The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden – Frequently Asked Questions (and answers!)

Who are the donors?

The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden has been made possible through the generosity of Fred and Lena Meijer, Richard and Helen DeVos and roughly 300 individuals and organizations that supported the Japanese Garden campaign.

Who designed it?

The Japanese Garden was designed by Hoichi Kurisu, recognized among the world’s leading designers of Japanese gardens. Born in Hiroshima a few years before World War II, his family experienced serious hardships after the war including having to forage for food in nearby woods. An understanding of the power of nature to sustain life, both physically and psychologically, stayed with him and later developed into a passion for gardening and landscape design.

Having trained in Tokyo and learned the intrinsic value of Japanese garden principles, he moved to the United States in 1968 and worked as the landscape garden director at the renowned Japanese Garden Society in Portland, Oregon. He then opened his own firm, Kurisu International, in 1972 and since then has created numerous Japanese gardens throughout the United States as well as in other countries. Among other awards, he received the National Landscape Award presented at the White House in 1992 and 1998 and was named one of the ten most influential Japanese garden designers worldwide by the Roth Journal in 2005.

Which Grand Rapids businesses assisted Hoichi in the creation of the garden?

Progressive AE provided engineering and architectural services, primarily for necessary support and structures below ground level. Owen-Ames-Kimball provided construction support and supervisory services. Many local contractors provided a variety of services.

Who designed and built the architectural structures?

The architectural structures were all designed in Japan by Japanese architecture firms, and all were at least partially built in Japan and then shipped to Meijer Gardens to be reassembled on site.

Will it be open year-round?

Yes. It is intended to be enjoyed in all seasons. During the winter months some areas and pathways may occasionally be closed due to weather.

Is it accessible?

Yes. All areas with a challenging terrain have an alternate path nearby, and paths and bridges are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.  All guests are asked to be cautious on stone paths and hilly areas.

How big is it?

The “footprint” of the Japanese Garden is eight acres, with 2½ of them taken up by the Lena Meijer Pond. The main path through the garden is ¾ of a mile long.

Is there an extra charge to enter it?

No. The Japanese Garden is free with admission.

What opportunities will guests have to learn about our Japanese Garden?

We have an illustrated brochure, a map of the garden, a family looking guide and docents positioned in the garden to answer guests’ questions. Information about the garden will be shared during our regular tram tours, incorporated into our summer camp line-up and added into our website. Tea ceremonies and tea ceremony demonstrations will be offered in the summer and fall through our classes program, and a film on the creation of the garden will be shown in the Hoffman Auditorium beginning in late fall. Classes for adults will be offered in the fall.

What is the Tranquility Zone: A Japanese Garden Environment for Families exhibition?

Tranquility Zone, sponsored by PNC Bank, is an interactive exhibition in the Snell Sculpture Education Center that translates Japanese Garden concepts into kid-friendly activities. There are three main activity areas—a teahouse, a Zen-style garden and a bridge over simulated water—and self-directed activities springing from each. Docents will be on hand to supervise many additional activities. All signage is hidden so that it must first be discovered and only then acted upon—with search-and-find challenges, did-you-know tidbits and activity prompts.

How will guests know how what is expected of them in the Japanese Garden?

Etiquette rules will be stated on the brochure, map and signage. As with all other areas of Meijer Gardens, guests are expected to stay on paths and bridges, not to touch or climb on rocks, sculpture or trees and to respect the quiet and serenity of this unique garden space.

Why are there so many boulders?

Boulders are important to Japanese gardens. They are one of the first elements introduced and they symbolize permanence. More than 4,000 boulders have been moved to the site from various areas in West Michigan: they are used for structural, aesthetic and artistic reasons.

What is the significance of the lanterns?

Lanterns were traditionally placed along paths, bridges and ponds to light the way to an evening tea ceremony; our lanterns are used for decoration.

What is the significance of the pagodas?

Pagodas are multistory structures that originally enshrined sacred relics. Found in Buddhist temple complexes, they increased as Buddhism spread through East Asia. Japanese pagodas were made of wood whose flexibility enabled them to survive earthquakes. Later, small stone pagodas were used in gardens.

How much money was raised to build the garden?

There was a successful $22 million capital campaign; a portion of the funds raised were used to establish an endowment to care for the garden in the future. We continue to accept gifts to build the fund. New sponsorship opportunities within the Garden have also been identified. Anyone interested in supporting the endowment fund or learning more about sponsorship opportunities may contact the Development Office.

What is a tea ceremony?

A tea ceremony is the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha (finely powdered green tea) for the enjoyment of one or more guests. The utensils are first cleaned in a precise order using exactly prescribed movements; every movement has meaning. While the ceremony is being performed silence is observed. Tea ceremonies are intended to appeal to all the senses: taste (tea and sweets), hearing (boiling water, sounds of nature in the distance), sight  (ceramics  and scroll), touch (ceramic tea bowls), smell (ikebana flowers and flowers growing outside the teahouse). Traditional tea ceremonies are based around the seasons, with the ikebana, scroll and ceramics all reflecting the current season. After the ceremony, it is the responsibility of the guests to offer comments and compliments.

What is a Zen-style garden?

A Zen-style garden is a dry landscape garden, carefully composed of arrangements of rocks and gravel that is raked into patterns. The rocks often symbolize mountains or islands and the gravel can represent rivers, waves, rippling water or oceans. Zen-style gardens are usually surrounded by a wall and are meant to be viewed from a single viewpoint—a bench or, traditionally, the porch of a temple adjacent to the garden. They are not meant to be entered or walked through at all. Zen-style gardens at Buddhist temples in Kyoto were intended to imitate the essence of nature and to aid in meditation about the meaning of life. The repetitive motion of raking helped monks focus and concentrate.

What is a Bonsai garden?

A bonsai garden is a grouping of bonsai plants for display. Our Bonsai Garden features roughly twenty rotating bonsai from our collection which will be displayed from April through November, weather permitting. Bonsai are plants that are trained to look as if they are timeworn by the forces of nature.  Almost any kind of plant can become a bonsai.

What is a Zig-zag bridge?

A Zig-zag bridge is a wooden bridge used in Japanese gardens; the name comes from its angular, zig-zag path. Originally zig-zag bridges were simply wooden planks used by farmers to traverse wet areas of their land. Later, they began to be constructed over marshy areas where irises were planted; the zig-zag pattern allows the plants to be seen more clearly. It is sometimes said that zig-zag bridges were designed to evade evil spirits which could only travel in straight lines. This is a myth; it is completely false!

Are all the plants native to Japan?

Roughly 5%-10% of the plants are native to Japan. The others are native to Michigan and other temperate climates throughout the world. What matters most is which ones are selected, how they fit into the overall design of the garden, how they are planted, how they are pruned and the way they are maintained.

How many sculptures are there?

There are seven sculptures, all created in the recent past and selected because they complement ideas and concepts in the Japanese Garden itself.

They are:

The title refers to a term the artist created to describe mature trees with curved lower trunks that resemble the curved blade of a sabre. They are staked at an angle to produce this growth and will continue to be pruned for many years to come. This piece is part of the Japanese Garden.

This work consists of a single piece of granite, carved and polished using power tools. Viewers can see themselves reflected in the three circles, which promotes viewer engagement and affects viewers’ perceptions of space.

Long Island Buddha is positioned at an angle as if it were a recently discovered historical monument, suggesting longevity and survival. It reflects a major source of inspiration for Japanese gardens in general—Buddhism.

Existence is a five-part sculpture made of granite. Selected portions of the stone are revealed through carving and polishing; the rest is left in its original, rough form. The title refers to what the artist felt existed within the stone.

Rickey is known for developing kinetic sculptures that move with the air. This horizontal piece is unlike his other works which are vertical. Positioned in the pond, it moves with the wind above the water. Gyratory is a word Rickey used to describe the circular movement of this piece, like hands on a clock.

This sculpture focuses on the theme of “human interaction with nature.” It is based on an actual installation work where the artist held onto a tree for a period of time and imagined how it would affect the growth of the tree if he continued holding on much longer. He made a mold of his hand as well as the tree and cast the whole piece in bronze.

  • For the Garden by Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer is a conceptual artist who focuses on particular subjects using original or borrowed text. The subject she presents for our sculpture is the experience of nature. The piece consists of 23 poems borrowed from four centuries of Japanese poetry; they are hand-carved into boulders and placed throughout the Japanese Garden. The spacing is original to the poets but the use of all capitals is typical of Holzer’s work.

Here is one of the poems:

CHERRY BLOSSOMS

BLOOMING WITH ALL THE STRENGTH

THEY POSSESS

OBLIGE ME TO VIEW THEM

WITH ALL THE STRENGTH I POSSESS

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