Japanese garden supporters aim to start a new tradition

by Mike Hanks

SUN Current


The sukiyaki may be a thing of the past, but the spirit of an annual Japanese dinner is being revived this summer at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.

The Normandale Japanese Garden Committee, caretakers of the two-acre showpiece on the college campus, is creating a new festival to replace the 27-year fundraising event that went on hiatus seven years ago, according to TJ Hara, a 1996 Osseo Senior High graduate, the committee’s secretary and organizer of the inaugural Japanese Garden Festival. The festival, which will include entertainment, is noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 14, at the college, 9700 France Ave. S.

The longtime sukiyaki dinner was created as a fundraiser to help fund maintenance of and improvements to the garden, which was conceived in the late 1960s as a project of the Bloomington Affiliated Garden Clubs. Groundbreaking for the project occurred in 1972 and the garden was dedicated in 1976. The transformation of swampland at the campus to a Japanese garden requires ongoing maintenance, and the dinner helped fund those costs, Hara explained.

The dinner went on hiatus seven years ago as the college began a series of renovations, including the remodeling of the student center, which was the gathering area for the annual meal, according to Hara.

“It was a pretty popular event,” he noted.

What started as a one-year hiatus soon extended several years. Changes in campus regulations no longer permit the organization to bring in volunteers and cook its Japanese beef stew in a campus kitchen, so the committee opted to expand on the entertainment portion of its dinners of yesteryear for its inaugural festival, according to Hara.

The festival will showcase the performing and martial arts. The Kogen Taiko drummers, Sansei-Yonsei Kai dancers, Thunder Wave Japanese dancers and shakuhachi flute player Leo Hansen are among the festival’s artistic performers. Japanese sword and archery demonstrations are also planned, Hara noted. He wants the new festival to be “a good event for people who are interested in Japanese culture.”

The festival is also expected to coincide with the release of a book chronicling the garden’s history, in words and pictures. “Normandale Japanese Garden Celebrating a Dream” was the brainchild of garden supporters past and present. In seeking an author and publisher they found Dave Kenney, whose published works include books about Minnesota during World War II and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. With Kenney as the author, Nodin Press of Minneapolis signed on to publish it. The book is expected to be ready in early June, in time for sales during the festival, according to Hara.

The book features a variety of pictures of the garden through the years and contains stories about the garden’s creation and development, which Hara’s grandmother Kimi had a role as a founding member of the garden committee. Because of his grandmother’s involvement in the committee, Hara attended many of the events associated with the garden as he was growing up, leading to his role as a member of the committee today.

Proceeds from the festival will benefit the annual maintenance costs of the garden, such as replacing trees, repairing shelter roofs and mending the stream and pond embankments.

Tickets for the festival are $6 in advance and $8 at the door. Children 12 and younger are free.

Information about the garden is available online at bit.ly/ngarden and bit.ly/ngarden2.

Volunteers interested in helping with the festival may contact Hara at tjhara@q.com.


Contact Mike Hanks at mike.hanks@ecm-inc.com