I have big dreams of traveling the world and visiting exotic locations all around the globe. However my travel budget doesn’t quite meet that goal, yet! So when I read about the Japanese Fall Festival being held in Springfield Missouri this past weekend it sounded like a great opportunity to experience the Far East while remaining in the Ozarks.
First of all, I am somewhat embarrassed that I had never heard of the Japanese gardens or the festival prior to this year. When the Mizumoto Stroll Garden was established in 1985 I was actually living in Springfield. Just goes to show you that you never know what adventures can be found in your own back yard.
The Festival is a 3 day event that is done in collaboration with Springfield’s sister city in Isesaki, Gunma Japan. A little fun fact for you, Springfield actually has 2 sister cities. One in Japan and the second is Tlaquepaque Mexico. It would be awesome if we could squeeze in a day trip there when we are in Puerto Vallarta next month!
But back to Japan. Or probably as close as I’ll ever get at least! The Mizumoto Stroll Garden is a tranquil little piece of heaven in Springfield. It is a stones throw from the Federal Medical Center, kinda scary, but you would never know it by the peaceful atmosphere and beautiful scenery.
The first thing we did when entering the gardens was bypass the stage area and headed instead to explore the gardens. There were hundreds of people visiting for the festival but it somehow didn’t detract from the calm beauty around us. Picturesque is the perfect description of the surroundings we enjoyed. And we definitely took advantage of the numerous photo opportunities!
There were vendors selling bonsai trees, clay pots and various other Japanese wares. This is a very family oriented event with lots of activities for children including traditional Japanese crafts and games. This was also a very pet friendly event with lots of four legged visitors on leashes and even in strollers!
We were looking forward to trying some Japanese food while there but only saw one food truck with Japanese cuisine, the others had pulled pork and hot dogs. This is southwest Missouri for sure!
We were, however, excited to try some traditional Japanese tea. The festival included an authentic Japanese tea ceremony in the Tea House on the property as well as Cafe Matcha, a casual outdoor tea cafe. We opted for the cafe and were served matcha green tea by little girls dressed in kimonos.
The presentation of the tea was beautiful and our servers were so cute. However the tea itself must be an acquired taste. The best way I know how to describe the flavor is to just imagine you are mowing your lawn and a piece of grass gets in your mouth. I bet cows would love it!
Continuing on our stroll through the gardens we finally made our way to the stage area. There were events occurring throughout the day. There were live martial arts demonstrations, traditional Japanese music and and Japanese calligraphy artists.
We followed the sounds of drum beats to our seats where we watched traditional Japanese drumming routines. St. Louis Osuwa Taiko was formed by Japanese Grandmaster Daihachi Oguchi in 1986 in St. Louis Missouri with a donation of handmade drums. The troupe has grown over the years and helps to share Japanese culture through their lively music.
Next for our viewing pleasure was Karin Amano. Though she has performed all over the United States, including New York off-off Broadway and Disneyland, she is originally from Japan. She uses traditional Japanese folk tales and songs to entertain the crowd with humor and a lot of audience interaction.
The main event that night, however, was a local favorite. Shoji Tabuchi is a Japanese violinist who has had a show in nearby Branson Missouri for 29 years. Again, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say I had never seen his show so I was especially excited to see him perform.
In typical Branson style he and his daughter entertained the audience with music and dancing with a Japanese twist. The fact that the show was free with cost of admission to the festival was an added bonus! Branson isn’t called the Live Music Capitol of the World for nothing because they were great!
After being thoroughly entertained we set out to stroll the garden paths again, but this time it was a completely different experience. The candlelight walk began at dusk with hundreds of torches and candles illuminating the gardens and guiding you along the way. It was absolutely beautiful, plus was a great way to get my steps in for the day!
Our day at the Japanese Fall Festival was a great way to experience Japan while still staying close to home. We will definitely keep the gardens in mind for future outings and recommend them to everyone. The most important part, however, was spending the day with my sweetheart as we keep collecting memories as we go.