Sea Oats

Monday, August 1, 2011

Morikami Japanese Gardens and Museum

A little peace and quiet. That’s all you want. Just another five minutes. Is that too much to ask? Five more minutes without the kids yelling that somehow your youngest daughter is stuck on the roof, the dog is barking at the cat who is squalling like it hasn’t been fed in a week. Please, just stop it.
Ironically, snuggled between two very noisy highways, the Florida Turnpike and I-95, is a sanctuary of serenity. Morikami Gardens &Museum.  The Roji-En, the “Garden of the Drops of Dew” awaits.
As you enter the garden grounds, you can feel the enveloping arms of the soft shade trees lining the winding drive. Park and enter the museum building after passing a quiet waterfall. The air-conditioned building is shaped like a pagoda.  The curved eves of the roof were originally designed to deflect marauding evil spirits, but today they seem to deflect all the worrisome rattle and clatter of the outside world.

After one of the people at the desk gives you some basic directions and pamphlets, you then pass through the large doors leading to the garden. You are immediately greeted by a still lake with barely a ripple on its surface.  Across the water is small building that looks something like a Shinto shrine.
Turn to the right and ahead of you is another small lake with trees growing along the edges. A bridge lies to your left. It arches gracefully over the water and leads to a wooded area. As you cross the bridge, everything around you seems to grow quieter. You turn around to make sure you didn’t leave the kids in the car. The water has that affect on people. Even kids. Various wild birds wade along the shore. A snowy egret, resplendent in a gown of white, stands guard while cormorants doing their impression of mighty eagles, stretching their wings out to dry after a morning of diving after fish.
The overall Garden is divided into smaller gardens reflecting the different periods of Japanese history. Such gardens as the Shinden, Paradise Garden, Shishi Odoshi (Deer Chaser) all have their own unique character.
A short way down the path you will find a Kodai-mon, an Ancient Gate, shown at the top of this post.. Enter through the gate for another peaceful view of the lake. There are many benches throughout the gardens for sitting and letting the “talking bamboo” carry all your worries off. Many flat boulders are also available to rest on, just make sure the kids don’t climb every rock in sight. The little dears might trample the orchids.
Rock gardens, later known as flat gardens, favor rocks instead of plants, which are carefully placed in the landscaping to represent water, islands, and nature condensed into a small, contemplative space. Japanese gardens often tie the inside of the home to the outside. So instead of tripping over bicycles and the swing set, the garden flows calmly from the cool interior to a small garden of stone, lilies and a koi pond.
After you’ve been in gardens for a short time, you may not notice how quiet everything is. I heard one airplane go by but other than that, it strictly the sounds of nature. It was once pointed out that there was hardly a place in the United States you could go without hearing the sounds of human activity for more than fifteen minutes. We may have just found one of the exceptions.
Half way around, we discover the building we saw earlier across the lake. It houses a children’s museum and information center.  There are several interactive displays and the reproduction of a typical classroom. Kids can see how students in another land attend class. In addition there is a typical Japanese apartment. With tatami mats on the floor and shoji screens, you might believe you are in Tokyo. Except for the blissful lack of noise.
There is a small bonsai display outside, some of which are made from plants native to Florida. Take a class in training bonsai and find out what can be done with a little patience and a lot of skill.
Working your way around the lake, you will come to a small alcove. Listen and you’ll hear a soft melodic sound. Follow the path around and almost unexpectedly under the trees is a waterfall. Once you’ve found a place to sit, you won’t want to leave. But you must.
Walking towards the main building, the lake on your left, you have almost forgotten how wonderful quiet can be.
As you climb the short set of steps up to the main building, you will notice on your left a small café named the Cornell. The unassuming respite at the end of your journey offers a variety of selections. The café has been rated among the top three in museum dining experiences by the Food Network.
Gather your brood and make your way back into the main building. Off to the right is a small museum with ever changing displays. I saw cases and cases of movie monsters in addition to traditional kimonos. Something for everyone.
There are self-guided tours available. The whole garden will take about an hour to see, but it will be an hour spent in blissful serenity. The garden opens at 10:00 AM. Go early in the day in the summer to avoid the heat.
Along with the various Japanese festivals celebrated on the grounds, group tours, special corporate events, and weddings can be held in the gardens. Nearly all of the garden paths are handicap accessible. Anyone with mobility issues will find the gardens easy to navigate. There are coolers with cool water path along with paper cups stationed around the grounds. They are on the sides of the trash receptacles. Not nearly as unsanitary as it sounds. I would bring a bottle of water, especially during the summer time.

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