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Mitsuko En : A Labor of Love

A magical Japanese garden begun 35 years
ago this spring by Stony Brook University Sociology
Professor Emeritus Andy C
ollver for his wife, Mitsuko,
to bring a little bit of her hometown in Japan to America

 

by Ja Young
20 May 06

Mitsuko Watanabe and Andrew Collver met on October 21, 1953. He was on
R&R (rest & recreation) from his Army Signal Corps base in Taegu, Korea. She had studied English at Doshisha Women's College in Kyoto and had been hired by an art and antiques dealer to wait on the English-speaking shoppers. Andy and Mitsi saw each other just long enough to exchange addresses and agree to be pen pals. She welcomed the opportunity to practice English. Andy was smitten at first sight: "What attracted me was her smile that would light up any room."

Andy got another R&R week the following spring, during cherry blossom time. "We spent an unforgettable day going to Nara to visit the Great Buddha, and while there I took her out for a rowboat ride on a little lake surrounded by cherry blossoms in the setting sun," said Andy. "Another day she showed me around Kyoto - temples, gardens, a museum. So we had enough time together to know that we enjoyed one another's company."

Mitsuko was only able to attend a two-year college. Those were the days when Japanese women were not allowed into four-year colleges. Her friends at Doshisha told her, to go farther, you must go to the United States. But the Japanese government would not let her. They believed she was only going to use her student visa to visit her pen pal, Andrew Collver.

She traveled by train to Tokyo to appeal to the higher authorities but they would not relent. By then, her pen pal had made some inquiries of his own. He decided the only sure way to get her a visa would be to marry her in Japan. Then a student at the University of Oregon, he saved his paychecks from his weekend job to buy the plane ticket.

During Christmas vacation in December 1954, Andy flew to Japan to marry Mitsuko. She could then claim the right to a visa to join her husband. "How young, impetuous and foolish we were then!" said Andy. "Our generation had not learned to be afraid of commitments."

When Mitsuko finally got to the US in May, 1955, she was at last reunited with the pen pal whose existence had almost kept her from coming.

On October 21, 2003, Andy and Mitsi observed the 50th anniversary of their first meeting by going to visit the same store where they had met on Nawate Street, just north of the Gion District made famous in Memoirs of a Geisha. Half of the building had been removed to make room for a little park, but the sign was still up there over the door: YOKOYAMA Oriental Antiques since 1895.

But as much as Mitsuko loved Andy, she missed her hometown, Kyoto, world famous for its gardens. So fifteen years after she left, Andy set out to bring a little of it to her. He carefully researched Japanese gardens, laid out his scheme, and in the spring of 1971 set to work. Digging out the earth for a pond gave him dirt for a berm creating a hilltop walk on one side. Laying water pipes to the end of the property he formed a running stream appearing to bubble up from beneath the stones.

   
 
   

He planted and pruned and it is a love story that continues to this day. Retired now from SBU's Sociology Department, their children grown - Andy still faithfully tends the garden he began for her more than 35 years ago and in April each year Mitsuko still sings Sakura beneath the cherry tree.

And what a garden it is! Besides the lotus pond and running stream there is a teahouse, bamboo grove, peonies, irises, stone lanterns, three huge boulders - one higher than a person, and plants and trees with Japanese names that Andy and Mitsuko can tell visitors all about.

And on May 20th that is what they did. The garden was part of the national Garden Conservancy Open Garden Days (www.gardenconservancy.org) and open to the public. And though it was overcast for much of the day, the rain never came down, and the album below will give you a glimpse of what Mitsuko and Andy have the pleasure of enjoying every day.

See fifty or so photos enlarged here, with more added to show the seasons.
www.aasquared.org/gallery/mitsukoen

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