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Finding Minnesota: Bloomington’s Japanese Garden

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77654_Mike Binkley WEB Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 ye...
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By Mike Binkley, WCCO-TV

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — Each week, we like to reveal hidden gems in Minnesota that you might not have visited. For example, did you know there’s an authentic Japanese garden in Bloomington?

It’s a quiet little oasis on a two-acre plot next to Normandale Community College.

“I wander around and I find myself just completely allowing nature to kind of encapture me,” said Bernie Bryant, the chair of the Japanese Garden committee.

You’ll find lanterns, a waterfall, and koi in the pond — elements that are all common to a Japanese garden. But the history of this garden is uniquely Minnesotan.

It started in the 1960s when garden club members like Bunnie Aaze and Yvonne Bublitz went on a tree-planting campaign.

“We had entered a Sears Roebuck beautification contest,” said Bublitz, “and the Bloomington Garden Clubs won $500.”

They wanted to put their winnings toward a Japanese garden in the area where the community college was being built, but they knew they would need help.

Turns out, there was a group of men looking for a project just like this. They were past members of the Military Intelligence Service Language School.

You see, decades earlier, after Pearl Harbor, many Japanese-Americans had been sent to internment camps, especially on the west coast. But Frank Yanari and others had found a warmer welcome here, as they helped the United States with military intelligence and translation.

“They were treated very kindly during a difficult time,” said Yanari’s daughter, Gail Wong, “and they wanted to leave a remembrance here to the people of Minnesota, to thank them.”

The group’s fundraising helped pay for a bentendo, and the drum bridge that leads to it.

A nearby plaque reads, “We, the Japanese American veterans of the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service Language School, dedicate this bentendo and bridge to the people of the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota for the kind treatment we received while we were stationed here during World War II. 1942-1946.”

Yanari’s daughter, a General Mills executive, now serves on the Japanese Garden committee.

“I really feel his presence when I walk through here in the garden,” she said, “and it’s a beautiful place to remember him by.”

The garden was dedicated in 1976, but many people are still surprised when they stumble upon it for the first time.

“Well, there are even college students that didn’t know there was a garden out here,” said Shirley Huskins, who helps host sukiyaki dinners to raise money for the garden.

Aaze and Bublitz have put decades of work into the garden, they have grown to enjoy the startled looks from visitors.

“When they come here, they just can’t believe that this is even here,” said Aaze. “And ‘My gosh, I didn’t know about it.’ And I think that’s the hardest thing for us to understand, because it’s so beautiful.”

The garden is maintained through a partnership with Normandale Community College, and it’s free to the public.

Fundraisers and weddings help pay for the upkeep.

In fact, Minnesota Bride magazine named it one of the great places to get married in a garden setting in the Twin Cities.

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