It’s free week once again at Four Foxes, One Hound! This time I thought I’d take you along on a picture tour of a wonderful new place in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Grand Rapids is fortunate to have several generous benefactors. Among them is Fredrick Meijer, son of Hendrik Meijer, founder of the chain of grocery/department stores found throughout the Midwest. The Meijer family’s contributions to the city include a state-of-the art heart center downtown and a lovely botanical gardens located just east of the city. The gardens include several iconic sculptures, and hosts a concert series each summer. This month a brand new feature opened: The Japanese Garden. My mother and I were fortunate to be included in a tour of those gardens last week. And since two of my books feature people of my Japanese ancestry (hopefully more, soon!) I thought I’d share some of the pictures I took.
Our tour met in the lobby of the main building in this 158-acre park. Mom and I were part of a tour sponsored by the World Affairs Council of West Michigan. First, we met with a pair of docent volunteers, and we observed a lot of Japanese artifacts sent from Grand Rapids’ sister city of Omihachiman, in the Shiga prefecture (on the main island of Honshu). After that we were directed outdoors, where signs directed us to the Japanese Garden. It was a bit of a walk, but there’s plenty to see – we passed the Children’s Gardens, part of the sculpture park, the amphitheater, and arrived at the gates to the new section.
From the time we entered the rather unimposing gate, we were immersed in a canopy of peace and tranquility. Even though two interstate highways intersect only a mile away, here there was nothing but green plants, running water, and a winding path. We came to a bonsai garden, and then to a zen garden (slightly reminiscent of the zen gardens I saw in Kyoto, but this one is made of small pebbles rather than sand). Continuing along the path, we went down to the man-made pond, where a small tea house is set up to host traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. The path continues around the pond, each twist and turn revealed another picture perfect setting. There were lots of benches for people to sit, rest, and reflect.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago when the topic was gardening, I am hopeless when it comes to keeping plants alive. But I certainly enjoy walking through them. It calms me, especially if there’s water nearby. And this excursion definitely calmed me. A zig-zag bridge, or yatsuhashi, goes over the north end of the pond, and a smaller arched bridge takes you to a gazebo on a small island in the middle. Waterfalls trickle down from a rocky hillside into the pond. I think the soothing atmosphere lifted the spirits of all the people in the group. Even though it was a forty-minute walk, my eighty-one year old mother was still smiling as we left.
The opening of the Japanese Garden has had a ripple effect on local interest in our culture. Since my father’s parents were the first Japanese in the area, we’ve been contacted by the genealogical society as well as the historical society requesting information for articles they plan to put in their publications in the near future. Mom and I are quick to comply—I’m learning more and more about the grandfather I never met! The gardens are only a half hour drive from my home, so I’m hoping to visit again soon. Thanks go to Mr. Ron Strauss for his tireless work in getting recognition for my family, and for arranging the tour!
Oh, and since it’s free week, I get to mention my own books! Here are the two that reflect my Japanese heritage. Click on the book covers to learn more about them: