japan Satsuki Bonsai Tour– Part 5

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Today was our tour’s “culture” day, and we traveled from Tokyo to Nikko. There is more to studying bonsai art than just looking at little trees. I believe many different areas of study or exposure, not immediately apparent to the casual student, add significantly to the overall appreciation of bonsai.

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A private bus picked us up from the Bullet train in Utsunomiya and we traveled to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nikko high in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture. Nikko is a beautiful city featuring the famous Toshogu Shrine which was established in 1617 as the burial site of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, however there were many other shrines in Nikko, some established in 766.

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One of the focal points of Nikko is a street lined with Cryptomeria leading up to the Toshogu Shrine. Over 200,000 Cryptomeria were planted in a ten year period by a member of the Matsudaira family about 400 years ago. Only about 13,000 trees remain today and are similar to the Coast redwoods of California, only smaller. Looking at these stately 400 year old trees one can see the natural growth habits which are important to consider when styling bonsai.

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There were numerous sets of steep steps leading to the colorful old shrines and temples. A couple of the significant building were covered as they were being repaired to preserve or restore the beautiful detailed carvings. Large mature ancient specimens of Cryptomeria and Japanese umbrella pine were planted throughout the compounds.

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The tallest tree is an ancient specimen of Japanese umbrella pine, Sciadopitys verticillata. This is a high quality garden tree used in American landscapes, but I’ve never seen one this tall.

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Broad needle foliage of Japanese umbrella pine

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The original carvings of the “hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil” appeared in the carvings on one of the buildings. Many of the carvings were of Chinese origin and quite colorful. Large buildings and structures were originally gifts from China, Korea, Holland and other countries.

The temperature was nearly 90F, but in the mountains it was a bit cooler, but still hot. Most of us sat out the trip to see the burial site of Tokugawa Ieyasu because there were more than 255 steep steps leading up to the site. I don’t want to break my foot again, six times is enough, my original break was in Japan several years ago.

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We boarded our bus and traveled up a winding road most of us would not even attempt in a small vehicle to see Kegon Waterfall. Colorful flowering azaleas, rhododendrons and other deciduous species dotted the sides of the mountains. When we reached the top we took an elevator 100 meters down to the bottom viewing area for the waterfall, and there were still steps we had to travel. Although breathtaking to most visitors, I can drive an hour and a half to see Niagara Falls one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s interesting that Niagara Falls also has an elevator to the bottom and also the Maid of the Mist boat which takes you right up to the roaring falls. Finally we saw Lake Chuzenji before driving the large bus down the winding road.

Since this is a Satsuki bonsai tour a few bonsai photos are included. Here is a preview of three different exhibitions we visited the next day.

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