top of page
Zen Garden
Japanese Garden

ParkinZEN Gardening


Many of the world's centenarians share one common hobby: gardening. People living in “blue zones” like Okinawa Japan have certain factors in common – social support networks, daily exercise habits and a plant-based diet, for starters. But they share another unexpected commonality. In each community, people are gardening well into old age – their 80s, 90s and beyond.

It’s not just about health effects, either: the social benefits of gardening can also increase longevity. Dr Bradley Willcox of the University of Hawaii studies centenarians in Okinawa, which has the world’s highest ratio of centenarians, at approximately 50 per 100,000 people. Many residents maintain small personal gardens well into old age.

He says that gardening helps with other essential, if somewhat more ephemeral, factors in increasing longevity. “In Okinawa, they say that anybody who grows old healthfully needs an ikigai, or reason for living. Gardening gives you that something to get up for every day.”

On top of that, explains Willcox, Okinawans value the concept of yuimaru, or a high level of social connectedness. “Getting together at a local market, bringing your produce and sharing your latest creations from the garden is a big social activity,” he says. “That certainly helps people feel grounded and connected.”


Ikigai is a Japanese concept that translates to "a reason for being" or "a reason to get up in the morning." It encompasses the things that give your life meaning, purpose, and joy. It's about finding that intersection between your passion, mission, profession, and vocation.

Here are some key aspects of ikigai:

  • Passion: What are you deeply passionate about? What activities fill you with excitement and energy?

  • Mission: What do you want to contribute to the world? How can you make a positive impact?

  • Profession: What skills and talents do you have that you can use to earn a living?

  • Vocation: What do you feel called to do? What activities give you a sense of fulfillment and purpose?

Finding your ikigai isn't about achieving a specific goal or becoming something you're not. It's a continuous journey of self-discovery and exploration. It's about understanding your values, strengths, and interests, and aligning them with a way of life that brings you joy and meaning.

Taking Care of Plants
Japanese Guitar



In Okinawan culture, "Yuimaru" refers to a spirit of cooperation and mutual aid. It emphasizes community, helping others, and working together for the common good. This spirit is deeply ingrained in Okinawan society and contributes to their strong sense of community and resilience.

Okinawa embraces a whole different set of cultures from the mainland. One of the major reasons is the geography; it is a small island isolated from mainland Japan. As history reveals, Okinawa has had its own historical events and encounters with foreign countries and the mainland. Okinawa has developed its own language, food, traditions and personality. Many people from the mainland perceive Okinawa as a tropical vacation spot to relax and rest.

In the Okinawan language, there is a concept called “Yuima-ru,” which means “the circle of the people”. One of the unique characteristics that is observed in Okinawa is the local people’s compassion. Now, compassion as a quality is common among people beyond cultural boundaries. However, in Okinawa, a small island, the community bonding is much tighter and closer than that of the mainland or most densely populated cities. In such communities, people’s sincere compassion is more visible than in other areas.

Getting Started with ParkinZEN for Stage 1 and Stage 2

Zen gardens, which are like miniature landscapes, typically have simple, minimalistic designs. Flowing water is often represented by sand or fine gravel raked into curving lines. Boulders and large stones stand in for islands.

Many Zen gardens are also enclosed by walls. If you don’t have an enclosed garden space, use a bamboo screen, fence panel or lattice fence around your garden, or on at least one side. If you enclose the garden completely, add a gate for easy access.


  • If your backyard is small, make a Zen garden in one corner, using an existing fence or wall behind it.

  • Scale down the ideas in this guide for making a small backyard Zen garden. Use a small sculpture as a focal point and add a few dwarf or miniature plants. Moss is an excellent ground cover for a shady area.

  • Although authentic Zen gardens are typically dry landscapes, consider adding sand, gravel and a few plants around a small water feature, such as a fountain, or use a pond kit. If it's large enough, a pond could hold one or more lotus or other water plants.

  • Turn a narrow alley between your house and a fence or wall into a Zen garden.

  • If you have a pavilion or arbor in your backyard, landscape around it with a few Zen garden elements. Add uplights to nearby trees so you can enjoy the space at night.

  • For a minimalistic garden in a small space, surround a boulder or interesting-looking rock with sand and rake a design into it. 

Image by Samuel Austin
Zen Stones

ParkinZEN for
Stage 3 - Stage 5


There are kits that you purchase and which include a few essentials for making a mini zen garden but you can also improvise and gather everything yourself. You can use any shallow bowl or tray made of wood, glass, metal or whatever material you prefer. The most important part is the fine sand which you fill the container with. Once the sand is in place, you can add things like small rocks, seashells, beads and tiny plants or figurines in order to create a scene.

Playing Foosball


Senior Portrait




Senior Couple on Vacation




Big Hug



Senior Book Club




Outdoor Reading




Michael J. Fox

“In the quest to cure Parkinson’s, we’re absolutely certain we are the tip of the spear.”

  • Black Twitter Icon

Muhammad Ali

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it—then I can achieve it.”

  • Black Twitter Icon
parkinsons foundation icon.png

The Parkinson's Foundation

The Parkinson’s Foundation makes life better for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) by improving care and advancing research toward a cure. In everything we do, we build on the energy, experience and passion of our global Parkinson’s community.

michael j fox icon.png

The Michael J. Fox Foundation

The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson's today.

Caretology Foundation Icon.png

The Caretology Foundation 

We care deeply about the community and have taken leadership roles in community collaboration and student growth and development to build the capacity of local nonprofits and communities and support the next generation of student innovators. 

Parkinson's Care Management Tools and Resources

bottom of page