Takamatsu is the largest city on Shikoku Island and the gateway to the island over the Great Seto Bridge connecting the island to Honshu. The city is quite famous for the production of pine bonsai. However, today we did not see any bonsai since we will spend an entire day exploring two bonsai villages.
Our tour visited Ritsurin Garden which is one of the top three strolling style gardens in Japan. The word Ritsurin actually means “Chestnut Groves,” but it is most famous for magnificent, manicured old Japanese black and Japanese red pines some of which are over 300 years old. Over 1,400 specimen pines are in the garden, however, only 1,000 are trained by bud pinching, removing old needles and thinning out branches to maintain perfect shaping.
300 year old Sago palms Cycas revoluta, with thick corky bark!
Established over 400 years ago Ritsurin Garden was started by the Sato Clan. It was then inherited by the Matsudaira Clan in 1642. Check out yesterday’s blog entry “The Exposed Root Japanese Five-needle Pine” for an interesting history of a famous garden tree and the relationship of the Matsudaira Clan with bonsai. I quickly posted a photo of this pine on Facebook and a couple of friends wanted more history of the unique specimen so that I wrote that blog first, because it interested me. Then I fell asleep writing and correcting photos so this blog entry was delayed…
There are six ponds and several streams in the garden with many scenic vistas set against Mt. Shiun.
Near Takamatsu we traveled to Shikoku Village, an open air museum and gallery where we encountered the traditional face of Japan. There are over 20 old building dating from the Edo Period from around Japan which were brought here and reconstructed to preserve how people of old Japan lived.
The entry way to this most interesting and hilly museum was a suspension bridge which appeared to be made of vines. However, upon closer inspection thick metal cables were the actual support. The swinging bridge made of rough, irregular boards was suspended over a pond. I wanted to cross the bridge, but my walking cast prevented me. Although I know how to swim, and may be crazy, I’m not stupid and went around another way. Several of our tour members did, successfully, traverse the dangerous bridge.
There was an amphitheater, soy brewing building as well as a sugar cane press. Several old farm houses were reconstructed including one with an alcove (Tokonoma) which even had an ikebana arrangement. There were a couple of boar fences which must be working since I did not encounter any, nor the poisonous snakes as posted on signs.
It was an interesting and educational view to old time Japan, but it was hilly with lots and lots of irregular steps. I was fortunate to survive the trip without any injury and walked (hiked?) over four miles.
Directly across our hotel, near the train station and port is Tamamo Park, which are the ruins of Takamatsu Castle. When the Asia Pacific Bonsai & Suiseki Convention was held a few years ago one of the main buildings was completely displayed with bonsai.
From our hotel window, we noticed a chrysanthemum display and walked across the street to see it. Chrysanthemums are shown all over Japan during October and November. Yesterday was the last day of the show so several blossoms were just past peak, but still stunning.
Traditionally chrysanthemums are grown in several different forms. The basic form consists of one plant with three stems, of different heights and an exact number of leaves per stem. They are displayed in groups of 12 pots with four different cultivars of different colors. Quite interesting, but a bit boring. After you see one, you have seen them all. Kind of like shohin bonsai displays or satsuki azalea exhibitions.
There were a few cascade style chrysanthemums and two “Thousand Bloom” forms, each consisting of only one plant per pot.
I’m a bit familiar with bonsai chrysanthemums. In 1971 and 1972 I studied the art with Tameji Nakajima in Tokyo who was the top grower. H. Carl Young and his wife Shin, also studied with him and wrote the excellent book The Art of the Chrysanthemum,which, by the way, has an great history of bonsai. While studying with Mr. Nakajima I was able to introduce several of his hybrid chrysanthemums for bonsai to the United States. These cultivars have tiny blossoms, woody stems and tend to be long lived.
The entire bonsai chrysanthemum is grown and trained in only ONE season. They are started in November and displayed the following autumn and must be transplanted monthly. It’s a bit difficult to get one to live for over a year, but when I was growing, displaying and teaching the art in the late 1970s I was fortunate (lucky) to have a trunk live for three years.
Root-over-rock style is popular because an image of a heavy trunk is presented with long roots. Often wood or artificial stone is carved for the plant. Sometimes they are even painted. I was particularily impressed with the large number of shohin bonsai chrysanthemums displayed, quite creatively too. The last display featured “2020” promoting the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.