inner peace. Signage is thought to be an unwelcome distraction. The gardens are enormous, with level paths that meander beside ponds, around clumps of bamboo and trees, and between carefully raked pebble beds.
Roji-en means “Garden of the Drops of Dew”—what a beautiful name! The six separate gardens that comprise Rojij-en are intended to be an extension of the museum. They are reminiscent of important Japanese gardens throughout history but not replicas. The century-old connection to Japan takes you through Japanese history from the 9th century up through contemporary Japanese culture.
Between the 9th and 12th centuries in Japan, Shinden gardens were found on estates of nobility. One of the meanings of shinden is “God’s place.” The outstanding feature of a Shinden garden is a large pond, and the emphasis is on natural beauty. Visitors usually viewed these gardens from a boat or bridge; most have an observation point built to overhang the water.
The Paradise Garden is meant to be an earthly representation of Buddhist Heaven, “Pure Land.” These gardens were the first intended for strolling and became popular in the 13th and 14th centuries. Paths led visitors around the garden pond to vantage points to admire the changing scenery. Plantings are allowed to grow naturally, as they do in the Shinden garden.
Early Rock Garden
Gardens in the 14th century drew inspiration from Chinese landscape ink artwork featuring waterfalls cascading down mountainsides into a large body of water. The creators designed the Zen-style rock gardens with dry cascades made from rock rather than water.
Karesansui Late Garden
Wandering along a “dry landscape” in this 15th and 16th-century style garden, Karesansui, rocks are found arranged in a bed of raked gravel, and a few plants take on a supporting role. The style was perfected at Zen Buddhist temples.
Hiraniwa Flat Garden
Rock gardens evolved into flat gardens in the 17th and 18th centuries, which use plant material and outside elements. The design technique is called “borrowed scenery” (shakkei), using things like a stone lantern, stepping stones, and wells.
Modern Romantic Garden
A 20th-century garden of this type reflected Western influence while also mimicking nature. The Romantic Garden uses masses of flowers, like irises.
Visiting the Bonsai Collection
Bonsai trees (pronounced “bone sigh”) grow in containers that artistically enhance the tree. The diminutive trees are hand-shaped to evoke a sense of how such a tree would have been formed as it grew in nature. The Paris World Exhibition in 1900 introduced bonsai to the world. After the end of World War II, bonsai was imported to the United States from Japan.
Morikami conducts beginner and intermediate classes in the technique of bonsai. Students learn to select a container and trim and train a tree.
Visiting the Museum
Since Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens opened in 1977, it has provided its diverse audience with authentic Japanese cultural experiences and educational activities. They have become the center for Japanese culture and the arts in South Florida.
The Morikami Collections house more than 7,000 Japanese art objects, which are displayed in exhibitions of Japanese arts on a rotating basis, allowing Morikami to increase Japanese cultural appreciation through programs at local schools and organizations. Formal tea ceremonies are performed each month (October until May) in the Seishin-an Tea House.
The main museum buildings are designed in the traditional Japanese villa fashion. There is a central dry garden courtyard surrounded by exhibition galleries that display the history of the Yamato Colony and a 225-seat theater. There is also an authentic tea house, classrooms, a store, the Cornell Cafe, and terraces that permit diners to enjoy a lakeside view.
The Garden’s sixteen acres of strolling paths, peaceful places, and a world-class bonsai collection surround the museum. Lakes filled with koi and other wildlife will be spotted along the nature trails and in the pine forest.
The Cornell Café
I looked forward to my lunch at Morikami’s Cornell Café all day. Walking the Garden’s sixteen acres contributed to my voracious appetite! The selections of food and sushi rivaled any Japanese restaurant I’ve visited in America! I recommend enjoying the Miso Soup, egg rolls, and the classic (or vegetarian) Bento Box. Save room for dessert—you will kick yourself if you pass up those warm Sesame Balls!
Therapeutic Garden Strolls for Well-Being
Participants in this program learn to immerse themselves in the serenity of the gardens. There are guided sessions with a facilitator that help reduce feelings of hopelessness and loneliness while increasing the sense of acceptance and optimism.
A Guide to the Plants of Morikami Garden can be downloaded from their website. So that you know, the Garden is closed on Monday.
When You Go
Delray Beach is a tiny city on the southeast Atlantic coast of Florida. Its Pineapple Grove Arts District is filled with art and galleries for shopping and viewing pleasure! The town is close to Boynton Beach and West Palm Beach, making it an easy place to stay and visit outlying towns.
The Banana Boat restaurant in Boynton Beach has a fabulous outside bar and patio filled with locals and part-time locals. You can order food at the sizeable horseshoe-shaped bar or inside tables, and the drinks—well, you’ll have to taste those for yourself, as I did!
Jo Clark is a travel writer with a thirst for history, knowledge, beauty, and food! She does her best to live up to her Instagram handle, JoGoesEverywhere! Read more of her articles on Recipes Travel Culture!