By Nash Wills, Staff Writer
Public service and volunteering is an essential task that should be expected from any self-respecting institution. Thunderbird is no exception. This past Saturday about forty Thunderbirds sacrificed one of their two precious weekend mornings for the betterment of the local area through the ThunderCares volunteering event. Five different groups were assigned to five different locations—Saint Mary’s Food Bank, Goodwill, The Arizona Humane Society, Valley Life, and the Japanese Friendship Garden—where they provided and assisted in a variety of services and activities from 8 in the morning until noon. The entire event began at 7:15 in the morning when all of the students convened outside of the pub—a location that had been inhabited by those same students only hours before—and t-shirts were given out and groups were organized by their team leaders. For myself, the event began a couple of days before when I found out that I would be replacing another student as a team lead at the Japanese Friendship Garden, a location that I only found out later was the most sought after gig. So, with my Saturday morning beginning 3-4 hours earlier than it normally would have, and with my do-good attitude in mind, off we went to the garden.
The Japanese Friendship Garden
As their website states: “The Japanese Friendship Garden brings the essence of Japan to the desert, celebrating the spirit of understanding and promoting educational and cultural awareness between the East and West.” The story of how a Japanese friendship garden ended up in the middle of downtown Phoenix all began in 1987 when a delegation from Himeji, Japan, Phoenix’s sister city, proposed that the garden should be built in order “to cement the bonds of friendship between Japan and the United States and particularly between the peoples of Himeji and Phoenix.” The delegation, led by the City of Himeji Landscape Architects, subsequently visited the city and designed the garden, also known as Ro Ho En. Construction was completed in the year 2000, and it was officially opened up to the public in 2002. The tranquil site rests on 3.5 acres of land and boasts over 1,500 tons of specially selected rock, an authentic Japanese tea house, stone footbridges, lanterns, over 50 species of plants, flowing streams propelled by a 12-foot waterfall, and a Koi pond with over 300 fish. Recently though, the garden has ran into a bit of bad luck.
A Leaky Tunnel, An Apartment Complex, and ThunderCares
A few months ago there was some bad leaking taking place in one of the interstate tunnels that runs through Phoenix and, due to the fact that the garden sits directly above that tunnel, the city had to come in and dig up half of the garden in order to fix the leak, thereby killing off many of the already mature plants. The plants have since been replaced though, and that’s where our team of volunteers came into play. Being led by one of the garden managers, along with a Thunderbird professor who frequents the gardens, Dr. John Zerio, our team’s job was to shovel mulch, a truly lovely heterogeneous mixture of dirt, fertilizer, and manure, into wheelbarrows and subsequently move those wheelbarrows to various locations throughout the garden where we then dumped and spread the mulch out evenly for all of the young plants to grow up in. Upon starting our operation I began to wonder why the Japanese Garden was an allegedly coveted volunteering location but soon my doubts were alleviated. I quickly learned that working outside with a group of Thunderbirds from different degree programs, years, and countries is actually very entertaining. As Jessica Briggs (MS 2015) put it: “I had a wonderful time volunteering at ThunderCares and helping the Japanese garden stay beautiful all while enjoying conversations with new Thunderbirds, professors and alumni.”
The leaky tunnel incident was just the beginning of the garden’s woes. Construction of a 14 story high-rise apartment complex that springs up from the ground about a foot away from the garden’s exterior wall has begun and, because men can build faster than plants can grow, the building completely blocks the sun from reaching the garden for about half of the day, thereby threatening much of the plant life within the garden. Some of the trees located closer to the building have already begun to die off and it is only a matter of time until the same slow process creeps onto and into the other plants. My advice: go to the Japanese Friendship Garden while you still can.