Island Interval

The Fellows travelled to Awaji Island on Wednesday, crossing over the world’s longest suspension bridge to get there. The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge has a central span of 1,991 metres (1.2 mi); with a total length of 3.9 km (2.4 mi). Crossing the bridge gives a very impressive view over Kobe and Awaji Island!


Our first stop on the Island was Awaji Yumebutai, a place that had been excavated to provide fill for Kansai International Airport – the construction of Kansai Airport, in Osaka Bay, required 27 million square meters of fill! Awaji Yumebutai was rehabilitated afterwards, and a hotel and conference center built on part of the site. The complex, including Miracle Planet Museum of Plants was designed by the Osaka born Pritzger Prize winning architect Mr Tadao Ando. The large (6500m2) conservatory is the showpiece of the Museum, with a constantly changing plant display based on landscapes.


Miracle Planet Museum of Plants adaptively reuses many objects. This one was a soil sieve, now ‘upcycled’ to become a living plant sculpture.

The latest display was being installed when we visited, and will feature Japanese themed horticultural displays, including a ‘garden of everyday life’.

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Ms Tomoko Tsujimoto looks down onto the conservatory at the Miracle Planet Museum of Plants.

The overall effect of the different spaces is stunning; the design and level of detail of the horticultural displays is of the highest standard, and makes the Miracle Planet Museum of Plants a ‘must do’ for anyone interested in architecture, landscape architecture or horticulture.


Just one of the display spaces inside the Miracle Planet Museum of Plants. The place was a hive of activity the day the Fellows visited, with the entire conservatory undergoing a complete display changeover. This happens six times per year, so there is always something new to see.


Sundial in the Tadao Ando designed Awaji Yumebutai complex

Awaji Landscape Planning and Horticultural Academy (ALPHA) of Hyogo Prefecture is located in an idyllic 13 hectares in the hills of Awaji Island. The Academy focuses on graduate education of horticultural landscape designers, horticulturists and horticultural therapists. The Fellows met some of the Grad Students, discussing our thesis subjects and career plans. We discovered we had much in common with these Japanese horticulture grad students!

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The tranquil campus of the Awaji Landscape Planning and Horticultural Academy (ALPHA)

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The Fellows were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with some of the graduate students from ALPHA, discovering we had many common professional interests.


The Fellows with Ms Tomoko Tsujimoto at the Miracle Planet Museum of Plants

Bonsai Lessons and a Castle

While only just having arrived in Osaka the previous afternoon, we headed out this morning to another new prefecture, Hyogo, for the day.  We started out in the morning with amazing beginning lessons from Mr. Koji Matsusue, a bonsai suishoen (master).


Mr. Matsusue explained how the original inspiration for bonsai came from plants found naturally growing in small, concave areas of rocky mountains where leaves, sand, and other particles and organic matter have accumulated.  These plants not only have to struggle with a limited root system and resources, but also against the wind, snow, and other elements as well, resulting in the beautiful, artistic growth and branching typically associated with bonsai.  While plants such as this may seem smaller, skinnier, and weaker, they are actually tougher and more able to resist stressors, such as drought or pests, than a plant that has only known ideal growing conditions.


Mr. Matsusue continued, saying that it is important to understand that bonsai are like people, in that each one is unique.  To properly care for their plants, bonsai growers need to “talk” with them everyday to understand their individual characteristics and idiosyncrasies.  This, the bonsai suishoen states, is the virtue of growing bonsai and if you are to grow one, it should be a necessary part of your life.


Throughout this fascinating lecture, we were also held spellbound by the bonsai trimming and training Mr. Matsusue was demonstrated on a lovely juniper tree belonging to one of his clients.  We watched in awe as he deftly and artistically shaped the tree to reveal its true beauty and ruggedly handsome characteristics.


With the conclusion of these extraordinary bonsai lessons, Mr. Matsusue joined us for lunch nearby at Fukukura.  We each enjoyed delicious traditional Japanese set course meals with hot tea while sitting on floor cushions at a large, low table and were happily stuffed by the end of our time at the restaurant.


We bid a fond farewell to Mr. Matsusue and per his suggestion we quickly finished off our time in Hyogo with a half hour walk around the grounds of the massive Himeji Castle, also known as the White Heron Castle, due to its resemblance to the lovely bird in flight.

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This enormous structure traces its origin back to 1333 when it was first built as a fortress.  It wasn’t until 1609, though, after being turned into a mansion in 1346, and then extended with additional buildings in 1581, that Himeji Castle reached its current impenetrable form, complete with three moats and absolutely tremendous stone walls.


A Temple and a New City


Monday, January 19

Before heading out of Kyoto, we went to To-ji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to explore the complex of halls and the five-story pagoda. The pagoda is the tallest in Japan at 187 feet. The current pagoda was built in 1644, with the original having been built in the 9th century. Fire destroyed four of the previous pagodas

Vibrations from earthquakes are absorbed by the construction of the pagoda: each level moves independently of each other, producing a snake-like motion.

Fellows in front of the pagoda

Fellows in front of the pagoda

To-ji is the headquarters for the Shingon (Esoteric) sect of Buddhism and in addition to the pagoda, we viewed incredible gilded Buddha statues housed in two large halls.

A large weeping cherry tree is planted near the entrance to the pagoda site, which was impressively supported by various cables and anchors. Because To-ji is a designated historical site and the ground cannot be excavated, this tree had to be planted in a mound of soil. 

Beautiful cloud-form pruning on a Cedrus

Beautiful cloud-form pruning on a Cedrus


We bid farewell to Kyoto and traveled by (regular) train to Osaka. Having no official appointments upon our arrival, we took advantage of the time to traverse the area around our hotel and experience the Daimaru department store, which comprises 15 floors of our hotel building.

Japan is famous for its department stores and the lower levels are usually filled with delicious-looking foods and confections. This department store has almost anything you could want, from Pokemon to wedding kimonos to gardening tools.


Mackenzie near the Pokemon store in Daimaru

Mackenzie near the Pokemon store in Daimaru

Confection floor of Daimaru

Confection floor of Daimaru

In the city, we discovered a green wall on a commercial building and a beautiful display of Phalenopsis orchids at a florist, as well as several other lively streets. 

Green wall in Osaka

Green wall in Osaka


Phalenopsis orchids at the florist


Chrysanthemum and Camellia

Snowy mounting views from the bullet train

Snowy mountain views from the bullet train

Sunday, January 18

Back on the Shinkansen bullet train, the fellows headed east to join Ms. Tomoko Tsujimoto and two of the TRIAD fellows at the Aichi ToyoakeFlower Wholesale Market, the largest flower market in Japan. The group was privileged to spend time with Mr. Akihiko Nagata, Chairman of Directors of the Aichi Toyoake Flower Marketing Co-operation, while he shared with us an introduction to the characteristics that categorized classic chrysanthemums as well as the Japanese culture surrounding growing chrysanthemums. As Mr. Nagata explained to us, Japanese Kiku (chrysanthemum) culture does not simply involve planting, pinching, and displaying mums, but involves an entire lifestyle and culture complete with music, art, and food.

The Longwood Grad Fellows meet two new TRIAD fellows, Rhiannon Harris and Phil Brown

The Longwood Grad Fellows meet two new TRIAD fellows, Rhiannon Harris and Phil Brown

After questions, discussions, and a tea ceremony with Mr. Nagata, the fellows were let loose like kids in a candy store in one of the flower distribution warehouses.

Fran Jackson shows the way to the flower distribution warehouse

Fran Jackson shows the way to the flower distribution warehouse

After dragging us out of one candy store, we drove off into the country to a different kind of candy store, Mr. Satoru Maeda’s camellia nursery. Mr. Maeda, a hobby camellia grower, shared with us the basics of what he’s been learning and practicing with camellias for the past 50 years along with the tradition of camellia growing and collecting in Japan. We were blown away as Mr. Maeda and his son, Kazuaki Maeda, pulled beautiful camellia after beautiful camellia out of the greenhouses.


A lovely Camellia at Maeda Nursery

A lovely Camellia at Maeda Nursery

Our last day in historic Kyoto was filled to the brim with more history and tradition behind Japanese horticulture. We’re off to Osaka tomorrow!


Tōrō and Suikinkutsu: Remembering the Kobe Earthquake

Today, the Longwood Graduate Fellows visited a private garden at the home of Mr. Ryoichi Ōhashi to observe the oldest suikinkutsu (lit. translation “water cave pot”) in Japan. A suikinkutsu consists of a ceramic pot which is buried upside down in the low point of a garden, creating an entrancing musical sound when water trickles through it. Prior to the advent of sewage systems in Japan during the Taishō and early Shōwa Periods, suikinkutsu served as a drainage system for gardens, channeling and dispersing water deep into the soil. Since arriving in Japan, we learned that less than 10 suikinkutsu remain in the country. Ōhashi-san was very excited to show off his suikinkutsu, which was constructed by his great grandfather.


Mr. Ryoichi Ōhashi explains suikinkutsu with his meticulously pruned pine behind him.


Longwood Graduate Fellow Fran Jackson testing the waters on Ōhashi-san’s newer suikinkutsu

The second half of our visit was focused on the 8 tōrō lanterns located throughout the garden. Each reflects a different style of craftsmanship from Korean-inspired long window types to a 3 layer pagoda style. Many of Ōhashi-san’s stone lanterns were procured during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and early Taishō Era when his great grandfather began developing the garden. One of the oldest ones in the garden resembles a straw hat worn by women during the Heian Period (8th-12th Century).


Heian-style tōrō. Resembles a woman’s straw hat from that era (8th-12th Century).


Korean-style Tōrō with long window


3 Pagoda style tōrō

One tōrō was particularly noteworthy, because it was toppled during the Great Hanshin Earthquake, a devastating quake centered in Kobe, Japan which occurred 20 years ago to the day. The Kobe Earthquake took the lives of over 6,400 people and ushered in a new era of earthquake-safe building throughout Japan.


The tōrō that was knocked over by the Great Hanshin (Kobe) Earthquake. Today was the 20th anniversary of the quake.

Mr. Ōhashi was very knowledgable about Kyoto garden design and gave the Fellows insight into specific methods which had developed over time. Interestingly, he informed us that the dry landscape rock gardens (karesansui) characteristic of Ryoan-ji Temple (see yesterday’s post) were created at a time when Kyoto had little water, and after a canal was constructed to carry water from Lake Biwa (Japan’s largest freshwater lake) water gardens began to be designed and installed in earnest. Ōhashi-san talked about the famous landscape architect Ueji, the 8th generation member of the Ogawa Jihei gardening clan and a Meiji socialite who designed the Heian-Jingu Shrine Garden (see Thursday’s post). Even today, Mr. Ōhashi does the majority of garden maintenance on his own, only contracting out shrub pruning to young members of the Ogawa Jihei family (12th and 13th generations).


Mr. Ryoichi Ōhashi, owner and overseer of the garden.

Ōhashi-ke Garden receives a few hundred visitors per year who come to see the serene beauty of the garden featuring well-manicured plants, mossy rocks, stone lanterns and suikinkutsu. Prior arrangements must be made with Mr. Ryoichi Ōhashi for a visit, but all visitors receive a private tour and discussion (in Japanese) of the garden. There is a small entrance fee which helps pay for seasonal pruning maintenance and other expenses. Well worth a visit!


Ōhashi-ke Garden. Small but beautiful!


Kiku (chrysanthemum) basin suikinkutsu!


Temples and Tofu

Today was World Heritage Site day – with the Fellows clocking no less than three world heritage sites in Kyoto, although admittedly they were all part of the one Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto world heritage site. The Site is made up of 17 locations in the Kyoto region, and includes 13 Buddhist temples, three Shinto shrines and a castle. There are eight gardens within this World Heritage site; the Fellows visited three of them today.

The fellowship of the temple slippers

The fellowship of the temple slippers

Tenryū-ji Temple in Arashiyama district was founded in 1339; the garden designed by Musō Soseki, the temple’s first chief priest. Just outside the Temple garden is the incredible Sagano bamboo forest, a towering curtain of bamboo which was something straight out of Lord of the Rings.

Sagano bamboo forest near Tenryū-ji Temple

Sagano bamboo forest near Tenryū-ji Temple

Arashiyama is a busy tourist destination, but the temples and bamboo grove are still a peaceful and beautiful reminder of Kyoto’s long history.


Everyone was taking photos at Arashiyama

Continuing on with the Lord of the Rings theme from the morning, every speck of ground in the garden at Saiho-ji temple, also known as the Moss Temple ‘Kokedera’ is covered in moss. This area was much quieter, with visitors to the temple required to write at least a week in advance.

Kokodera, the Moss Garden

Kokodera, the Moss Garden

In contrast to the mossy environs of Kodedera, the last temple of the day, Ryoan-ji Temple, is famous for its dry landscape rock garden; its 15 rocks are arranged on a surface of white pebbles to symbolically represent nature.


The Zen garden at Ryoanji Temple

An appropriate end to our day of temple-going was dinner at one of Kyoto’s fantastic tofu restaurants, where we we were served in traditional Japanese style, with a tofu heater on the table. We were joined by a former intern at Longwood Gardens, Mr Suguru Shimizu from the Kusatsu Aquatic Botanical Garden.

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Dinner with Mr Suguru Shimizu from the Kusatsu Aquatic Botanic Garden


A Pleasantly Rainy Day

Our first full day in Kyoto was marked by pouring rain, but there was not a damp spirit in the group!  We started off the day with an interesting, albeit wet, tour of the large Kyoto Imperial Palace and grounds.


Before the Japanese capital was moved to Tokyo in 1869, the Emperor, his family, and other important nobility resided at this formidable estate.  The Chrysanthemum is a primary focus of our studies here in Japan, and we were excited to see the royal crest, a sixteen-petaled version of the flower, gracing numerous parts of the palace structures.


The next stop of the day was to Heian Shrine.


While certainly impressed by the large, beautiful orange buildings of the shrine, like any good group of horticulturists we were absolutely blown away by the vast and carefully created gardens of the shrine.


We could clearly see the long, thoughtful consideration that was put into the construction of this garden, which was built over a 20-year period.  The plants were meticulously cared for and resplendent in their winter protection.


With each bend in the path, a new and exceptional view was found, illustrating to us, first-hand, a key component of Japanese gardening.


Finishing off our day was a visit to the very nearby Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts.  This fascinating museum highlighted and demonstrated some of the finest classical craftsmanship of Japan, including  kimono-, fan-, basket-, pottery-, and porcelain- making.  We felt very inspired by this museum and left with several ideas for possible application at Longwood Gardens.

Travelling at 200 MPH and A New City

by Mackenzie Fochs

Just as we were getting comfortable staying in and traveling around Tokyo, it was time to move on to Kyoto!

Mackenzie, Stephanie, and Keith riding the Shinkansen

Mackenzie, Stephanie, and Keith riding the Shinkansen

Riding the Shinkansen (a.k.a. bullet train) was a definite highlight of our day. Traveling at 200 miles per hour on a train for the first time is an incredible experience and much more enjoyable than flying or driving. The approximately 5 hour and 45 minute drive to Kyoto was a mere 2 hour and 30 minutes. A snow-capped Mt. Fuji made an impressive appearance, at first from a distance and then slightly closer.


Shortly after our successful arrival in Kyoto, we made our way to Kyoto Botanical Garden, which opened in 1924 and is the oldest botanical garden open to the general public in Japan. Along with Shinjuku Gyoen, this is one of the few gardens that incorporates a Western sense of space. This is evident in the straight lines, topiary, and geometric beauty of these two gardens.

Mr. Hiratsuka, a Perennial Specialist at Kyoto Botanical Garden, met us and led us on a tour of the outdoor gardens and conservatory with Mr. Nakai, a Tree Specialist, and Mr. Narikuri, also a Perennial Specialist. Mr. Nakai discussed Kyoto Botanical Garden’s work to preserve their oldest trees, which includes an allée of Cinnamomum camphora (camphor trees) and several Cedrus deodara (deodar cedar).

Cinnamomum camphora allee

Cinnamomum camphora allee

Fran and Keith listen to the suikinkutsu, a music-making garden element oftend used in conjunction with tea ceremonies.

Fran and Keith listen to the suikinkutsu, a music-making garden element often used in conjunction with tea ceremonies.

Mr. Narikuri explained to us the art of hanging basket and container designs, a design style originally imported from the United States. Kyoto Botanical Garden hosts a competition for these designs every winter and we viewed this year’s entries.

One of the beautiful hanging flower arrangements.

One of the beautiful hanging flower arrangements.

To complete the afternoon, Mr. Hiratsuka provided a detailed tour of the 4,700 square meter conservatory, which displays approximately 4,500 species and approximately 25,000 total plants. Mr. Hiratsuka was formerly a Greenhouse Specialist and the knowledge he shared about the conservatory plants was fantastic. A type of Aristolochia grandiflora (pelican flower) had just opened a flower, a rare treat especially because it was the only bloom on the plant!

The conservatory is designed to mimic the mountains surrounding Kyoto.

The conservatory is designed to mimic the mountains surrounding Kyoto.

Aristolochia grandiflora in all its glory

Aristolochia grandiflora in all its glory

Kiku, Sogetsu, and Wagashi


Beautiful Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

Beautiful Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

Tuesday, January 13

By the third morning in Japan, the Fellows were able to effortlessly navigate the Tokyo subway system to Shinjuku Goyen National Garden. This incredible garden is famous for its rich history of kiku (chrysanthemum) culture and we were privileged to spend time learning from the masters behind this kiku operation, Mr. Yutaka Matsui and Mr. Kodai Nakazawa.

Mr. Kodai Nakazawa shares the chrysanthemum growing facilities at Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

Mr. Kodai Nakazawa shares the chrysanthemum growing facilities at Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

This green oasis in the middle of busy, crowded Tokyo is home to an annual kiku festival featuring seven display beds of chrysanthemums, each bed with its own set of symbolism and traditions that dictate color, cultivar, and placement of each mum.

Tokyo rising above the trees in beautiful Shinkjuku Goyen

Tokyo rising above the trees in beautiful Shinkjuku Goyen

As we toured the gardens, we were able to observe first-hand some of the thorough attention to detail demonstrated not only in kiku but in all of traditional Japanese horticulture.

Detailed tree pruning in Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

Detailed tree pruning in Shinjuku Goyen National Garden

In the afternoon, we took our first baby steps in the world of ikebana, a traditional form of Japanese flower arranging. At the Sogetsu Center, Ms. Kiri Teshigahara, grand-daughter of the founder of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana, welcomed us and gave us an introduction to the rich history and art of Ikebana. After watching a skilled demonstration by Ms. Koka Fukushima, the Fellows tried their hand at Sogetsu Ikebana. Although we began with the same materials, each arrangement slowly took on the personality of its creator.

Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo

Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo

Ms. Koka Fukushima demonstrating Ikebana

Ms. Koka Fukushima demonstrating Ikebana

In an effort to authentically experience local culture, the Fellows rounded out the afternoon with a trip to a traditional Japanese wagashi (confections) shop. One of the cakes we tasted has been made from the same recipe since the 1700s. Tradition never tasted so good!

So many delicious treats to choose from!

So many delicious treats to choose from!

Japanese Forest Deity

A Day at the Museum- Coming of Age Day in Japan

IMG_8375 For our second full day in Japan we ventured to the Samurai town of Sakura in Chiba Prefecture to visit the National Museum of Japanese History. What a day for a visit! The sun shone down and the sky was a perfect blue as we made the 1.5 hour journey via foot and the Keisei Electric Railway. Tokyo glistened as we sped past buildings, parks, rivers and girls in kimono for Coming of Age Day- a Japanese National holiday.


All dressed up for the Coming of Age Day.

The National Museum of Japanese History is a rich cultural institution providing a comprehensive account of civilization in the Japanese archipelago. Starting with the ancient Jōmon people and carrying through to present day, the Fellows learned a great deal about the culture of Japan while witnessing prime examples of craftsmanship and ritual in the lives of Japan’s citizens.  The Special Exhibit on Animism was a must-see, with amazing displays of nature deities and multimedia showcasing annual folkloric ceremonies.


A Lion

Moving along into the modern day exhibit on Japanese culture we stumbled into one of the most recognizable faces in 1950s cinema- Godzilla!


Mackenzie-san has a close encounter with the monster lizard

In the afternoon, we headed over to the Botanical Garden of Everyday Life, where we met with Mr. Ayumu Ota who gave us an overview of the garden and introduced us to the head horticulturalist, Mr. Natoshi Yamamura. Ayumu-san and Yamamura-san provided us with a comprehensive overview of the types of chrysanthemum (kiku) that are cultivated for display in a manner consistent with the unique style of a particular region. The 5 regions where kiku growing was refined are: Saga Prefecture, Ise, Higo Province, Edo and Ōshū Province. Very distinct cultivars were introduced in each region, leading to an incredible display of beautiful flowers in an impressive array of shades.

Not bad for a wintertime mum!

Not bad for a wintertime mum!

Like Jindai Botanical Garden (see yesterday’s post), the Botanical Garden of Everyday Life currently has an exhibit on Camellia sasanqua, a species native to Japan and China that produces aromatic blooms that fade less quickly than other Camellia species. Sasanqua camellias were first exported to the west by the Dutch physician, Philipp Franz von Siebold, who was also responsible for introducing plants such as Hosta and Japanese knotweed to the West.


A very nice Sasanqua bloom

We would like to extend our greatest thanks to the staff of the National Museum of Japanese History for being so free with their time to provide a wonderful, behind-the-scenes tour of their facilities and for explaining kiku culture in great depth to the Longwood Fellows. Thanks to the generosity and friendliness of our Japanese hosts, the Fellows are enjoying our trip immensely.


A cold, but very informative tour!


Principal Horticulturalist Mr. Natoshi Yamamura explains a bit about the kiku (chrysanthemum) breeding process.