Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix [Ro Ho En]

Kasuga stone lantern and Koi fish pond (Image by Clifford Chen)
Garden Mission carved on stone tablet (Image by Clifford Chen)
Japanese Friendship Garden waterfall and cobblestone beach (Source:
1125 N. 3rd Ave. Phoenix, AZ

The Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix, named Ro Ho En, was constructed as a joint project between sister cities Phoenix, Arizona and Himeji, Japan. The name Ro Ho En reflects the close relationships between these cities. Ro is the Japanese word for Heron, the bird of Himeji Castle. Ho is the Japanese word for a Phoenix and En is the word for garden. The garden features many traditional Japanese architectural designs including stone lanterns, bridges, and a Japanese tea house.

The Japanese Friendship Garden stands as a symbol of Japanese American history in Phoenix. Executive Order 9066 signed into law by President Roosevelt in 1942 marks one of the darkest periods of Japanese American history.1 This law delegated the power to the military, to forcefully relocate Japanese Americans and people with Japanese ancestry to internment camps spread across the west coast. Some of these internment camps were located in rural and isolated parts of Arizona.2 Also during this time period the “yellow peril” hysteria had reached its pinnacle against the Japanese people. It wasn’t until mid 1960s that the politically charge atmosphere sparked the Japanese American community to seek redress and reparations.3 However, reparations were not actually disbursed until 1990.1

In 1976 President Gerald Ford overturned Executive Order 9066.4 This occurred 30 years after the end of World War II. Why did it take so long for the government to overturn E.O. 9066? Sucheng Chan has said, “Japanese Americans kept silent about the injustice of their internment, but in the mid – 1970s a number of individuals began to talk openly about seeking reparations for their ordeal.” (Chan, 173) It is left to be inferred, that the government had either forgotten or was ignoring that it forcefully relocated citizens and immigrants based on their race.

1976 also marks the year that Phoenix and Himeji became sister cities. The sister cities project is one avenue that cultural exchange can happen, in a broader sense it is also a way for nations to show their alliances. After the plans for the Friendship Garden were underway, the garden’s architects started visiting in 1987. This was during a time when remnants of the “yellow peril” epidemic could still be seen. In 1986 the U.S. Civil Rights Commission reported that “the issue of violence against Asian Americans is national in scope.” The murder of Vincent Chin, who was thought to be Japanese by his murderers, was a factor in the conclusion of the commission.1 The garden’s mission of promoting friendship with Japanese citizens and the education of Japanese culture was a way of building cross racial solidarity here in Arizona.

- Clifford Chen, Monika Barton, and Emily Cano


1. Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans: An Interpretive History. 1991. Print.

2. Burton, Jeffrey F., et al. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. 2000. Print.

3. Salomon, L. Movement history: The Japanese American Struggle for Redress & Reparations. Third Force, 1995.

4. Ford, Gerald. “An American Promise A Proclamation”, 1976

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