Koi fish in the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix

A Visit to the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix, Arizona

The Japanese Friendship Garden is a fun little park in Downtown Phoenix, where I had a great opportunity to learn about the Japanese culture in town. It is a calm oasis of green to relax and walk around surrounded by nature in the middle of the city.

As I drove in, I immediately knew that this place was popular, since the parking lot was full. Luckily, I found a parking spot and bought my ticket at the entrance. When buying a ticket, you have the option to buy a bag of feed for the koi fish for an extra dollar. I bought one, and while visiting, I watched the koi fish fight for the food.

Koi fish gathering for food
Koi fish gathering for food

Visiting the Japanese Friendship Garden

The garden is small but sweet, featuring a pond filled with koi and ducks. It was a busy weekend, with lots of children playing around. As I walked around, watching all the activities, I realized that I was visiting on a Japanese holiday, the traditional Children’s Day of the country.

Different workshops and events went on throughout the week, and on this day, students of the Japanese culture were playing the drums. Other activities were also set up around the garden, including Japanese games, toys, and live music.

Hina Dolls

The first activity I noticed walking in was the Japanese toys and games area. I noticed some Hina Dolls displayed, and I stopped to learn about them. I didn’t know until then, but they only set out these dolls when a family has a daughter.Hina Dollsusually come in a set and families pass them down for many generations.

In Japan, they usually display the dolls on a special day calledHinamatsuri, meaning Doll’s Day or Girl’s Day, usually on March 3rd. On this day families display theHina Dollson a platform on a red carpet. The dolls represent the Empress and Emperor, attendants, and musicians, all wearing elaborate, colorful costumes of the Heian Period.

At the Japanese Friendship Garden, they had a Hina doll making workshop set up, where volunteers helped visiting young girls make these dolls.

Making Hina Dolls at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix
Making Hina Dolls


Another Japanese tradition, theKoinobori, was set up near the doll-making area. Many Koinobori or “carp streamers” hung on the surrounding trees. When blown in the wind, they inflate and look like the fish swimming through the air. These carp-shaped streamers celebrate the Japanese Children’s Day. Called Tengo No Sekku, it is now a national holiday.

During my visit to the Friendship Garden I learned that in Japanese culture, koi fish represent good fortune or luck, while in Buddhism they symbolize courage.

In China, koi fish can transform into dragons. According to a Chinese legend I learned about in the Friendship Garden, if a koi fish swimming up the Yellow River succeeded in the quest of reaching a point called Dragon Gate, it would transform into a magnificent dragon.

In Japan the streamers symbolize children. In May and June, people across Japan hang up these streamers symbolizing children near the holiday. Since children are the future, the colorful streamers represent children growing into healthy and successful adults.

Koinobori in the Phoenix Janapese Friendship Garden

A Friendship Quilt

As I continued to walk through the garden, I saw a displayed quilt was hung up between two trees. I learned that it was made by school children. Each student had their own square material, where they could write any Japanese symbol that meant something to them. Their squares were then stitched together to make one big quilt. It was nice to see, and it reminded me of doing activities like that when I was young.

Friendship Quilt at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix
Friendship Quilt


In the garden, there is a metal fish statue calledShachi.Shachiwas a mythological fish from Japanese folklore, with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp who could bring rainfall, spray water and splash waves.

People in Japan use their representations as charms to fight against disasters like fires. Starting in the 15th century, they also build architectural designs based on this mythological fish and placed them on rooftops of castles and temples. Besides warding off fires, they also symbolized dignity.

Shachi statue in the Japanese Friendship Garden Phoenix
Shachi statue

Feeding the Koi Fish

As I mentioned before, a lot of koi fish live in the Japanese Friendship Garden pond. As I walked around the pond, there were benches and nice spots in the shade to rest and look at the beautiful view. The koi fish swam around, searching for people who had the bags of food to feed them.

As soon as I dropped in a small food pellet, they rushed over and aggressively competed to gulp down the food, climbing on each other, opening their mouths wider to catch the pellet. Watching them, it seemed like they were starving, though I could see they had more than enough food for all, people feeding them in different parts of the pond. It was funny to watch them fight for the food, causing splashes in the water. At one point, even a duck joined in, making the fight for food even more entertaining.

Feeding the koi fish at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix
Feeding the Koi fish at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix

Each fish had a unique color. Some were bright orange, others white, yellow or black, but most were a mixture of all these colors. As they swam, I noticed that the way they moved reminded me of the movements of Chinese dragons in myths. They waded through the water gracefully, gliding side to side, and I could see how the Chinese legend of the koi fish turning into a dragon originated. They look like underwater dragons with their smooth movements. (At least when they’re not competing for food).

Drums in the Garden and other Activities

I walked over to the tent where they were playing the drums. Most of the players looked like young students, and I enjoyed seeing them playing the drums in a Japanese melody. Even though drums make powerful sounds, at one point, they grabbed plastic looking tubes and hit them on the side of the drums, which created a more gentle sound.

Playing the Japanese drums in the Friendship Garden in Phoenix
Playing the Japanese drums

Other activities around the garden included face painting, calligraphy, and sand rakes. In the calligraphy station, you could watch as someone painted a symbol of your choosing. The sand rakes were little boxes of sand setup on tables. You could walk up to a box, and scrape whatever you wanted into the sand with a small rake. I’d seen these once before, in gift shops, and I remember learning they were used as a calming mechanism.

Learning about the Japanese Culture in Phoenix

Although there were quite a few people in the garden, I can see how serene and respectful Japanese culture is. I felt very welcomed, and I noticed a nice atmosphere. There was a small waterfall and little creeks here and there. I sat for a while and just took in the lovely view.

I enjoyed the Japanese Friendship Garden. It was smaller than I imagined it to be, but that didn’t make it any less wonderful. It was a great learning experience, and I had a good time walking around, sitting on the bench, watching the live performance, and reading and learning about the holidays, rituals, and legends.

Learning about Japanese culture in Phoenix
The visit was an opportunity to learn about Japanese culture in Phoenix

Feeding the koi fish was a plus, theShachistatue was pretty, and the waterfall and wonderful patch of nature in the heart of downtown Phoenix was refreshing.

It’s great to immerse yourself in different cultures. Though I usually do it while traveling, this time I enjoyed learning more about the Japanese culture in my home town, in Phoenix.

Japanese-Friendship-Garden - Phoenix, AZ

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