Springfield’s Hidden Gem: Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden

By Robert J. Korpella

First posted on 08-28-2008

Take a virtual stroll through the Mizumoto Garden in our gallery.

The Fall Festival at the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden in Springfield, Missouri will be underway from September 5 through September 7 this year. freshare.net got a chance to speak with Will Stewart, Botanical Society president, about the garden and its close association to Springfield’s sister city, Isesaki, Japan.

Covering about ten acres of land adjacent to Nathaneal Greene Park, a labyrinth of walkways makes the Stroll Garden seem much bigger. Stewart also attributed the feeling to a technique he described as “hide and reveal,” meaning that park designers use trees, shrubs and water to add natural elements of concealment to the garden’s features, then reveal what is hidden as visitors walk through the park.

“We tried very hard to design in a Japanese style,” Stewart said. He went on to say that gardeners in Isesaki, a city similar in size to Springfield and situated about 2 hours from Tokyo, consulted with Springfield gardeners during the design phase.

The Springfield Sister City Association (SSCA) helped bring a team of private business people from Japan to aid in the building phase. Those individuals have returned to Springfield from time to time since then at their own expense because of their interest in the Stroll Garden. “They will often give us advice on maintaining the park in a Japanese style,” Stewart said.

Isesaki’s commitment to Springfield went even further as the Japanese city raised and donated $17,000 for trees to be planted throughout the park system in Springfield.

Today, the Botanical Society and the SSCA have settled into an excellent working relationship according to Stewart. “The SSCA takes care of the cultural aspects and [the Botanical Society] takes care of the grounds.” And that role as groundskeeper is evolving, too, from a creating to a sustaining mode.

“To help us in that evolution, we would like to develop a strong volunteer program,” Stewart said. He explained that the Springfield Park system provides people and equipment, but has to spread its resources across all parks in the city’s system. A group of willing volunteers devoted to sustaining the Stroll Garden would be a welcome addition.

To help fund projects at the garden, the Botanical Society raises money through purchases of food visitors buy to feed fish in the garden’s ponds and through a portion of the gate fees, which go to the general fund for Springfield’s park system. In addition, the society is considering making merchandise like CD’s and DVD’s available for sale. Of course, any donations are always appreciated.

The Stroll Garden was named for Mrs. Yuriko Mizumoto Scott, who was very interested and influential in the project since its inception in the late 1980’s. During the U.S. occupation of Japan after World War II, Mrs. Scott was one of the first war brides worldwide to be granted permission to leave Japan and settle in America. That was no easy feat as Congress had to approve her citizenship and grant access to the U.S.

Mrs. Scott continues to be very active in the Stroll Garden that bears her name and occasionally conducts a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in the Tea Room, identified with Kanji symbols that translate to “Tea House of the Spring Wind.”

During the Fall Festival, tea ceremony duties are assumed by visitors from Isesaki, who arrive to participate in the event. Also on hand are representatives who display and sell handmade items like origami, pottery and calligraphy, along with traditional Japanese drummers and dancers. During Fall Festival, the grounds are decorated especially for the event.

“It’s the biggest festival of the year for us,” said Stewart. “A lot of work and planning goes into this.”

Stewart mentioned that Botanical Society members do not have to pay a gate fee to the Stroll Garden as their modest annual dues cover it. At $15 per year for an individual and $25 a year for a family, it may be well worth it for many in the area.

“For me, it started out as a stress reliever,” said Stewart, a control room operator at the James River Power Station. “I could ride my bike here, pay my $3 entry fee and relax just enjoying the park.” Now, it’s a way of giving back to the community.

Stewart says it is something anyone might want to consider. “You don’t need a background in gardening,and you can be an average guy like me to join the [Botanical] Society and make a difference in the community.”