FX Excursions

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Explore Japanese Culture in Palm Beach County, Florida

by Ron Bernthal

Feb 5, 2024

© Courtesy of Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Daily

Known officially as “Florida’s Cultural Capital,” Palm Beach County has many museums, art galleries, musical events, a diverse population, and a deep and historical connection to Japan.  While many visitors head for the area’s 47 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline or to one of the county’s 160 golf courses, Palm Beach County also offers a multitude of cultural venues inspired by Japanese settlers who arrived in South Florida during the early 20th century.

historical photo

© Boca Raton Historical Society

The connection between Japan and The Palm Beaches stems from the establishment of the Yamato Colony in 1904, originally located in what is today part of northeast Boca Raton. Led by Jo Sakai, an early Colony resident, a small group of about 15 young Japanese farmers grew vegetables and fruit on their 40-acre plot and prospered as the population of sSouth Florida began to attract new residents from the Northeast.

Kamiya

© Boca Raton Historical Society

The Yamato pioneers eventually purchased other businesses in the area, but one of the original settlers, Sukeji “George” Morikami, donated some of his land to Palm Beach County in the 1970s to create what would become Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, a center for Japanese arts and culture in South Florida. The only museum in the United States dedicated to Japanese culture, Morikami offers more than 7,000 Japanese art objects and artifacts, including the 16 acres surrounding Morikami’s two museum buildings with expansive Japanese gardens, a world-class bonsai collection, and lakes filled with koi and other wildlife. Morikami’s outdoor Cornell Café offers Japanese bento boxes and pan-Asian cuisine.

A groundbreaking exhibition of jewelry designer Maeda Asagi, called Stories on the Planet,  displays 50 pieces in Morikami’s gallery. Asagi engraves and paints her works with thoughtful narratives about family and society. The exhibition is open through April 2.

Palm Beach

© Courtesy of Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Palm Beach County continues to celebrate its Japanese culture in various ways in cities throughout the county. At West Palm Beach’s Mounts Botanical Garden, Palm Beach County’s oldest and largest botanical garden, display gardens contain more than 7,000 species of tropical and subtropical plants. The venue showcases the Japanese art form of origami with the monumental outdoor sculpture exhibition Origami in the Garden, open through May 12, featuring a display of large-scale, metal origami sculptures throughout the 20-acre tropical oasis. The outdoor exhibit features origami from artists Jennifer and Kevin Box. The origami exhibition features not only their compositions, but also collaborations with world-renowned origami artists Robert J. Lang, Te Jui Fu, Beth Johnson and Michael G. LaFosse.

Also at Mounts Botanical Garden is the Shibori Indigo Workshop, offered year-round and providing visitors the opportunity to learn the Japanese technique of manual “resist-dyeing” used to make patterns on fabrics. Visitors learn various shibori techniques and get a chance to make their own shibori creation featuring the stunning indigo color found in Japanese textiles.

Palm Beach

© Courtesy of Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

The Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum in Boca Raton is home of the Boca Raton Historical Society, founded in 1972 as a private, non-profit member organization located in the city’s former Town Hall, built in 1926. The permanent exhibit in the Pioneer Room describes in detail the story of how a small group of Japanese settlers organized Yamato Colony in 1904 and established Japanese culture in Palm Beach County, which has continued to flourish under the county’s sun-splashed palm trees.

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