The last day of my Rail Pass I traveled to Akita City, the hometown of Endo. The journey from Tokyo took almost four hours even with the Shinkansen. Cherry blossoms had already fallen, but now it was azalea blooming time, and everywhere was bright pink, aniline red and purple bushes.
Senshu Park is in the heart of the city; a luscious green oasis full of things to see throughout the seasons. It’s built to the ruins of Kubota Castle, and there still are some of those ancient buildings like omonogashira gobansho, the guard house. One of the Kubota Castle’s turret towers is restored, and open to the public.
61-year-old Jinpuu senior Endo and I spent a delightful day amid huge flowers at their fullest bloom. After an unfortunate flat tire we arrived at the magnificent peony garden, and for once the weather was perfect. For me this was truly a rare experience; this garden is something you cannot see in everyday life, at least if you live in Finland.
I love old buildings, so that was another reason why I enjoyed this garden so much; their super-charming thatched-roofed farmhouses from the Edo era! It makes all the difference, the balance of the garden and its untouched harmony. The gorgeous peony flowers were under waxed paper parasols because of the strong sunshine, and that made the garden look even more beautiful.
The garden is open only a short period between the end of April and the beginning of May when the Peony’s are blooming. They also have a lot of other interesting plants, trees and flowers, for example Davidia involucrata, Dove tree (or Handkerchief tree).
Our boss’s wife Kumi took me, Kochan and Kanchan, AKA The Noisy Boys, to a road trip, and we dashed through beautiful mountainous landscapes. Our first stop was at the Marine Restaurant Seagull, which was a mixture of Italian food and Japanese atmosphere; we had lunch inside a tatami matted private room.
Kumi kept driving until we arrived at the seashore where we parked the car and continued by foot. On the dock was a small rowing boat and two old men, who took us to our destination: Niemonjima. The island was breathtaking, full of bird singing and exotic flowers but none visitors; we were the only ones.
We criss-crossed the landscape, walked on the rocky shore and dived inside lush jungle-like vegetation. Here and there were small eye-catchers: a big rock with carved poem on it, a stone statue or weathered shrine. On the island was also a gift shop where we could buy some souvenirs, like postcards and a fishing net.
My Jinpuu-colleague Yamamoto had studied ikebana for a few years and asked me to join the class. The classes were held at sensei’s home in Honda and there were three regular students besides Yamamoto: Hazumi, Sakuma and experienced Gondaira, who had practised Ikebana for 42 years.
Takahashi-sensei had taught ikebana for over 45 years and had a very warm and soothing presence. The lesson began as the sensei gave us the flowers and presented the arrangements she wanted us to practise. Each pupil’s setting varied; Gondaira made difficult and skill-demanding arrangements, and I struggled with the beginner-level ones.
When our piece was ready, Takahashi-sensei examined it and explained the details once again; then we practised some more. After the class we set the table at the adjacent tatami room and dined together. It also had tokonoma, where we could take pictures of our achievements.
The Sanyo Media Flower Museum’s indoor Atrium Garden has seasonal themes in its flowerbeds, so when I visited the place at Easter, there were a lot of tulips, cute rabbits and Easter eggs. Also, the exhibition areas followed the same theme. Surrounded by variegated and lush beds of flowers, the gazebo looked breathtakingly beautiful.
Their luscious greenhouse is a round shaped, 23 metres tall building full of tropical and subtropical plants, and it even has an artificial waterfall. The museum has a restaurant and gift shop with a lovely selection of garden-inspired items.
Outdoor gardens enveloped the impressive museum building: at the front is a wide garden of seasonal flowers, in one side courtyard and the rose garden at the back of the building. Designed by the best combination of blooming time and harmony of the beds, the gardens are magnificent.
One afternoon Oosaki and I went to Shunkaen Bonsai Museum. The museum is a masterpiece made by the master himself: Kunio Kobayashi, who has lectured in several countries, received many awards and still one can find the humble man in his nursery teaching his apprentices. The museum building is ‘Sukiya-zukuri‘, a traditional Japanese style wooden house with tatami mats and shoji screens. The large windows open to the spectacular yard full of items visitors can admire: the carp pond, full blooming cherry tree, and of course the magnificent bonsai pots. The museum presents over 1000 bonsai trees on its premises.
The art of bonsai is fascinating: creating a microcosm which so perfectly imitates the nature. It’s miraculous how this tiny tree can resemble an actual full-grown, ancient tree trunk standing on the green hilltop. It takes years of practise to master this extraordinary art form, Kobayashi-sensei has spent over forty years among the trees. The word bonsai literally means the tree planted in a shallow container. It’s something much more than just small-scale gardening; it’s a captivating mixture of horticulture, craftsmanship, design and discipline with a spiritual twist.
We had a sufficient guide who walked us through the large building while introducing the individual pieces. After the tour we drank tea with the friendly master and purchased books which Kobayashi-sensei signed for us. He showed pictures from his lecture tour in Sweden and gave me a gift: bonsai magazines and a ticket to the museum. The nursery was an excellent place to visit, and we had the whole garden to ourselves.
We took a water taxi from Arguineguín to Puerto del Mogan; once again we were lucky, and the boat was completely empty. The ride took a little over an hour, and we could admire the rocky island from the sea. When we arrived at the town, we wandered through its narrow alleys until it was time to eat lunch. From Puerto del Mogan to Playa del Cura we traveled by bus. It was a wild experience; the driver sped full speed on the narrow serpentine road which squirmed at the hillside.
Keen to explore the island’s unfamiliar flora and fauna, we headed for the Botanical Garden of Maspalomas. The garden was free, and we had a nice picnic there amid colourful butterflies, flowers, cactuses and birds. Short distance from there was Maspalomas beach and the sand dunes, so we visited them as well. The dunes are protected Nature Reserve Space.
From Aomori I headed to Tokyo; I wanted to spend some time with my friends Yoko and Takayuki Yamasaki before returning to Finland. This time finding the hotel on my own was impossible. After a desperate search on foot I was about to give up and take a taxi when my savior appeared; a barefooted man with a helmet on his head, pushing a shopping cart already full with stuff. He loaded my belongings to his chart and escorted me via Koban Box to my hotel. After exchanging our addresses, he asked me to marry him, gave me his umbrella and disappeared to the city.
At the first evening the Yamasaki couple took me to dinner at Italian restaurant, and the next morning Takayuki and I went to Shimokitazawa. Shimokita is a bohemian area, which is well-known for its vintage boutiques and second-hand shops. It’s the perfect place to wander around and enjoy some coffee of lunch. We ate at Magic Spice, which specializes in curry soups famous in Hokkaido. The restaurant was bright red, decorated heavily and had its own exotic vibe. Their Hindushock gift shop is full of colourful clothes, chandeliers, spices and incenses.
The next morning I started from Yoyogi Park, which is one of my favourite parks in the city. Over the years I had created a routine to take a picture of a specific place in the park every time when I’m in Tokyo. When that was done, I walked to Harajuku to check their second-hand shops before meeting Takayuki. He had planned another interesting day for me; first we visited a Christian Yogen Cafe and then his friend, a clairvoyant. This was my first time to meet a fortune teller, because they are not so common in Finland. Before we left the place, she gave me a home assignment; I should write about Japan, from my heart.
On my day off I headed to see some huge birds; the Oriental white stork is also the prefectural bird of the Hyōgo Prefecture. The city of Toyooka is 70 kilometres from Ichijima, which takes less than two hours by train. The weather was magnificent, so instead of taking a bus from the station, I decided to go on foot. The 5 kilometre walk took almost an hour, and because of the stork signs, it was impossible to go wrong.
The Hyōgo Park of the Oriental White Stork’s main purpose is to restore the oriental white stork to back to its original habitation. They try to do this by organic farming; traditional farming methods bring the biota like frogs, snakes and crayfish back to the fields for storks to eat. Also, when cultivating rice fields the traditional way, the land is underwater longer, and this is crucial for the ecosystem. In Japan, the last wild population of kounotori was extinct in 1971. The park’s hard work was rewarded in 2007; after 43 years, the chicks fledged successfully in the wild.
As I arrived at the park, the big birds were sleeping under the trees behind a low fence. At the feeding time, more of these mighty birds came and circled above our heads; their prehistorical shrieks echoed from the mountains. Oriental white stork’s wingspan is over two meters, so they were a majestic sight. Kounotori is characterised as a national treasure of Japan.
There was also a hiking route which squirmed at the nearby hill, an exhibition center about the birds, and a shop full of stork items and groceries. I hiked the deserted path and its dry and rocky trail, lizards sleeping on the warm stones, until I stepped under the deep-green foliage of the forest.
Before dusk I arrived at Kinosaki, the famous hot spring town. The place was full of overwhelming small-town charm on a pastel-coloured background: people in their patterned yukatas, the weeping willows leaning over the canal, picturesque bridges and artisan shops.
For a gardening maniac and house plant lover this botanical garden is a must-see. The conservatory is one of Japan’s largest; they have 15.000 plants to explore, and the flowers are blooming all around the year.
The two-storey metal framed glass building was built in 1990, and it’s divided for sections, where you can wander through different climates and their plantation. One of their main attractions is the water lily pool with its astonishing color variety and leaves of the giant water lilies.
For a gardening student like me, this was a perfect attraction. Otoosan, Eri and I circled around the massive building dazed by the strong scent of the tropical flowers. Outside temperature was high enough, but inside the rainforest, where the merciless sun shone through the glass ceiling, was hot and humid like a sauna. We wandered through Cactus hall and Alpine house, which had a more pleasant climate; it’s always under 20 degrees.
The outside garden was in full bloom, the water fountain’s droplets shone like small pieces of glass in the sunshine. There I could spot some familiar species like lavender and violet, but also new acquaintances. The garden was a joy for one’s senses; the sight and its colours, the scent of flowers lingering in the warm breeze.