Yesterday me and my family stopped by the Ichimura Japanese Gardens in Miami, Florida, where we heard they were holding a Japanese festival.
These gardens are located right next to Miami’s “Jungle Island” Zoo, the latter of which has been around for 75 years. I was first surprised when I discovered the Ichimura gardens because I had lived most of my life in South Florida without hearing anything of them.
I turns out there was a good reason for that, the garden is a very small place tucked into between two roads and contains little more than a few rock gardens, ponds, and a handful of areas that can be used as stages. My disappointment was compounded by the fact I had grown up near the massive grounds of the Morikami Gardens.
We arrived just after 9am since the website said the park opened then and we wanted to beat the rush. When we saw a completely empty parking garage, we knew something strange was going on. Inside the main gate we were told by someone preparing that the festival started at 10am (it would have been nice to list that on the website), so we walked to Jungle Island, watched some colorful, noisy parrots, and came back right around 10am.
The festival preparations didn’t seem to be moving at too fast a pace, as there was still several empty tables and employees attending to various tasks to get ready. Nevertheless we strolled around the park, and let our son run around and enjoy himself. Around 10:30 we noticed there was a gathering in the center of the park, and we approached to see a mat laid out and people in various martial arts uniforms warming up. We were given a schedule which had some interesting demonstrations scheduled, including an Aikido show and magic show, but one of the Karate senseis told us that the employees were behind so things weren’t ready to begin yet.
We walked around some more and spoke with the nice lady at the gift shop table near the entrance, and bought a set of wooden coasters for a very reasonable price of $15. There was also some children’s toys there, a mini koto (which I probably should have bought for only $30) and some older used books in Japanese on various topics including music theory and the biography of some actress.
The other tables, including a kids corner we were looking forward to, weren’t setup yet and there was little sign of any progress.
We did speak with a very nice man who was working as a financial adviser, and apparently advertising his business there. He told us about a few Japanese restaurants which we went searching for since there was no food scheduled for the event until around noon and we were getting very hungry. The restaurant we searched for, “Matsuri” was unfortunately closed until 5:30pm on Sundays, so we ended up eating somewhere else.
After we ate we didn’t return to the festival, but instead stopped by a great Japanese market which had a very large selection of used books (most were from 2003 or earlier) and various forms of Japanese food. We stocked up on a few things, and I got a “Silky” Japanese coffee drink which tasted quite bitter, but good.
Though the festival was disappointing in several areas, including the grounds, lack of preparation, and small crowd (at least while we were there), it was still worth going. Unlike some other Japanese gardens, entrance was completely free, with only a small $5 charge for parking. The small scope and lack of aggressive focus on business and money-making was refreshing.
Most of all, I was able to use my Japanese to talk to a few strangers, which is something I very rarely get to do. It was satisfying to be able to communicate, albeit with a little verbal stumbling. I was asked if I had lived in Japan which is one of my favorite forms of flattery – even if it was nothing more than polite “oseji”.
Regardless of its small size, the Ichimura Japanese Gardens is still a nice place to stop by on a weekend for those who live in or near Miami.