I’d dreamed since childhood of venturing to Japan to see awe-inspiring shrines, quirky shops, and beautiful gardens. Dreams can only get you so far though, so when funny life goblins placed a sickness curse upon my head, dooming me to an adolescence full of hospital beds in place of plane tickets, I did the only thing I could do: I started seeking out similar adventures in local destinations surrounding my home town. That’s where I found an amazing 8 acre Japanese garden and tea house just minutes from my parents’ home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Yes, I said Michigan. Right smack at the top of the United States I found the most incredible hidden gem destination for Japanese travel. And you don’t even have to set foot in Japan to check it out.
Stepping into a Magical World
Several different gates mark the entrance to the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden. Though smaller than the main gate, the west gate entrance flaunts some small details that prompt me to recommend it as the better option. Notice the traditional Japanese lantern striking a pose above my sister’s head? That lamp worked hard to be that cute, so you should reward it by heading in that direction.
Inside the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden
Once you cross the gateway, you leave the United States and enter Japan. A winding path appears to guide you on your journey and soon deposits you in front of one of the garden’s multiple bridges. As much decoration as functional forms, these architectural beauties mark just one of the many splendors that collectively transform the garden into a place of almost magic.
The Aesthetics of Bridges
I don’t think this first bridge had a name. But it was my favorite bridge because of the dichromatic coloring achieved by the black thingies (I like to say thingies) on top. So I’ll just call this bridge Mr. Tops. Everyone say hello to Mr. Tops. He lets you walk all over him. It’s not nice to do that to friends, but bridges don’t seem to mind. Thank you, Mr Tops.
And this other bridge is the cleverly named Zig Zag Bridge. Because it zigs. And it zags. And then dances a little jig. I might have lied about that last part, but why aren’t dancing bridges a thing? Dancing bridges could totally be a thing, right? Raise your hand for dancing bridges. And maybe for singing trees.
And in keeping with the clever titles, may I present to you Four Open Squares? It’s technically a sculpture crafted by artist George Rickey, but I just think it’s beautiful. And serene. And contemplative. Stainless steel squares balance horizontally sixteen inches above the water. So very perfect for a Japanese garden.
I could say profound things about this Buddha sculpture, but they’d all be negated by the fact that I tripped and fell on my buttocks while taking this photo. That minor mishap didn’t stop this sculpture from being my favorite art to photograph at the garden, though. Life needs the spark of adventure (and muddy blue jeans) every now and then, right? Exactly. Fun Fact: this installment exists not as religious commentary but a depiction of the human violence that tirelessly transpires throughout history, endlessly destroying culture and its artifacts. Notice how the sharp, fragmented features of the face transform Buddha’s visage into something almost broken and discarded?
The Japanese Fountain
I can’t forget this cute fountain. Dragon wouldn’t let me. He plopped right down on top of it and refused to budge until I snapped a photo. So why’s it so special? When enough water builds up inside, the spout dips and pours the water out into the pond below. Witnessing it reach that moment is surprisingly satisfying to watch. I had a nifty video of it for ya, but the video went poopy, so now I’m just a liar with a sad heart. And a sore bottom. Yes, my booty still hurts. Always look where you’re going when you take pictures, kiddos. And watch for cars before trying to play in traffic.
The Bonsai Garden
Ah, the Bonsai Garden… Aside from being inexplicably fun and entertaining to say– especially when bystanders are present and unaware of whether you are just easily amused or perhaps a crazy, rabid human who likes to shout at the sky while flaunting a muddy bum and bite marks from statues– “bonsai” are also quite enjoyable to look at. So look at them. They’re all fluffy and intricate, expertly pruned and trimmed, balls of tree fluff. They’re mini trees, and everything is better when it’s mini-sized.
The Zen – Style Garden
At home, I have a cute little rock garden that sits on my desk and asks me to pet it. So I do. With this little mini rake thingie. And it rewards me with its cuteness and calming lines in the sand. Also cute. Because everything miniature-sized is cute, gosh darn it. But my point (there is one) is that I’d never actually seen a real, life-sized Japanese Zen Garden before taking this picture. And this one is better.
Who doesn’t love a good gazebo? Gazebos belong in gardens. They give you a place to rest your muddy bum. And to contemplate why exactly you are such a clutz that you are always falling on it. Oh yeah, and they also look really pretty. Waving from afar is deeply encouraged. See Exhibit Y.
Authentic Japanese Tea House
I saved the best for last because the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden has a real tea house! Like the zen garden, it’s also really cute but doesn’t ask you to pet it because that would be really weird. And difficult. It does, however, beckon you to come inside. And I listened because I’m a pretty good listener. And a pretty good drinker of green tea. I honestly think the world needs more drinkers of green tea. And you can get some by going inside. You’ll also get to watch a traditional tea ceremony.
The Viewing Platform
Before exiting from this place of wonders, there’s one last spot that you can’t miss! At the summit of a little hill leading up from the garden, there’s a viewing platform where you can stand and be awesome. And maybe also snag a good aerial view of the entire garden. Mostly though, it’s just for being awesome I think. So here’s a pic of me standing and perfecting my awesomeness. It takes a lot of practice, but with hard work, dedication, and the help of epic photo op spots such as this one, I truly believe that anyone can learn to be awesome.
P.S. Japanese gardens are truly awesome.
EXPERIENCE THIS ADVENTURE: The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden is located within Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The park is open until 5:00 PM 362 days a year. You can find more details on their website below:
1000 East Beltline Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
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