Deep in the midst of central Phoenix lies a beautiful hidden garden. This Japanese inspired masterpiece shows a deep green forest mixed with Japanese architecture and in the middle, a giant lake filled with koi.
Every few months, the Japanese Friendship Garden Association hosts a festival in their garden where everyone in Phoenix can come in and enjoy food, atmosphere and entertainment. These little festivals usually happen in the cooler months around October and March where it’s ok to wear shorts and not suffer from the heat. The mixture of green, the water and the afternoon makes the ambiance very enjoyable.
It costs about $25 dollars online ($30 at the door) to get in the festival. This isn’t very cheap but I have to say, if it’s your first time here, it’s worth it.
There are many booths scattered around the garden but it is good to know that the booths the Japanese Friendship Garden promotes here are local and very high quality products. There are high quality wooden masks, beautiful paintings, and carefully crafted silk kimono accessories. Each of these items are a big price but you are supporting a great cause buying them.
There are about four stages of entertainment in the garden, the “main stage” which is centered around the southernmost area facing the lake, the secondary stage, located in the side, the small tea house located in the Far East and the bridge which is good for shows that light up the night.
In the small tea house, they have these authentic tea ceremonies people can experience. We went there in the Winter but they were completely booked this time. The tea ceremony is $5.00 but includes a cup of pure matcha, a piece of dango, and a bucket of cultural appreciation.
Performances come and go throughout the day and range from acoustic guitars to Taiko drums, to unique Japanese instruments. There is also painting and fire dancing to go along with it.
The main performances came at the end with Ken Koshio, a very popular Japanese Taiko rock star, entertaining us half-naked banging on drums. The beat was eccentric and powerful as the drummers banged rhythmically to produce noise.
The grand finally took place on the center bridge as the fire dancers took on stage. I wish I could have taken a better photo, so I’m going to borrow one of the Facebook ones. In this performance, two women wearing pure white gowns danced with sticks of fire in their hands. They waved, juggled and flaunted their sticks. However, once they started drinking a strange substance and started breathing fire, that’s when everyone went insane.
We talked to them after the show and they said their art was a mix of different cultures their art incorporated belly dancing, stick waving, and fire breathing into one complex art that takes years to train under. When asked what they were drinking for them to have the ability to drink fire, they wouldn’t tell us. But they did tell us that it was a type of oil…and it was toxic…
Unless you want to spend over $100 dollars for a single piece of item at the festival, you might want to head to the gift store located by the entrance. A lot of their stuff is souvenir related.
Most importantly, the people who sell their fine crafts aren’t really there to sell, but to talk and enjoy the festival. Of course it’s nice to sell, but sometimes it’s just better to expose their artwork to the world.
Of course, we ate a lot at the festival. There were two food trucks, snoh ice, high quality vodka, and a new edition of things I’ve never seen. Heaven and Earth Vegan catering service showed amazingly beautiful food they prepared specifically for Matsuri. Though we didn’t get the bento box, we had their dessert. It was interesting and creative.
Ramen- For $9.00 you get a decent bowl of ramen that didn’t really fill me up. The broth is pretty good but there’s not enough noodles. The topping sinclude egg, some red stuff, corn, and green onions.
Yakisoba- Not the best Yakisoba I’ve had. Was oddly flavored with probably too little oyster sauce.
Chicken Satay Combo- We got rice, a small salad skewers of chicken, some peanut sauce and pickled spicy cucumbers. I’ve had Satay hut before and their skewers are charred and juicy if you like that kind of thing. They have plenty of meat on them. The rice was average if a little overcooked and the salad was just a simple iceburg lettuce. The peanut sauce was very authentic with umami and peanut notes.
I decided to spend about $10.00 to get their desserts. From what they pitch, they are a healthy catering business that focuses on local, nutrient dense ingredients in their food. From what I’ve seen, their food is a work of art and for them to make such beautiful dishes with such healthy ingredients stuns me as a food scientist.
Kuzu Mochi – dusted with a type of peanut flour, the bite and chew reminds me of gelatinized starch. It has a bite and a gummy chew. The taste reminds me of peanut butter gummies.
Mitarashi Dango –the Dango tasted like fish balls without the fish which was extremely strange to me. They were not very sweet and tasted very neutral.
Yokan Treat – My favorite dish out of the three. These black blocks are compressed red bean pudding tasted sweet and natural.
If you ask nicely, you can get a small sample of this very chilled and smooth sake. I would say it’s even smoother than grey goose. This stuff isn’t cheap but it’s good for a sample. This will taste like water with a small whiff of sake. This stuff is imported from Japan and hand crafted. That’s some high quality stuff!
Shout out to Snoh for being there. I’ve been to your shop which I’ll review in the future.
Sure, you can go to the Japanese Friendship Garden any time you want, but going to their scheduled events for $30.00 is worth it. You get a beautiful day, wonderful food and spectacular performances. Be sure to experience the sunset in the garden as you see the garden transform to scenic daytime to mysterious night time.
Just look at that view!