In the middle of the Sonoran Desert of the Southwestern United States, it is possible for one to take a step across the Pacific Ocean and into a Japanese garden, if only for an hour or so. One doesn’t go here to “kill time” but rather to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of this 3 ½-acre stroll garden, complete with tea garden and tea house. I’ve lived in Phoenix for a long time but didn’t know about the Japanese Friendship Garden (1125 N. Third Avenue) in Downtown Phoenix until about a year ago. I went for the first time last December and it became one of my favorite new discoveries and places to visit. (It’s not a free park, but the entrance fee is minimal.)
The actual name of the garden is Ro Ho En and is derived from three different words. Ro is the word for Heron, a bird symbol for Himeji, Japan, the sister city to Phoenix since 1976. Ho is the Japanese word for the Phoenix bird. En means garden. Two bird symbols plus two cities equals one beautiful garden.
I was surprised by the variety of plants at the garden and was more surprised that they seemed to thrive in the Sonoran Desert. The 1500+ tons of rock that lines the stream bed, the walking paths, the shore of the lake, the foot bridges, and the main waterfall were all taken from quarries around Arizona. I especially liked the Koi pond, the lanterns, and the way the path leads through different terrains.
This garden is an under-funded and under-appreciated marvelous destination in the heart of our downtown. It’s worth checking out at least once.