I was invited to Shikoku Island in Japan by Kohei Kubota (Discover Shikoku!) and Takahiro Miyazaki (International Tourism Division for Shikoku) to visit and report on interesting sites for bonsai tourists. I arrived on Tuesday evening and we began our exploration in the city of Kochi on early Wednesday morning. Although I’ve been visiting Shikoku Island since 1970, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Kochi and looked forward to the adventure.
Shikoku Island is comprised of four prefectures (Shikoku means four provinces), Kagawa, Ehime, Tokushima and Kochi which is the largest most southern prefecture. It is a popular stop for the Shikoku Pilgrimage which visits 88 important official temples.
Founded by Gyoki, a Buddhist high priest in 724, this temple is a treasure to experienced, not to be missed. Monk Yamada showed us around highlighting the important and interesting sights. In the main hall we saw a small statue of Buddha, but was quickly pointed out that the main statue was stored in the large wooden box behind. It is brought out once every 50 years and the last time it was viewed was three years ago. We did not the required 47 years to wait, so must return then to see it then, if I’m alive…
The grounds and gardens were immaculate and there were many large old garden trees. I was impressed to see large Hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa, growing with several small seedlings beneath growing in the lush moss. Very few people have actually seen the common, species Hinoki cypress, which is an important timber tree in Japan. Most people are familiar with the Dwarf hinoki cypress, a common garden tree frequently trained for bonsai.
Makino Botanic Garden
Next to the Chikurin-ji is the Makino Botanical Garden, which was originally land belonging to the temple. Dr. Tomitaro Makino was a well-known botanist who collected 400,000 botanical specimens and named over 1,500 species. When I first came to Japan in 1970 I was immediately introduced to his Flora of Japan book by my teacher Kyuzo Murata, Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden, in Omiya Bonsai Village. This books if filled with beautiful botanical drawings and is an important volume in my bonsai reference library which I often use today.
I was excited to visit this botanical garden opened in 1958 to honor Dr. Makino and his accomplishments. The bronze stature of him is holding a tall mushroom which was one of his favorite plants.
The hills and valleys were scenic and appeared to be natural, but every plant was planted in certain locations in important botanical sequences.
Japanese five-needle pines, Pinus parviflora
Japanese black pines, Pinus thunbergii
Pinus thunbergii ‘Ogi’ which has fasciated or crested growth. Interesting and rarbe, but not suitable for bonsai
Japanese red pines, Pinus densiflora
We were fortunate to visit yesterday because they had a special exhibit of pines. There were three sections to the display featuring Japanese five-needle pine, Japanese red pine and Japanese black pines. These were displayed for their unique cultivars, NOT for their bonsai forms. I found this especially valuable for my education because I’ve only read about some of these cultivars, not actually having seen them. There were single needle cultivars of Japanese red and black pines, as well as golden Japanese red pines and cork bark cultivars.
Outside the pine exhibit were a few large Chabo Hiba hinoki cypress. This dwarf cultivar was used for bonsai in the early 1900s and many of the historic first bonsai imported to the United States were of this cultivar, which is difficult to find.
There was another exhibit building featuring Chinese and Japanese native orchids which were in full flower with aromatic blossoms. Across from the orchid display was a special exhibit of Acorus, or Dwarf sweet flag, Acorus gramineus.
Walking through the botanical garden was a tropical greenhouse in the distance. Many plant species which are used for bonsai training were seen as we walked through the hilly gardens. In the greenhouse were unusual tropical plants and an outdoor display of carnivorous plants, several native to the United States. Nearly every plant in the botanical garden was labeled, which I found helpful.
This carnivorous plant looks like Dark Vader!
This visit was valuable for me. There is more to bonsai art than just pruning, wiring and shaping… which most people do not understand or appreciate.
Garden of Monet
Views are appreciated for their scenic reflections
There are only two official “Gardens of Monet” in the world and we were fortunate to visit the one near Kochi. Claude Monet was a founder of French impressionist painting and loved and treasured Japan’s ukieo-e wood block prints. He developed his personal garden in France so he could paint beautiful scenes. The village of Kitagawa developed this unique Garden of Monet.
We were fortunate to be guided by the head gardener who explained many interesting facts. The original garden, opened in 2003 duplicated exactly the original garden in France. However, as the French plants grew, they failed because of the difference of moist and wet climates. So, this garden changed to Japanese species which are in the “spirit” of Monet. The head gardener visited France and Europe to study the scenes and species and has done a superb job developing and maintaining the Garden of Monet, which features vast areas of colorful flowers, as well as water gardens with blue water lilies Monet liked to paint. Plus, a garden of light was developed.
Although the gardens and vistas looked unkempt, they are actually planned and skillfully maintained. I also saw something new “Super Salvia” a tall growing Salvia from the United States.
Next, we briefly visited the Oka Palace, developed by a wealthy merchant built in 1844. The Tosa Clan Lord would stay in the Oka Palace during his stay in the area, preparing for his required visit to Edo, every year. His procession was comprised of 2,000 to 3,000 people and took two to three months.
We visited his sitting room, slightly elevated from other rooms and saw where he sat viewing his small garden featuring a trained garden tree which has been trained to look like a dragon’s face. Since the Tosa Lord was not there, I took the privilege to use his seat to enjoy the garden view.
On our return trip back to Kochi City we stopped at the Ioki Cave which was made by flowing water and soft limestone erosion some three million years ago. This well-known cave for its peaceful and healing properties.
The entrance was dark, and I was a bit apprehension to enter because it was completely dark inside. I saw a small white bag hanging on a stick and was told it keeps the wild boars away. Later we were told the cave is home to bats, poisonous snakes and wild boars. Following the winding path in the shallow water (we were given boots and helmets) suddenly the sky opened up to a magnificent sight. I thought I was in Jurassic Park!
The cave is well known for its unique fern communities. Forty different fern species are native in this cave. Japan has 400 to 600 different fern species. Kochi Prefecture has more native ferns than all of North America.
That was quite busy day, especially with Jet lag! Next we cross Shikoku Island to Kagawa Prefecture home to the Takamatsu area featuring the finest pine bonsai production in the world.
Watch for my article in a future issue of International BONSAI, and visit