Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach cultivates a link between Florida and Japan

The 200-acre park features events and programs in tribute to the Japanese settlers who used to live there.

The 200-acre park features events and programs in tribute to the Japanese settlers who used to live there.
The 200-acre park features events and programs in tribute to the Japanese settlers who used to live there.

Florida’s beaches are renowned, but some of the greatest attractions are well off the sand, like Delray Beach’s Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.

The 16 acres surrounding Morikami’s two museum buildings feature strolling paths, world-class bonsai collection and lakes teeming with koi and other wildlife. The broader 200-acre park, with its nature trails, pine forests and picnic areas, is a far cry from sea oats and sand dunes, and are deserving of a look-see.

In addition to the gardens, the Morikami Collections house more than 7,000 Japanese art objects and artifacts, including a 500-piece collection of tea ceremony items, more than 200 textile pieces and fine art acquisitions.

The Morikami is a tribute to the region’s century-old connection between Japan and South Florida. A group of pioneering Japanese farmers settled in what is now northern Boca Raton in 1904 and formed a farming colony they named Yamato, an ancient name for Japan.

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The Nan-Mon, or “South Gate,” at the gardens. [Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens photo]

Ultimately, the results of their crop experimentation were disappointing and the colony eventually disbanded. Most of the land farmed by Japanese was confiscated by the government during World War II, but George Sukeji Morikami’s farm in Delray Beach remained. In the mid 1970s, when Morikami was in his 80s, he donated his land to Palm Beach County with the wish for it to become a park to preserve the memory of the Yamato Colony.

A living monument was created with the opening of Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in 1977, building a bridge of cultural understanding between Morikami and his two homelands — Japan and Florida.

The facilities were designed by Hoichi Kurisu of Kurisu International, a Japanese landscaping company that employs highly skilled craftsmen to create areas that “demonstrate the necessity of natural places to physical, mental and social well-being.”

Morikami’s gardens are named Roji-en: Garden of the Drops of Dew, and were designed to be a living exhibit complementing the museum. Kurisu sought to create a garden complex for the new millennium, with six distinct gardens inspired by — but not replicas of — famous gardens of Japan.

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The museum is dedicated to Japanese culture and the memory of Palm Beach County’s former Yamato Colony. [Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens photo]

According to Heather Grzybek, Gardens curator, there are more than 100 varieties of plants and ornamentals. It takes a staff of nine full-time gardeners working around the clock to care and maintain the park.

“There is no single way to interpret the gardens,” Grzybek said. “We prefer that one’s experience will be that of personal insight, discovery and invigoration.”

Visitors are “encouraged to pause frequently and enjoy the surroundings. Feel free to sit on a bench and simply relax and take in the wide panorama of water, earth and sky or enjoy a more intimate view of individual rocks and plants.”

There is a free stress-reducing therapeutic walking program through the gardens for guests. Participants in the program have unlimited opportunities for up to a year to visit Morikami to leisurely stroll the garden paths to enjoy the peace and serenity. The activity begins following an initial group meeting with a facilitator to acquaint guests with how the program functions and to distribute guidebooks.

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The Karesansui Late Rock Garden is a featured element at the Morikami. [Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens photo]

Attendees may visit the garden at any time during regular museum and garden hours as often as they wish, but are encouraged to go there at least twice a week during the first eight weeks of signing up. They are dual memberships, so participants may bring a companion to with whom to share the experience.

There are numerous exhibitions, events and cultural programs at the gardens throughout the year. On select Saturdays, a traditional Japanese tea ceremony is performed at the Seishin-an teahouse, offering a sip of green tea and a taste of a Japanese sweet. It’s a good idea to check the gardens’ website for a list of upcoming activities.

This article was orginally published March 21, 2019.

Wuckovich writes feature stories for Florida Beach Insider.