A Japanese Homeland In Florida

10542Beautiful vista across museum lake
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By Bob Nesoff

Florida, as are other locations throughout the United States, have communities, cities, roads named for Indian tribes that once inhabited the area before being forced out. Some areas even have communities named for Germans and Italians.

Kirigami pillars

But Japanese?

Head to Florida’s central east coast, more specifically Del Ray Beach and Boca Raton and you might be surprised to see roads carrying names such as Yamato and Morikami. Japanese?


The Yamato Colony in Boca was an effort to create a home for Japanese farmers. With an open mind they were encouraged by the local government and were recruited to come and farm. Various problems beset them over the years and they began to decline, finally ending in the throes of World War II. 

After a growth spurt, they began to decline. Especially during the anti-Japanese pogroms of World War II. Although there was not the violence perpetrated against them as was often the case in California, a handful of Japanese residents were interned. Many had their homes and businesses confiscated as they wondered why they were the only ethnic group so singled out.

George Morikami relaxing on his farm before it became a public attraction

The only remnant of the Colony was George Morikami who farmed into the 1970s when he donated his farm to the county to create a public park. Today the park is a popular destination for all comers as is the adjoining Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.

Located off Jog Road at 4000 Morikami Park Road in Del Ray Beach, the museum regularly draws large crowds starting as early as its 10 a.m. opening. The museum is closed on Mondays. A caveat. There is a very large sign that appears to direct visitors to the museum, but it is actually the entrance to the park. Drive a few yards south and a smaller and less imposing sign welcomes you to the museum. 

The museum is located well of Jog Road and takes the driver along a beautifully wooded, winding road until the parking lot is reached.

Ooops! Watch out for Gators, not the Florida’s college football team

The ample parking lot is located directly across from the main entrance to the modern museum building. The interior of the building looks like anything but what you would expect from a museum on Japanese heritage. It is modern and efficient.

While the museum often displays Japanese cultural artifacts and culture, the displays are frequently changed. The current display is of the famed Japanese paper sculptures called “Kirigami.” Most Americans are more familiar with the term “Origami.” These are not the simply scissor trimmings you might expect. They are extremely intricate designs that take on the appearance of flowers, trees, bowls and any number of things the Japanese creative mind might conjure. Walk slowly and examine how they are constructed.

Walk out the rear door and into a wonderland of  trees, brooks, curved bridges spanning the waterways and a proliferation of wildlife from a surfeit of turtles, golden koy fish, a skittish iguana slowly eyeing visitors peering over the bridge railing at him/her, until deciding enough was enough and scampering off into the brush.

George Morimaki’s citizenship papers

The “proliferation” of wildlife in Florida is not complete without the creature of cowboy boots and belts…the alligator. While none was seen, there is a big, yellow sign warning visitors to beware of the possibility. That was enough to keep even the foolhardy from climbing down the slope to the water’s edge for a better look at the fish and turtles.

Across the waterway sits the Seishin-An-Teahouse that is designed to promote harmony, respect, tranquility and purity. It’s open on select Saturdays (check with the museum for dates) and visitors are invited to observe a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

Off in the distance is Yamato Island, site of the original museum building, the Yamato-Kan. Inside is the permanent exhibit of “Japan through the eyes of a child,” and “The Yamato Colony: Pioneering Japanese in Florida.”

As the visitor walks the gently curving path from the museum to the vast gardens, they’ll pass a stone sculpture of a ring that seems to beckon visitors to peer through it. This is the “Chie no Wa” Wisdom Ring, a replica of a 500-year-old stone lantern that is the symbol of Miyazu, Del Ray Beach’s sister city in Japan.

The original ring stands at a temple dedicated to the Buddhist deity of wisdom, Monju. The replica was donated by the citizens of Miyazu  to commemorate the Morikami Museum’s 20th anniversary in 19977.

Notably missing throughout the gardens and at the Ring is the lack of descriptive signs educating visitors as to what they are looking at. Visitors often ask why there are no informative signs. The museum notes that such signs are common at botanical gardens and Morikami is not a botanical garden. 

Chie no Wa Wisdom Ring, replica of 500-year-old stone lantern donated to Morikami by Jaspanese city of Miyazu

All that walking and culture make you hungry? Right outside the door leading to the gardens is the Cornell (not a Japanese name) Café, serving a Pan-Asian menu and a beautiful view of the gardens. Inside and to the left of the entrance is the inevitable museum store selling a wide variety of souvenirs and Japanese oriented goods.

Morikami says a visitor’s experience here is meant  to be “restorative.” It is free from the potential distraction of signage and labels beyond the bare minimum in order to direct visitors through the gardens.

For more information and upcoming exhibits, contact the Morikami Museum at (561) 495-0233 or www.morikami.org.


Photos: Bob Nesoff


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