Ozark Outdoors

Japanese Festival brings out the Sister Cities spirit in all of us

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In a year of remarkable anniversaries, the 20th Japanese Fall Festival is scheduled for Friday through Sunday, Sept. 11-13, in the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden in Springfield. This is the 30th anniversary of the oldest garden, recently ranked by TripAdvisor.com as the number one visitor destination in Springfield.

The three-day festival runs from 5-10 p.m. Friday night; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7/adult; $3/ kids 3-12; toddlers age 2 and younger are free. Weekend passes may be purchased at the gate for $12/adult; $5/kids.

The 2015 Japanese Fall Festival Poster celebrates the 20th year of the event first staged in 1995, as well as the Japanese Stroll Garden's founding in 1985.

The 2015 Japanese Fall Festival Poster celebrates the 20th year of the event first staged in 1995, as well as the Japanese Stroll Garden’s founding in 1985.

The Springfield Sister Cities Association has organized a remarkable line-up of performers, including a delegation from Isesaki, members of the Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York, a Lion Dancer and Japanese folk dancers, Osuwa Taiko,  Hiroshi Tada, the local group Kizuna, along with other local performers and artisans. Tea ceremonies and the traditional tea café, along with Japanese food and concessions from Hy-Vee, the souvenir tent, a hands-on craft and art tent, and and the children’s activity area sponsored by Kickapoo Japan Club. The Springfield Botanical Gardens are located at 2400 S. Scenic.

This year’s festival includes a delegation of artists and performers from Springfield’s sister city of Isesaki, Japan, a Lion Dancer and Japanese folk dancers, Taiko drumming, Japanese top spinning, martial arts and a wide array of other activities and local performances.

The festival also includes daily tea ceremonies in the lakeside teahouse along with a tea café, nightly candlelight strolls through the garden, local performers, Japanese food, and regional artisans and merchants. A large tent-top market offers Japanese souvenirs and apparel, with all proceeds benefiting the Springfield Sister Cities Association and the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden.

The founding Botanical Society designed many of the plantings and landscaping in the central area of the garden and other areas. Back then, the main entrance was through a stylish gate opening into the Zen Garden on the south side of the 7.5 acres. With heavy lifting by the garden Parks Department staff, Don and Nancy Schmidt have painstakingly restored and updated the stroll garden, raising funds to replace a pump that keeps the ponds circulating, adding lanterns, replacing overgrown plants and adding new plants and features.

2010 Japanese Fall Festival

Yuriko Mizumoto, the first Japanese war bridge allowed to immigrate to the U.S., is the namesake of the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden. Springfield Sister Cities will host the 20th Japanese Fall Festival on Sept. 11-13. The stroll gardens are the oldest garden in what is now referred to as the Springfield Botanical Gardens, 2400 South Scenic.

An extraordinary friend of the gardens immediately comes to mind. The garden’s namesake, Yuriko Mizumoto Scott, born in Yokohama, Japan, came to the United States in 1950 as the first war bride after World War II, and moved to the Ozarks in 1951. Having grown up in Nakanegishi, a suburb of Yokohama, Japan, she remembers talking with Gen. Douglas MacArthur while she and her young girlfriends were playing basketball. As a young woman in s941, she went to work in a bank to help fill the void in the work force left by those who joined the military.

She remembers many details from the war, and learning to speak English by reading hymnals and the Bible at the Kaigan Presbyterian Church. The Mizumoto home became a center for Bible studies after many in the neighborhoods converted to Christianity. She met Sgt. Benjamin Scott at the GI Gospel Hour at the church, and they married in 1950. The couple returned to his home state, a time when Japanese brides could not come to the U.S. It took special legislation introduced by Rep. John Key of West Virginia, which was signed by President Harry Truman in December 1950, allowing Mrs. Mizumoto and other wives to immigrate to the states. From 1951-1971, the Scotts raised three sons in Springfield. From 1969-1993, she worked as at Licensed Practical Nurse at what is now Mercy Hospital.

She and Ben moved to a farm near Elkland in 1971. Although Ben died in 2002, she still lives on the farm and remains a passionate supporter of the gardens.

“This is my home. I have lived here so long, and I’m involved with a lot of church activities,” she explains. “I enjoy sharing my culture with visitors to the Mizumoto Japanese Garden.”

The Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden began as a cooperative effort 30 years ago between the Springfield/Greene County Parks Department and what was then the Botanical Society of Southwest Missouri (now incorporated into Friends of the Garden), and now is part of the 114-acre Springfield Botanical Gardens, which includes Nathanael Greene Park and the Close Memorial Gardens.

Assistance in park development was received from Springfield’s Japanese Sister City of Isesaki, Japan. In 1990, members of the Isesaki Garden Association designed and installed the small dry bed that is located by the Moon Bridge. The Moon Bridge and Tea House are replicas of the bridge and tea house found in the Japanese Garden in Fort Worth, Texas. The bridge was built in Louisiana of cypress. Tile for the roof came from Japan. The ponds were stocked with Japanese Koi that were only found in the Imperial Garden of Japan until after the end of World War II. Koi means “brocaded carp.”

Expansion of the Meditative Garden was completed 2011, along with numerous other garden projects. Admission is $3; and free for children ages 12 and younger and members of Friends of the Garden. Fish food is available for sale.
Funds for the purchase of plants, the construction of the Moon Bridge, Tea House, Bonsai Shelter, Moon Viewing Deck, Meditation Garden, Entrance gate, Water Garden and the purchase of the 13-level carved stone tower were raised by the Botanical Society from many sources that include the Missouri Department of Conservation, Springfield Area Garden Clubs, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, the Close Foundation, the Springfield Water Garden Society and members of the Botanical Society through their dues. And, of course, Yuriko Mizumoto Scott.

Visitors to the garden will discover a 10-ton Alaskan Jade Rock brought to Springfield by the late Joe Green, who hired a specially reinforced plane to transport the boulder to Seattle and then to Springfield by train. On several occasions, Japanese gardeners from Isesaki have worked extensively in the stroll garden to help refine the design and prune plantings.

The festival opening ceremonies begin Friday night, Sept. 11, with special events for students in kindergarten through fifth grade in Springfield. For information about the festival, events and hours of operation, visit the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden on Facebook.


Highlights of the festival include:

  • Friday night opening ceremonies with hundreds of local Kindergarten-through-fifth grade students, who were invited as ambassadors to represent their classes from every Springfield public elementary school.
  • A traditional Lion Dancer, performing in an ornate costume, as well as Japanese folk dancers from the Japanese Folk Institute of New York.
  • Osuwa Taiko Drummers, from St. Louis- more at www.stltaiko.org.
  • A visiting Isesaki, Japan delegation of performers and artists.
  • Traditional Japanese top spinner Hiroshi Tada.
  • Kizuna, a Springfield-based Japanese cultural club, leading participatory dances, tea ceremonies and tea café.
  • Local martial arts groups.
  • Local band DUkes: Drury University Ukulele Club, currently performing at the Isesaki Summer Festival in Isesaki, Japan.
  • Hands-on kids’ activities from the Kickapoo High School Japanese Club, including chop sticks instruction, face painting, origami, and Japanese-style yo-yos.
  • A special Japanese arts tent.

Volunteers and vendors are still needed. For information, visit peacethroughpeople.org.

– Compiled by George Freeman


George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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