A Japanese Oasis

Hidden just under your nose as one of the Central Valley’s best-kept secrets is the Shinzen Friendship Garden in Fresno’s Woodward Park.

By Will Freeney | memo247365@gmail.com

Have you ever thought it would be nice to get away, to find beauty and serenity that takes you outside the mundane surroundings and events of your daily life in Fresno? Sure, we are blessed with the majesty of the Sierras nearby – in Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, and Yosemite. Yes, the lulling rhythm of waves breaking gently on sandy shores can be enjoyed along the Central Coast just a few short hours away. What if you really need a getaway, though, and don’t have hours or days to get to your getaway? What if you are sated with the Sierras and the coast and really desire something more exotic?
The answer could be as close as Woodward Park. Tucked away in the center of the park, easily overlooked if you drive through on your way to one of the many other features of the park, lies Shinzen Friendship Garden – an oasis of elegant natural beauty. Japanese gardens offer a very different form of landscape enhancement than, say, traditional English gardens. The controlling principle in Japanese gardens is beauty and serenity as opposed to the order and uniformity of English gardens. The result is a pocket of tranquility, a place to relax while treating the eyes to a wide array of botanical wonders and enhanced landscape features.

Shinzen Friendship Garden offers all of this, and its origins lie in the pursuit of that central element of its name – friendship. Following World War II, many American cities fostered sister-city friendships with Japanese cities, and Fresno was one of them – choosing Kochi, Japan as its sister city. The most common translation of Shinzen is “goodwill,” which reinforces the emphasis on friendship. Shinzen literally means “before god,” which can indicate an altar or place of spiritual attention. Once there, you will see how the garden evokes that kind of serenity. The vision for the creation of Shinzen Friendship Garden was born in 1967 and fostered by the donation of land for Woodward Park by Ralph Woodward. The nascent concept was nurtured by the Woodward Park Japanese Development Committee, led by Ben Nakamura. The actual design of the park was accomplished by a succession of contributors – Kodo Matsubara, Paul Saito, and Shiro Nakagawa, with assistance from the City of Fresno. The garden itself reached maturity with its incorporation and dedication in 1981. A Board of Directors for the associated 501(c)3 oversees maintenance and management of services and programs.

In addition to the original features of the garden, the Clark Bonsai Collection has made its home in Shinzen Friendship Garden since autumn 2015. This collection of over 100 miniature trees is an amazing testament to the horticultural art of bonsai, but it is also a “living museum” offering lectures, training, and workshops in the pursuit of bonsai.

There is no better time than now to experience Shinzen Friendship Garden. It is springtime when the garden’s year-round beauty is augmented by many fragrant and colorful blossoms. Springtime also marks the seasonal shift in the Friendship Garden’s hours of operation. From April 1st through September 30th, the garden is open not only on weekends and holidays (10 am – 7 pm) but also on weekdays Wednesday to Friday (10 am – 7 pm).

Lastly, but most importantly, the advent of Spring is marked by the celebration of the Spring Cultural Festival this April 15th from 10 am to 4 pm. Performances start at 11 am, with Koto (traditional Japanese stringed instrument) in the Tea House and Lusheng/Fashion Show/Dance in the Main Garden.

The performances continue in the main garden throughout the afternoon, with a varied assortment of regional dances, including Hula (Hawaiian), Khymer (Cambodian), Teocalli (Aztec), Polynesian, and Tounkara (Malinese). Simultaneously, there will be a Tea Presentation in the Tea House at noon, followed by an Ikebana (formal flower arrangement) presentation at 2pm.
In addition to expanded awareness of Japanese culture, visitors to Shinzen Friendship Garden during the Spring Blossom Festival this April can expand their knowledge of relatively recent history – McLane High School’s current Art Venture Project, “Gaman: Enduring the Seemingly Unbearable with Patience and Dignity — images and stories of the incarceration of Japanese-Americans at Manzanar” will be on exhibit throughout the day.

Should you become hungry in the midst of all this aural and visual stimulation, lunch will be available from 11 am to 2 pm, provided by Taste Catering. For those for whom no outing is complete without an opportunity to shop, the Spring Cultural Festival will be offering a wide array of unique and artful products from independent vendors: Contours in Clay, Fresno Gift Pic, Designs by Camille, North American Satsuki, Bonsai Center Naturals, Hilda Vandergriff, Wired Stone Creations, Chieko’s Art, Pastimes Pottery, Partners N Art, Beasley Ono Garden, Soaps N’ Stuff, and Lady Heather Soap Company.
So, mark your calendar. Dedicate your Saturday afternoon to experiencing new sights and sounds in an exquisitely exotic locale virtually in your own backyard. The cost of admission ($5 for adults, $1 for students, seniors, and children 4-14) plus parking ($5 per car, $3 for seniors) is well worth it. For that price, you can experience that alternative getaway and absorb new cultural experiences along with your serenity – and without the jet lag and expense of a trip to Japan.

If – as likely will be the case – you are charmed by the Shinzen Friendship Garden and stimulated by the abundance of cultural and historical education provided at the Spring Cultural Festival, you can look forward to more events later in the season.

The Toro Nagashi (Floating Lantern) Festival takes place late in the summer at the conclusion of Obon. Obon is a traditional Japanese celebration in which the souls of the ancestors are honored and are believed to return. Toro Nagashi, in which lanterns are set afloat on a nearby body of water, represents the return of the ancestors’ souls to the afterlife. The release of several hundred lit lanterns on Woodward Lake, in this case, will be both a solemn and joyful spectacle well worth experiencing in person and will be held at the Woodward Lake shore adjacent to the Shinzen Friendship Garden on August 11th.
Additional events this year include Art & Music in the Garden on May 5th. For upcoming details on these events and for comprehensive information about Shinzen Friendship Garden and the many opportunities for meaningful getaways that it offers, consult their website (www.shinzenjapanesegarden.org) or give them a call at (559) 840-1264.

Give Back for 2018

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

Charging through the holidays and finally making it out to the other side means we can finally take a breath and put our focus on the new year ahead. But what does that mean, exactly?

For each of us, that path looks a little different. There might be some similarities as we’ll all be looking for new ways to improve ourselves and the life we provide for our families in some way, but what we choose will ultimately be a culmination of experiences we survived throughout 2017.

It goes without saying that the nation has been hit with some unbelievable changes and more tragedies than we’d care to admit over the last year. The repeal of DACA and Net Neutrality, the natural disasters that seemed to hit in relentless stride, shootings, violent treatment of protesters… the list goes on. The world could use a little peace, and so could we. But pushing the entire planet into a monumental achievement like world peace is a little unlikely, instead, bringing some harmony into our own lives is a more feasible task.

But what if we could provide that sort of healing transformation for someone else?

Every year, we put the focus on ourselves or our immediate family, but if 2017 was proof of anything it was that we all need each other. Perhaps this year would be a good time to think about what we can do for one another, rather than only what we can do for ourselves.

Make it a personal challenge to connect with one cause, whether it’s donating your time, your efforts, or even some blood – look towards 2018 with a goal to uplift communities, both man, and animal-kind.

Below is a list of local organizations and charities throughout the Central Valley that make it their business to lend a helping hand to those in need.

Central California Blood Center – is committed to saving lives and improving patient care by providing a safe and abundant blood supply for the patients and families in the communities they serve. www.donateblood.org/donate-blood

Habitat For Humanity – They facilitate a partnership among families who demonstrate need, the ability to pay the mortgage, and a willingness to partner in the construction of their home. This partnership also engages community supporters who join the families in the home building process and provide both financial and in-kind support for building supplies and materials. www.habitatfresno.org/volunteer

Valley Animal Center – Nonprofit no-kill dog and cat adoption center. Their mission is to assist with and provide for the health and welfare of the animals that have been abused, mistreated, abandoned, and injured; to promote the bond between animals and people; and to instill an appreciation and respect for all living creatures with whom we share this earth. www.valleyanimal.org/volunteer

Central Valley Community Foundation – For more than fifty years the Central Valley Community Foundation has been a trusted partner in philanthropy in the Valley. Founded in 1966, they provide giving options for individuals, families, businesses and other foundations to invest in programs that address social and environmental needs. www.centralvalleycf.org

Yosemite Ridge at Camp Wawona Inc – The mission of Yosemite Ridge is to enrich the lives of children and families who have chronic or life-threatening illnesses by creating a camp experience that is memorable, exciting, fun, empowering, physically safe, and medically sound. www.guidestar.org/profile/20-1105731

Hinds Hospice – Here to help those living with a terminal condition, their caregivers and those who have lost a loved one. In addition to providing hospice care services in both the Hinds Hospice Home and in a patient’s own home environment, they also offer an extensive bereavement (grief) support program through the Center for Grief and Healing, specially trained pediatric hospice and skilled nursing teams, a perinatal hospice and infant loss support program, “Angel Babies/Bebitos Angelitos,” a formal physician education program, global outreach, and four thrift stores throughout the central valley. www.hindshospice.org

Alliance for Medical Outreach & Relief – a Community-based non-profit that strives to ensure equality. They build alliances with other organizations working in areas of concentrated poverty to create a safety-net of medical, social and youth development resources, tailored to the specific needs of each community they serve. www.amorelief.org

Valley Teen Ranch – their mission is to provide hope to vulnerable children, youth, and families through life-changing relationships and experiences. Programs include: Residential Group Home, Foster Family & Adoption Agency, and Transitional Living. www.valleyteenranch.org/volunteer

Angels of Grace Foster Family Agency – agency that provides a place of refuge and healing for foster children. A place where they can receive the nurturing and care that they need from professional social workers and trained foster parents. www.angelsofgrace.com

Break the Barriers – Celebrating awareness and victories of all abilities, ethnicities, and ages through exceptional programs, outreach, and inclusion education. With performances, assemblies, conferences workshops, and clinics, Break the Barriers will promote integrated sports, health and fitness, performing arts, and aquatics programs. www.breakthebarriers.com

San Joaquin Parkway & Conservation Trust – the mission is to preserve and restore San Joaquin River lands having ecological, scenic or historic significance, to educate the public on the need for stewardship, to research issues affecting the river, and to promote educational, recreational and agricultural uses consistent with the protection of the river’s resources. www.riverparkway.org

Catholic Charities – Catholic Charities Diocese of Fresno is a Community Benefit Organization serving the needs of those in crisis with sites in Fresno, Merced and Bakersfield. www.ccdof.org/volunteer

Reading and Beyond – goes where families are, offering holistic, research-based programs at multiple sites throughout Fresno and Madera Counties. www.readingandbeyond.org

United Way Fresno and Madera Counties – (UWFM) brings resources together to address the most urgent issues the community faces. Through unique partnerships and approaches, UWFM mobilizes resources beyond the dollars that are pledged through their fund-raising efforts. www.uwfm.org

Fresno Arts Council – “enrich people’s lives through the arts.” FAC sponsors, promotes and encourages the arts throughout the city and county of Fresno and acts as an umbrella for artists and art organizations from all cultures and disciplines through advocacy, education, programs and services. www.fresnoartscouncil.org

Marjaree Mason Center – provides emergency and longer-term Safe Housing, along with a wide variety of support services for victims of domestic violence in Fresno County. www.mmcenter.org

Comprehensive Youth Services – is dedicated to providing a full range of prevention, intervention, treatment and educational services to help abused and at-risk children and their families. www.cysfresno.org

Resources For Independence – Encouraging people with disabilities to be in control of their lives and live more independently through a diverse range of choices and opportunities. www.ricv.org

Fresno Barrios Unidos – goal is to provide young people with the skills and opportunities they need to thrive in their communities and give back. Their approach is holistic, culturally sensitive, and inclusive of all. Fresno Barrios Unidos transforms communities by empowering youth and families through advocacy, education, and wellness. www.fresnobarriosunidos.org

Rape Counseling Services of Fresno – The mission of RCS Fresno is to end rape and sexual violence and empower survivors while supporting safe, consensual relationships. www.rcsfresno.org

Youth Leadership Institute – builds communities where young people and their adult allies come together to create positive social change, to challenge and improve the society in which they live as it relates to educational and health inequities, substance abuse, predatory financial practices, public housing, youth voice, and many other issues. www.yli.org

Arc Fresno – Arc Fresno empowers individuals with developmental disabilities to attain greater independence by offering everyday life experiences in a supportive community. www.arcfresno.org

Kings Canyon Veterinary Foundation – mission is to provide the appropriate medical, surgical and preventative care for all veterinary patients presented regardless of the owner’s ability to pay reasonable charges for services. Limited only by available funds. www.kingscanyonveterinaryfoundation.com

UFW Foundation – The United Farm Workers Foundation’s mission is to open the doors of opportunity to working people and their communities. Goals are to Foster communities that engage immigrants as active and informed participants. Reform the immigration system to access legal status for immigrants, and a clear path to citizenship. Lead a national network of farmworker serving organizations to influence policy and expand services at the federal and local level. www.ufwfoundation.org

Valley Center for the Blind – assists blind and visually impaired persons in experiencing a more independent and opportunity-filled life. These efforts are achieved through specialized methods of training and education provided by our professional staff. www.valleycenterfortheblind.org

Stone Soup Fresno – to nurture leadership that will create positive change for Southeast Asian refugee families to move forward and find their voices and places in America. www.stonesoupfresno.org

Turning Point of Central Cal – The mission of Turning Point of Central California is to provide public benefit through helping people develop skills, motivation, and resources to become productive members of society; healthy in body, mind, and spirit. Reducing social problems through providing each program participant the opportunity to establish a healthy and productive life. www.tpocc.org

Cultiva La Salud – dedicated to creating health equity in the San Joaquin Valley by fostering changes in communities that support healthy eating and active living. Cultiva La Salud is among a growing number of programs in the nation who use a policy and environmental change approach to help community members gain access to healthy food, beverages and safe places to be physically active. This unique program is being carried out by diverse partners in eight counties of the Central Valley (Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare). www.cultivalasalud.org

West Fresno Family Resource Center – To empower and support the West Fresno community to achieve optimal health and well-being. Activities through education, outreach, counseling and advocacy in the areas of prenatal education, school readiness, health insurance access, diabetes and chronic disease management, mental health and workforce development support. www.wfresnofrc.org

Fresno Center for New Americans – provide services to the growing needs of Southeast Asian refugees (Cambodians, Hmong, Lao, and Vietnamese) in Fresno County. These immediate services included education, employment linking services, social integration, health education, and housing, Refugees from many parts of the world also accessed our services. Through our Russian speaking staff members and on-call workers, we have been able to provide services to Russian, Somalis, and Middle Eastern refugees. www.fresnocenter.com

The Discovery Center – Park and Museum on 5 Acres – educational history and science center offering children a hands-on learning experience to stimulate a passion, curiosity and wonder for the environment and physical sciences.  We deliver science successfully to thousands of children each year in a variety of ways, including field trips, camps, outreach, birthday parties and more. www.thediscoverycenter.net

Community Food Bank – is dedicated to ending hunger in the Central Valley. They provide food to more than 200 agencies in Fresno, Madera, Kings, Kern and Tulare Counties and serve over 280,000 people each month totaling over 38 million pounds of food. www.communityfoodbank.net

Community Action Partnership of Madera County – are committed to finding the ultimate solutions for poverty while working effectively with local officials, the private sector, and representatives from low-income target areas. Helping people, changing lives and making the community a better place to live by providing resources and services that inspire personal growth and independence. www.maderacap.org