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Morikami Park

The Experience Of Japan In Florida

by Myra Gross

The Yamato-Kan houses a permanent exhibition chronicling the history of the pioneering Yamato-Kan colony of Japanese emigrants.

Who would expect to discover the experience of Japan in Florida? That was the goal of the founders of The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida when they planned the 200-acre park and museum more than 15 years ago.

Why a Japanese park and museum in Palm Beach County, Florida? In the early 1900's, a group of Japanese emigrated from their homeland to establish the Yamato Colony, a farming settlement near Delray Beach.

Seventy years later, George Morikami, one of the original colonists, donated his own land to create a park and museum that would interpret Japanese culture for the Western world - a bridge between the nation of his birth and his adopted country.

In 1977, Palm Beach County officials dedicated a small 3,000 foot museum building, patterned after a Japanese imperial villa. Each of the rooms is arranged to overlook a sunny central dry garden open to the subtropical blue sky. Evocative of Japan, the flat courtyard garden conveys a sense of vastness of nature, with its raked gravel and sparse greenery suggesting perhaps a sea dotted with islands or mountains poking through the clouds.

As the museum's collection grew through the years, the need for space became more urgent, and in 1993, after an intensive capital campaign effort, The Morikami celebrated the opening of a new $5 million, 32,000-square foot museum.

The Morikami galleries are a showcase for visiting exhibitions that change frequently and cover a wide range of subjects - from Japanese folk textiles and exquisite art objects to Japanese baseball memorabilia. The new museum also includes a 225-seat theater for film showing, lectures, conferences and performing arts events; an authentic Japanese teahouse, where the art of the zen tea ceremony is demonstrated and taught; a Museum Store offering jewelry, lacquerware, pottery, dolls and toys, books, cards and more; the Cornell Cafe, serving home-style Japanese lunches; and a reference library and multimedia IBM Infotronic Gallery.

The original building now houses a permanent exhibition - Yamato Colony: Pioneering Japanese in Florida.

"Visitors enjoy the unexpected at The Morikami," said museum Director Larry Roasenweig. "Some people relish the cultural highlights of Japan presented at the museum, but all cherish the serenity of the natural environment."

The Morikami's Japanese Gardens delight the eye and quiet the mind. v1sitors may enjoy complimentary garden tours along the serene paths. PHOTO by Timothy Morrissey

Morikami Park emanates a remarkably tranquil influence that has endeared it to local residents and more than a million tourists over the past 16 years.

"The landscape architects and horticulturists who designed and planned Morikami Park worked carefully to cultivate a sense of Japan, a difficult challenge in a landscape where palms rather than pines prevail," Rosenweig said.

FROM THE START, The Morikami engendered, and was benefited by, special relationships. The Morikami enjoys a unique public-private partnership: It is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department but has a private support arm, The Morikami Inc., an all-volunteer board of trustees.

"George Morikami would have been pleased to know that The Morikami has in fact provided many opportunities to develop cross-cultural relationships between Westerners and people of Japanese ancestry," Rosenweig said. "And fortunately, at strategic stages in our development, we have benefited from the counsel of key Japanese individuals who provided the authenticity we want to preserve in our programming and sense of place."

A bridge to the Yamato-Kan serves to slow the visitor's pace and encourage a more leisurely stroll and view

Rosenweig and The Morikami's senior curator, Tom Gregersen, each have university degrees in Japanese studies from the University of Michigan and both have lived and worked in Japan. Their sensitivity to the nuances of Japanese culture and design has been the pervasive force at The Morikami from the very beginning.

"Early on, we also had the good fortune to have Seishiro Tomioka, a young Japanese landscape architect, on the Palm Beach County staff. His serendipitous appearance was t) one of the pivotal factors in the shape of things to come at Morikami Park," Rosenwieg said.

A JAPANESE GARDEN is a place for meditation. It is planned to look unplanned. The garden is designed to quiet the mind, to open it to the subtleties of nature - water gently lapping on dark stones, sunlight glittering on a leaf, moss hugging a rock, a single delicate blossom, half-shaded. Light and shadow dance between the towering pines, while twists and turns of meandering paths evoke suspense and surprising visual delights.

The pebble garden on the terrace of the new Morikami Museum is designed to provide a place for meditation. PHOTO by Timothy Morrissey

At The Morikami, indigenous plant materials suited to Florida's subtropical climate were often substituted for plants from a cooler, more typically Japanese climate. Stones were hand-picked by Tomioka from Ikeecheelee Park, West Palm Beach, for their color, character, size and sculptural qualities.

In recent years, Norman Nelson, The Morikami's Curator of Japanese Gardens, has maintained the integrity of the gardens through attentive pruning and thoughtful planning. Installations and overall park maintenance are handled by landscape crews from the Palm Beach County Department of Parks and Recreation, under the supervision of Planning & Design Chief, Bill Wisher.

When the new museum was built, The Swa Group landscape architects and Don Murakami, created a new master plan to accommodate future additions, including a new road and entrance to the park, an agricultural village, a Japanese inn and more.

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June 17, 2019, 8:32 am PDT

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