In 1904, Jo Sakai was graduated from New York University, and returned to his homeland of Miyazu, Japan, with a dream to recruit Japanese farmers to form an agricultural colony in Florida. The colony foundered, and most of the original farmers returned to Japan. One remained, however, and created a successful pineapple plantation. In the mid-1970s, that successful businessman, George Sukeji Morikami, donated his land in Delray Beach, asking that it be used to memorialize the Yamoto Colony, and serve as a bridge between his two homelands. (Yamoto is the ancient word for Japan.)
The result is 200 acres of serene beauty that takes visitors through 100 years of Japanese garden traditions, just a half-hour drive from the ultra-luxurious residences of Sabbia Beach condominiums. The only such venue of its kind in the United States, the Museum opened in 1977, with construction of the Roji-en gardens beginning in 1993.
The six gardens comprising Roji-en (The Garden of the Drops of Dew) take visitors back in time to the various garden styles that became popular throughout Japan’s history. They feature the Shinden Garden style with its emphasis on lakes and islands, meant to be viewed by boat; the Paradise Gardens, which were meant as a tribute to Buddha and represent the Buddhist heaven; the Early Rock Garden, with its Zen-influenced careful placement of rocks; the Karesansui Gardens which epitomize the contemplative style of Zen, offering visitors the opportunity to meditate on the garden’s design; and the style most familiar to Westerners, the Hiraniwa Flat Garden, with its pagodas, lanterns, and stepping stones.
The park section is dedicated to the preservation of Japanese culture, and offers such enticing features as waterfalls, a koi pond, and a large bonsai collection, and includes a specimen dating back to the 1600s.
The main museum building, opened in 1993, houses a tea house, classrooms, a theater, and three permanent exhibits, as well as the award-winning Cornell Cafe and Morikami Museum Store. The Morikami also offers cultural programs for adults, children, and educators, and rotating exhibits and permanent collections meant to evoke the culture of Japan.
Visitors describe the experience as tranquil, calming, and a lush oasis in the heart of Florida. People often schedule their wedding photos here, against the backdrop of bamboo, flowers, and flowing streams.
Closed Mondays and most major holidays, the Morikami is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. It has a private parking lot and bike parking, and is wheelchair-accessible. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $9 for children.