The Missouri Botanical Garden was founded in 1859 by Henry Shaw. It is the oldest botanical garden in operation in the U.S. and one of the few to achieve National Historic Landmark status. It is located by Tower Grove Park and in a funky, eclectic section of St. Louis. Once again, the Berkeley in us loved the neighborhood! Over Labor Day weekend, we became members and took advantage of our membership by heading to their Japanese Festival, one of the largest and oldest festivals of its kind in the United States.
We parked in a nearby neighborhood and walked over to the Garden. The temperature was nearly 97 degrees that day. It was hot, humid and sticky. I honestly didn’t know how long we would last. As soon as we walked through the air-conditioned building and out to the gardens we were ooh’ing and ah’ing. The Garden was spectacular and on top of that splendor, was the added dimension of the Japanese culture and people and food and decor. It also seemed like everyone from St. Louis was here. I mean, we hardly know anyone and even we bumped into someone we knew- what are the chances of that? As we walked along the pathways a dashi passed us by. The dashi is a parade float that is typically pulled through town by children. This dashi was part of the opening festival procession and was pulled by the students of the Japanese Language School. As we made our way to the Japanese Garden, we passed several art sculptures that had nothing to do with the Japanese Festival- I think they might be permanent art in the Gardens- I guess I’ll find out on our next visit there but they were outstanding in their vibrant colors and just so unique. I had to snap a few pictures and share them with all of you.
With a little sweat pouring down our backs and only one “I’m so tired” complaint from baby girl, we arrived at Seiwa-en, “Japanese garden of pure, clear harmony and peace. ” This Seiwa-en covers 14 acres and a 4-acre lake. It was modeled after a style developed by wealthy landowners of the Edo period in 19th-century Japan and incorporates many aspects of Zen Buddhism (naturalness, assymetry). T and I couldn’t help ourselves and shared with the kids some of our funniest tales from our travels to Japan in the mid- 90’s as starving college students. Those were some good times and one day I will get to documenting all of those trips around the world. For now, let me get back to sharing some of the beauty of Seiwa-en. Besides C walking into a dry gravel garden that was made to look as if the wind had rippled the surface of the water, the kids on a whole did pretty well. The place was magical and you felt like you should be whispering at all times. But it was surprisingly cool and we promised the kids some kendo fighting next, so that seemed to hold them off for a bit.
On the way to kendo, we passed some really pretty trees and foliage. I took these next set of shots for my sister Melina and for all you West Coasters and Californians who haven’t beared witness to see a season turn. She wanted pictures and here they are. I promise more to come and will pay close attention to all my surroundings. The second shot is of a Black Gum tree. A Missouri native, it is usually the first tree to turn a bright scarlet or purple in late summer. It bears dark blue plum-like fruit. I can’t wait to go back to the Garden again a few weeks and see what they look like.
Next up was the kendo fighting with wood swords. As you can probably guess, this whole scene wasn’t baby girl’s scene. Or mine. In fact, it was a bit creepy and we quickly grew bored. The boys were entranced and loved it. I scanned the program and plotted an escape- hopefully one that involved air-conditioning. I leaned over to T- “Um, we are going to leave and catch the children’s chorus and meet you guys for lunch afterwards- okay?” Off we went.
The Hana children’s chorus was thankfully in a deliciously air-conditioned theater with plush velvet seating. Oh the luxury! Baby girl and I high-fived each other as we reclined to enjoy the show. Hana means flower in Japanese and the children were from the St. Louis Japanese Language School. They ranged in age from 5 to 10 years old and were dressed in kimonos. I thought there would only be traditional Japanese songs but much to my surprise they also sang Do-Re-Mi from Sound of Music and Let It Go from Frozen. That was hysterical. Of course we loved it and sang along in English.
After our mini-vacay in the air-conditioned theater we joined up with the boys for lunch. Whatever else could we possibly have but hand-rolled, made on-the-spot sushi rolls. The joy! The spice of that wasabi! The mixture of all those sweet and savory tastes all rolled into one! T taught I how to use chopsticks and pick up her sushi rolls. It was a necessary life skill that needed to be taught. Now, if we can only get the boys to do it.
Late afternoon was spent at the origami booth. The boys whined about what they could possibly do there. But 2 hours later, no one was whining. The teachers were so patient with the kids. They taught them how to build paper penguins, hearts, boxes, cranes, and flowers.
We ended the day with a Kimono fashion show and an outdoor Taiko Drumming concert. We watched the sun set over the auditorium and behind the trees. It felt like a magical ending to a magical day. Then my arms and legs started to itch like crazy and the mosquitos began to attack us. It was time for this Cali girl to get her Cali booty home.