Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden – the Prettiest Japanese Garden in the USA


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.

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park west gate entrance Adventure Dragon
My sister is excited. Very excited. But sometimes her mouth hangs open to test the direction of the wind. Oh, wait…nope…nevermind….that’s still just excitement. Carry on.

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.

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park Yatsuhashi Zig Zag Bridge Adventure Dragon
The Yatsuhashi: Zig Zag Bridge

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.

The Sculptures

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park four open squares sculpture Adventure Dragon
Four Open Squares Horizontal Gyratory-Tapered

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.

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden Long Island Buddha Sculpture Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park Adventure Dragon
Long Island Buddha steel and copper sculpture by artist Zhang Huan

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

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden Traditional Water Spout Fountain Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park Adventure Dragon

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

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden Japanese Bonsai Garden Meijer Gardens Adventure Dragon
Ponderosa Pine, White Cedar, and Black Pine Bonsai

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

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden Zen Rock Garden Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park Adventure Dragon

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.

The Gazebo

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden Gazebo Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park Adventure Dragon
Exhibit Y. Waving is fun.

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

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden Tea House and Tea Ceremony Frederik Meijer Gardens Adventure Dragon

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

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden aerial viewing platform Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park Adventure Dragon

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:

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

1000 East Beltline Ave NE

Grand Rapids, MI 49525

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Jillian Michelle
FAIRY DRAGON MOTHER at Adventure Dragon. Artist. Writer. Dreamer. Adventurer. I still believe kindness can change the world. I just want to inspire.


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  1. Such a beautiful garden. Thanks for the virtual tour. My favorite part is the viewing platform, it is giving such wonderful view of the whole garden. I liked the bonsai part as well. And the steel sculptures. If you had not told, I would never know these were sculptures!!

  2. I love your self-deprecating voice throughout this post, it really makes me laugh while reading it. Also, thanks for the always useful reminder that traveling in your own backyard can be just as exciting as jumping on a plane to some far-off land. In my hometown of Vancouver we have the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, which was always a favourite place of mine to go, but I don’t think you can drink tea there. I’d love to watch a tea ceremony!

  3. This garden is amazing. I had no idea that had such a beautiful Japanese Garden near Grand Rapids. And I am so sorry about your illness but I am glad you are following your dreams and living your life to the fullest.

  4. You could have written this post and said you were in Japan, I think everyone would have believed you. The zig zag bridge is cool, my daughter would be running around crazy on that. That is a great picture of the Buddha, well worth the fall!

  5. All you need is a bit of imagination and you can create anything you want, anywhere. It is an amazing, serene garden, I am sure you enjoyed every second of the visit. You reminded me of my visits to similar tea gardens in San Francisco and Zurich and how I felt completely refreshed afterward.

  6. Wow, I did not feel like this was the U.S. at all! They’ve done an amazing job with the authenticity. I really like the Buddha statue as well. The message behind it is so powerful, about how humans destroy our own art and culture. I think over to Syria where priceless human life and historical artifacts are being destroyed, it’s so sad! Anyways, tangent over. It looks like you and little Dragon had fun, especially hiding in the Bonsai trees and that tea look so delicious and yummy! I will definitely visit here if I am in the area! Thanks for sharing!

  7. What a lovely garden! This would be such a nice idea to spend a relaxing afternoon. The tea house also looks very cool, I would love to visit their! 🙂

  8. If I hadn’t have read this post I would have sworn this was really in Japan not Michigan! I’ve also dreamed of going to Japan fro some time but getting a cheap direct flight from Sydney seems to be harder than winning the lottery so it will need to go on the back burner for a little while longer. I love the perfectly raked sand and it’s cool you have a mini way to play with. Looks like Dragon had a wonderful day out on the gardens.

  9. Japanese gardens have a zen feel to them that is inspired by nature. Hence, it is hard not to appreciate them when you visit. This garden is no exception; all the touches of nature and eastern architecture is a beautiful sight.