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Tucson's Yume Japanese Gardens hopes for COVID recovery with spring events

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Tucson's Yume Japanese Gardens hopes for COVID recovery with spring events

  • An Ikebana flower arrangement
    Yume Japanese GardensAn Ikebana flower arrangement
  • The Yume Gardens lit by lanterns and candles during an evening event
    Yume Japanese GardensThe Yume Gardens lit by lanterns and candles during an evening event

The Yume Gardens will start their spring events this month as the Japanese culture center continues their recovery from the pandemic. Keeping the garden afloat will be more difficult this year, founder Patricia Deridder said, but she’s excited about the slate of performances, art exhibits and special nights at the Midtown garden.

Yume, which means “dream” in Japanese, is fashioned in a 1927 residential architectural style called Sukiya that favors short houses and sliding doors. It’s been tucked away on the west side of Alvernon Way near the Tucson Botanical Gardens for almost a decade and offers classes and access to the garden, museum and gallery throughout the week.

The museum, which includes kimonos and Japanese vases, opened earlier in the month after being closed for most of the past two years. The garden, which is three-quarters of an acre in size, was built to be “intimate” with small spaces, which made it hard to keep open during the pandemic, Deridder said, but now the event calendar and visiting hours are returning to normal.

The Yume Gardens and its exhibits are open Thursdays - Saturdays 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and Sundays 12 p.m. - 5 p.m. They’re closed Mondays -Wednesdays. They also close for five months between May and October because few visitors come during the summer, Deridder said.

Deridder teaches Ikebana, the Japanese art of floral arrangements, both online and in-person at the gardens. Individual classes are also offered, and in-person classes are outdoors. She tries to use vegetation native to the Sonoran Desert such as Palo Verde branches, “any spring flowers we can get our hands on,” Derrider said, and mums in the fall.

The garden also offers a therapeutic program designed to aid support groups for stroke and cancer survivors, veterans and domestic violence victims and help treat depression and PTSD.

Yume's closure during the pandemic helped the garden qualify for COVID recovery grants from the Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona, the city of Tucson and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. This year will be “more difficult,” Deridder said, without access to those grants now that they’re open and without the same stream of visitors that came before the pandemic.

“The public is still not coming in troves, so this year is probably going to be more difficult than the other two years,” Derrider said. They have had community support throughout the pandemic, however, including through donations to rebuild their front gate that was taken down by a drunk driver.

“We were very grateful,” she said. “Tucson came through for us.”

Spring in the garden

Visitors love Ikebana, Deridder said, so there’s excitement about the Spring Ikebana Festival. The 550-year-old meditative practice includes trimming flowers and tree branches and standing them in styles that reflect balance and harmony with nature. Ikebana floral arrangements in crafted vases will be on display for the festival from Feb. 24 - March 6.

The Yume Gardens has a collection of more than 200 Japanese Ikebana flower vases in its museum, mostly handmade by Japanese artists from bamboo, bronze, ceramics, lacquer, clay and glass. It’s the largest collection of vases in the U.S. and many are more than a century old. Ikebana includes using only a few flowers and having them clipped to stand lower than tree branches like they do in nature. The practice of Ikebana arose from floral arrangements made for Buddhist temples in sixth century Japan.

Interactive programs like teaching Kyudo, the Japanese art of archery, stopped during the pandemic but are back during the “Evenings at Yume” program Feb. 17-19, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. An instructor from AZ Kyudo Kai, which teaches the martial art in Tucson, will give hands-on lessons with a six-foot bow.

The three-night “Evening at Yume'' program will also have Ikebana arrangements on display in their illuminated garden, and the nighttime lighting will come from lanterns and candles.

The CPG, a U.S.-Japan partnership group, is helping the gardens host “A Samurai Night at the Garden,” a new event. The Japan Foundation LA will present a 40-minute interactive samurai show and teach samurai basics sword handling and manners of speaking. It's scheduled for March 26, 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. and will end with a screening of a 2014 documentary called “Uzumasa Limelight” about an actor that specializes in being killed in samurai movies. It will be shown in Japanese with English subtitles, and both the screening and live samurai show will be outdoors.

The garden will also host a puppet show based on the Japanese folktale “​​Issun-Bōshi” or “Little One-Inch” on March 5 at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The award-winning Tucson puppeteer Lisa Aimee Sturz and her Red Herring Puppet group will perform the centuries-old tale, which follows a one-inch tall man who believes he’s a samurai. Sturz has puppeteered in theater, film and TV for almost 40 years, but this will be the garden’s first showing of the “​​Issun-Bōshi” puppet show, which Sturz adapted herself.

A full moon will set the scene on March 17-19 for the a music and art event called  “Music of Dreams.” It will feature the Shakuhachi, a Japanese wooden flute used in Zen Buddhist meditation. There will also be a photo exhibit, and visitors will be able to walk along the garden by lanterns and candle light from 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm.

The photos on exhibit at the “Music of Dreams” show the moon in different phases and from an exhibit called "Moon Song" by artist Kate Breakey. The Yume Gardens museum also has an exhibit of Breakey's work called “Photograms” that will run until March 30. Photograms — made by placing objects on light sensitive paper, then using light to print a negative shadow on the paper — often capture organisms such as plants, insects and animals. The exhibition also has orotones, or photographs printed on the back of glass and gilded with gold-leaf. It comes from an early 20th century photographic process that’s similar to the older Japanese Maki-e, or gold lacquering.

The “grand finale of the spring,” Deridder said, will be a three-night run of a butoh performance of “The Rite of Spring.” Butoh is a Japanese style of dance theater with improvisational elements that's known for the white face and body paint its performers often use. Dancers from Funhouse movement theater, a frequent performer at the gardens, will use butoh style and techniques to deliver the Russian ballet while spread out around the garden. It will run from April 7-9, 6:15 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

Derrider described butoh plays as “very eerie and very slow and mesmerizing.” She also said that they’re lucky to have quality performers, saying “you could take this to New York, and it would be a really nice performance.”

Many of the spring programs and events take place outside and have limited tickets available to prevent large groups. Derrieder is hopeful ticket sales and other revenue come back to normal, she said, but that she’s careful about observing COVID safety.

Visitors can’t walk through the garden as it's just meant for viewing, but it has a pathway along its sides. There are benches along the path to allow visitors to sit and enjoy the garden and its coy pond.

The Yume Gardens is much smaller most American botanical gardens, parks or private estates, Derrider said, including the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix, which is four acres. The garden is meant to resemble what people had in their homes 400 years ago in Kyoto, when small gardens meant only for viewing were built inside houses like atriums. Tucson is lucky to have this, Derrider said, and few know about it.

“Tucson doesn’t know how lucky they are…we are the only people that present those kinds of gardens,” she said. “They’re not that different from the big gardens, but, still, it’s a little more homey. It gives you a lot of peace and tranquility.”

Bennito L. Kelty is’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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