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.
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!
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!
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.
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. Tomihiko Kurisaka and Ms. Katsume Okuyama explain the different maple cultivars to us.
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.
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 (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 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.
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 Okayama Kōraku-en Garden staff after an invigorating tour!
A trip to Japan should include a visit to Okayama Castle and Garden!