Visiting the Morikami Japanese Gardens and Museum in Delray Beach, Florida
Located in Delray Beach, Florida, is a wonderful oasis of outdoor flora and fauna that is the Morikami Japanese Gardens and Museum. Opened in 1977, it is situated on land that at one time was the home of the former Yamato Colony.
Established in 1904, the Yamato Colony brought young Japanese farmers to this part of Florida in an effort to start an agricultural community with the mission of developing improved farming techniques.
Although the colony disbanded in the 1920s and most of its members returned to Japan, a few hardy souls remained, one of them being the namesake of the park—George Morikami.
Morikami stayed on in Florida and worked the land for the remainder of his life. By the mid-1970s, Morikami—who was now in his mid-80s—made the very generous decision to donate his property to Palm Beach County with the stipulation that the land be preserved as a park and historical monument to the Japanese farmers of the Yamato Colony.
Today, the Morikami Gardens offer visitors the opportunity to take a leisurely 1-mile walk through the beautiful grounds and gardens, all with a distinctive Japanese flavor. The park is in absolutely immaculate condition, and the scenery and wildlife here are stunning.
In addition to the beautiful ponds and the six authentic Japanese gardens, there is the usual assortment of wildlife that can be found in this part of Florida. On my recent visit, I saw several species of water birds, ducks, turtles and a couple of the largest iguana’s I have ever seen. You may also see armadillos, alligators, and the elusive bobcat.
There is also a world-class bonsai collection in the park (located near the old original museum building) that I found very interesting. I never knew there were so many different kinds of bonsai trees.
Did you know that there was a Japanese influence in southern Florida that dates back to the early 20th century?
The walk around the lake offers visitors many opportunities to sit and relax while taking in the views with well-placed benches. The easy-to-follow path is well marked and has water stations located every few hundred meters. This is a great place to unwind with a good book or to just sit and watch the turtles and other wildlife. It’s also a great place to clear one’s mind or to do some good old fashioned thinking and reflecting on life.
Before you head out on the path be sure to grab a map inside the visitor center. The map will explain the various gardens for you as you traverse your way around the lake. The map assumes you will be going in a counter-clockwise direction but you are free to go in whatever direction you want.
The walk should take you about an hour or so depending on how many breaks you take and how much time you spend at each garden. There should be no rush, as this is certainly one of the most beautiful and serene garden settings in this corner of Florida.
As you circle around the lake, one of the last stations you come to will be the original museum building, which is situated on Yamato Island. You’ll know you have reached this point when you come to the giant Hotei statue that is located just in front of the bridge that takes you to Yamato Island. In case you're wondering, Hotei is the resident Japanese God of Happiness.
As you cross the bridge, you will come to a large patio that surrounds the outside of the old museum. This is where the bonsai collection is located. It is quite extensive and worth a look. Inside the original museum building are a couple of permanent exhibits that give visitors a glimpse of Japan through a child’s eyes and some of the history of the Yamato Colony.
While on Yamato island, be sure to look for the giant iguanas. I was fortunate to come across two of these beautiful and colorful creatures and one, in particular, had to be the largest iguana that I have ever seen. Check out the short video below for a glimpse.
Be sure to go around to the back of the old museum by the water’s edge, as this is where I spotted one of the iguanas. That's also where you'll find the Challenger Memorial Lantern dedicated to Ellison Onizuka, the Japanese American astronaut, and the six other astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986.
After walking the grounds, be sure to leave some time to visit the Morikami Museum, which contains exhibits and artwork from Japan’s past and present. The museum is a great place to learn about the culture and history of Japan and hosts a number of special exhibits throughout the year. Entry to the museum is included with your general admission ticket, so don’t leave without visiting the museum.
If you happen to be visiting the Fort Lauderdale – West Palm Beach area of southeast Florida and need a break from the beach, consider heading to the Morikami Japanese Gardens and Museum. Morikami makes for a very relaxing way to spend a few hours and is conveniently located between Interstate 95 and the Florida Turnpike in Delray Beach.
Morikami is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. They are closed on Monday’s. There is an admission fee for Morikami and adults 18+ will pay $14. For seniors, the fee is $13 and children ages 6–17 cost $9. Kids 5 and under are free. You can also become a member of Morikami for $60 ($40 for students), which entitles you to unlimited free admission to the gardens and museum plus other discounts and benefits.
Should you develop an appetite while visiting the gardens, there is the Cornell Café located on the grounds. This open-air café looks out over the gardens and lake and serves an assortment of Japanese and Asian cuisine. Although I did not stop for lunch, the menu looks reasonably priced and you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful setting for a quiet lunch.
Throughout the year, Morikami hosts a number of special events ranging from concerts to family workshops, cultural demonstrations, interpretative walks, and seminars. They also can accommodate weddings and the gardens certainly would make for a very special setting.
I hope you enjoyed this visit to the Morikami Gardens and Museum and found this helpful. Morikami is a wonderful destination and if you find yourself in the area, be sure to stop by and pay a visit.
© 2014 Bill De Giulio