5 October 2023 :
My Japanese Journey
For our October meeting, Rosemary Legrand took us on a fascinating and informative journey to the gardens of Yakushima, Hiroshima and Kyoto.
Setting the tone with a piece of Japanese music, Rosemary first talked about her visit to the island of Yakushima – the wettest place in Japan which has a unique microclimate. This UNESCO world heritage site on an island created by an historic volcano cultivating the perfect conditions for a mixture of damp loving plants, including Rhododendrons, both species and hybrids. For some local interest, she explained how the popular Rhododendron Yakushimanum was introduced to the British Isles at Exbury Gardens. Rosemary also talked of the Buddha Cedar trees she saw which are over 1,000 years old, and explained that the island was home to 630 different species of moss.
Her tour moved to the mainland at the port town of Uwajuma where she had visited the Samurai Castle and surrounding gardens, including the small Tenshaem Garden based around a small grassy island where she saw beautiful tree and herbaceous peonies in flower, a beautiful white wisteria framing the bridge and hybrid japonica camellias. The garden was home to over 19 different types of bamboo. At Miyajima she was pleased to show the Society some photos of the miniature buddha statues placed all around the garden, each with it’s own knitted hat and scarf to keep off the cold!
Rosemary had then headed for Hiroshima where the ruins of the Promotion Hall, destroyed by the Atomic Bomb in August 1945, fronted a special parkland dedicated to peace. At one end there was a Peace Bell which anyone could ring, and at the other a Children’s Peace Monument topped with a sculpture of a little girl called Sadako with a seeping Crane bird. She had survived the initial blast, but developed leukemia at the age of 11. In Japan there’s a saying that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes your wish will be granted. Sadako folded 1,300 tiny paper cranes out of her medication packets, but succumbed to her illness. Rosemary saw some of Sadako’s paper cranes in the local museum.
Her next stop was the Ohara Museum of Art in Kurashiki where she viewed it’s wonderful collection of impressionist art. She was amazed to see water lilies in the pond outside the gallery which originated in Monet’s garden at Giverny. Moving onwards, she visited the moss temple and gardens in Kyoto which was created in 1339 and now features over 120 different species of moss. Rosemary enjoyed the tranquillity and peacefulness of this garden with it’s lush surroundings and little bridges over clear, sparkling water. She reflected that she “will never forget the experience”.
The various gardens of Kyoto displayed the variety of plants and spectacular colour – the Snowball Tree, azalea flowers, camellias and bamboo the thickness of organ pipes. Interestingly, she explained that the Japanese banknotes are made from the bark of the Edgeworthia Papyrifera (Oriental paperbush). In one of the other gardens Rosemary visited, she witnessed the gardeners on ladders plucking individual needles to meticulously shape the specimen pine trees!
Although focused on the Japanese gardens she visited, Rosemary’s talk also took in other cultural aspects – her witnessing of several marriages and the clothes worn by the bride and groom, a shop of beautiful fans, displays of minimalist flower arrangements calls Ikibana, examples of the Japanese art of origami, and a fantastic use of audio clips of the Japanese music she heard to provide atmosphere to her entertaining and insightful tour around the gardens of Japan.