Category Archives: International Experience

Japan Outtakes 

Now that we are home safely and before we get deep into our studies for the semester, the First Year Fellows wanted to share some of the fun moments not covered in our previous posts. Enjoy!

Special shout out to our two chaperones from Longwood Gardens: Trish Evans, Communications Manager, and Koa Kanamee, Senior Gardener in the Outdoor Display division. Thank you for traveling with us!

The last night we were in each city, several of us explored the area around our hotel. This night involved a photo booth session and several attempts to win a "claw" arcade game. Note the concentration. (Kyoto)

The last night in Kyoto involved a photo booth session and several attempts to win a “claw” arcade game. Note the concentration and nerves of steel.

What trip to Japan would be complete without trying karaoke in each city you visit?

What trip to Japan would be complete without trying karaoke in each city you visit?

We were gifted origami Pikachu from a nice woman on the street in Kyoto. She had a hand bag filled with them and made sure we each got one. Our translator, Ayumi Green (in white), was invaluable throughout the trip!

We were gifted origami Pikachu from a nice woman on a street in Kyoto. She made sure we each got one. Our translator, Ayumi Green (in white), was invaluable throughout the trip!

The variety of KitKat flavors in Japan!

A KitKat lover’s paradise! Japan boasts a variety of KitKat flavors, including strawberry, green tea, hazelnut, and a few we couldn’t quite figure out!

We encountered a variety of memorable signs during our journey:

Another name for "singing communication" is karaoke.

Another name for “singing communication” is karaoke.

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In the Dotonbori, there were many large sea creatures advertising restaurants.

In the Dotonbori, there were many large sea creatures advertising restaurants.

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And lastly, it is always important you observe proper etiquette in an airport:

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Days of the Daimyō (Feudal lord gardens and Okayama Castle)

For our last full day in Japan, the Fellows ventured to Okayama Kōraku-en, one of the three great gardens of Japan. Originally developed under the direction of Lord Ikeda Tsunamasa, the feudal estate garden took 13 years to construct and was completed in 1700.

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Dormant on a beautiful winter’s day

Today, the garden is very popular with the strolling public and we were lucky to meet a young couple dressed in kimono who were taking wedding photos along with their family.

Seeing this beautiful couple was a trip highlight!

Seeing this beautiful couple was a trip highlight!

The wedding couple with admiring foreigners

The wedding couple with admiring foreigners

There were many unique features at Okayama Kōraku-en that we did not come across at other gardens during our trip. For one, all of the pine trees in the garden [240 in all] are wrapped in straw jackets (komo-maki) over winter which attracts insect pests to build nests in the straw fibres. In the spring, all of the jackets are collected and burned as part of an annual garden festival.

Effective and decorative pest control technique!

Effective and decorative pest control technique!

With 240 pine trees, this is a labour-intensive process.

With 240 pine trees, this is a labour-intensive process.

Field burning is carried out each February to clear away old grass and stimulate new growth. We were informed by garden staff members Mr. Tomihiko Kurisaka, Ms. Katsume Okuyama and Mr. Iga that many visitors come specifically to witness this event.

Too bad we couldn't see it in action.

Too bad we couldn’t see it in action.

The three main trees in collection at Okayama Kōraku-en are Japanese maples (momiji), ornamental cherries (sakura) and pine (matsu). From its inception, the garden was planted with two distinct zones of Japanese maples, one featuring green leaved wild types and the other with red-leaved horticultural varieties. As such, it is recognized as one of the oldest planned garden landscapes in Japan.

Mr.  and Ms. explain the different maple cultivars to us.

Mr. Tomihiko Kurisaka and Ms. Katsume Okuyama explain the different maple cultivars to us.

Fall is a gorgeous time to visit Okayama Kōraku-en!

Fall is a gorgeous time to visit Okayama Kōraku-en!

The garden is also very popular with the public as a place to view somei-yoshino cherry blossoms, the quintessential cherry tree of Japan. Along with other planted sakura cultivars, the cherry trees at Okayama produce a continuos bloom cycle lasting for 4 months, thereby attracting the bulk of their visitation during the spring and summer seasons. In the fall, the local chrysanthemum (kiku) growers group puts on a festival showcasing certain types of flower displays including the beautiful cascade (kengai) forms.

Stunning, well pruned trees abound in this garden.

Stunning, well pruned trees abound in this garden.

In the afternoon, we continued on to Okayama Castle, the grandiose home of the Ikeda clan which was originally constructed in 1597.

A grand castle indeed! It has the nickname of Crow Castle due to its black exterior.

A grand castle indeed! It has the nickname of Crow Castle (U-jo) from its black exterior.

Learning about the history of the castle was wonderful, but the highlight was having the chance to don traditional feudal regalia and have our photos taken.

Longwood Graduate Fellows Mackenzie Fochs and Fran Jackson wear guard garb.

Longwood Graduate Fellows Mackenzie Fochs and Fran Jackson wear guard garb.

Longwood Fellows Stephanie Kuniholm and Keith Nevison wear warlord costume

Longwood Fellows Stephanie Kuniholm and Keith Nevison wear warlord costume

During WWII the castle was destroyed by bombing raids, but a replica made of reinforced concrete was constructed in 1966, which includes traditional roof tiles and gilded statues of shachihoko or fish-shaped gargoyles that are said to cause the rain to fall, thus stopping fire.

Amazing carvings!

Amazing carvings!

All in all, our last full day in Japan was wonderful and we wish to thank the staff of Okayama Koraku-en for providing us with an informative and very interesting tour. Kampai (cheers)!

The Fellows with Okoyama Kōraku-en Garden staff after an invigorating tour!

The Fellows with Okayama Kōraku-en Garden staff after an invigorating tour!

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A trip to Japan should include a visit to Okayama Castle and Garden!

 

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Temple and a New City

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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

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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.

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A lovely Camellia at Maeda Nursery

A lovely Camellia at Maeda Nursery

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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!

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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.

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

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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).

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

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Korean-style Tōrō with long window

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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.

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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).

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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!

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Ōhashi-ke Garden. Small but beautiful!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The next stop of the day was to Heian Shrine.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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