Disney Cast Member Brings Traditional Japanese Garden to EPCOT

It’s no secret that Disney’s horticulture team creates jaw-dropping topiaries and displays each year for the EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival. But did you know they also build beautiful gardens scattered around the park? Returning for this year’s festival in the Japan pavilion is a shishi-odoshi (pronounced as she-she oh-doe-she) – a Japanese clacker garden.   

Shishi-odoshi translates to “scare deer” and consists of a segmented tube, usually of bamboo, water and rocks. As a slow trickle of water fills the segmented bamboo tube, the device tips and creates a distinct thud, scaring away deer, boar and other herbivores to prevent them from eating crops.

Arborist Shoji Kanaoka first presented the idea over 20 years ago as a way to bring a new and authentic feature to the pavilion during the festival. With immediate and enthusiastic support of his leaders, Shoji built and introduced this new element, which quickly became a favorite for guests and cast alike. The garden has since been featured at the festival intermittently over the years.   

For the festival, Shoji and his team also incorporated wooden wind chimes – which Shoji built himself – bells, drums and other noise-making items. The bamboo was even harvested from Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom Park.

“It’s always been important to me to introduce new elements into the landscape at the Japan pavilion as a way to honor my culture and to introduce guests to other heritages,” Shoji said. Disney is built around community and inclusion – a place where everyone can make a difference, and Shoji has made quite the difference in the Japan pavilion since becoming an opening-year EPCOT cast member.   

Throughout his 40-year career, he has worked with Disney Legend and Imagineer Bill Evans, among several other cast members, to bring new and culturally authentic offerings to life. Some of his accomplishments include two Zen gardens and several bonsai trees in addition to smaller shishi-odoshis that can be found year-round in the stream near Katsura Grill at EPCOT.

With retirement on the horizon, Shoji’s leaders thought this was a perfect time for the shishi-odoshi garden to make a triumphant return to EPCOT with Shoji at the lead. Shoji has trained other cast members, like fellow arborists Leon Fevry and Sierra Ruparelia, on how to build and create a shishi-odoshi so that it can continue to be incorporated in the festival and landscapes for years to come.   

Shoji even passed on his years of knowledge to horticulture students in Florida during a special visit to the theme park, sharing career advice and the importance of honoring your culture and heritage to help them dream about their futures, build their talents and become who they imagine they can be. This is all part of Disney Future Storytellers, a company initiative designed to empower and inspire the next generation of storytellers and innovators through distinctly Disney experiences.    

“Knowing that my legacy will continue to live on in Japan pavilion is very humbling,” Shoji shared. “It’s an honor that my fellow cast members showed interest in carrying on my work, and I can’t wait to see what they accomplish.”  

Next time you’re enjoying all World Showcase has to offer, make sure to take in the sights – and the sounds – of the shishi-odoshi. You can find these beautiful gardens near the check-in podium for Takumi-Tei.