Rescue Plan Would Force Out Japanese Garden
By Ivan A. Rodriguez
The land where a small Japanese garden currently sits on the southern part of Watson Island is being watched for development as its northern neighbor Jungle Island hopes to expand and build a hotel to make itself more profitable.
The fate of the one-acre Ichimura Miami Japan Garden, which contains donated trees from Japan and cost millions of dollars to relocate and keep up after severe hurricane damage in 1992, could change again as the zoological park next door is considering making it more functional for the area.
"The Japanese garden just isn’t used right now. If we develop a hotel, if they can incorporate it into the entryway and make something, then it would be more functional," said lobbyist Brian May, representing Jungle Island.
An alternative solution Jungle Island reviewed in a meeting June 19 with city commissioners was for the city to relocate the gardens to another city property so that Jungle Island can include the present site within its footprint.
The garden’s land, however, is not necessary for Jungle Island’s expansion plans, according to Jungle Island’s proposal to extend its lease, add land and allow more development by an undisclosed investor partner.
Friends of Japanese Gardenn organization’s Agnes Youngblood said the garden is a historic site in Miami and at least three events attended by hundreds of guests are held at the site every year.
"The garden was a gift and the city has invested a lot of money in it. I cannot believe that you can just ignore that fact and want to relocate it," said Mrs. Youngblood.
In 1957, Kiyoshi Ichimura, founder of Ricoh Corp. of Japan, suggested the City of Miami create a garden and donated 300 orchid trees from central China, which were planted along "Ichimura Road" parallel to the MacArthur Causeway.
Following this donation, he sent an 8-foot-tall Kasuga Stone Lantern and a 15-foot-tall Hotei statue.
Japanese carpenters and numerous gardeners were also sent to begin the construction. All work was completed in November 1961 and the garden was officially named SAN-AI-EN, "Three Loves Garden."
After many years the garden became neglected and a project to rebuild it was completed in December 1988.
On Aug. 24, 1992, category 5 Hurricane Andrew destroyed the Japanese Garden and it took three years to restore it.
In 1996, the City of Miami Commission voted to approve the permanent move of Parrot Jungle to Watson Island. This decision necessitated the move of the Japanese Garden to a new location, east of Jungle Island.
The garden’s current location was opened April 29, 2004.
Mrs. Youngblood said the city of Kamaishi in Japan has since been donating trees yearly for the garden and thousands of dollars have been spent in lanterns and other decorations.
Lanterns costing about $5,000 each have been stolen and pieces from other decorations taken during the night hours due to lack of security in the area.
"This has been very discouraging," said Mrs. Youngblood.
The garden has also encountered several issues with parking since it was relocated on Watson Island, which is part of the challenge it has attracting visitors.
Although visiting the garden is free, she said, parking usually costs around $10, which can discourage visitors.