Traveling is always an adventure but to Japan gives it a whole new meaning. Just getting around is a challenge. There is very little in the way of written or spoken English. The easiest way is to have local guides. Traveling with Pacific Horticulture was the perfect way to meet these challenges. We had Hiro as our Japanese guide and he was with us the whole trip. He spoke excellent English and had countless stories to tell on the bus all along the way. I asked him how he learned English and he said the written he learned in school like most Japanese but the spoken part he learned from watching ‘Friends” reruns. Hiro said the laugh track helped him understand all the small little expressions.
The following day we headed out of Tokyo and toward Mt Fuji, which was quite visible all along the way. It wasn’t snow capped as in the photos since it was early fall and the snows have yet to start. We were in the Hakone region. I knew that name primarily from Hakonecloa macra, the Japanese forest grass, which is very popular in the Northwest. We stopped at the incredible Hakone Open-air Museum, known for its contemporary art collection. Following a short bus ride and a movie on the bus about the Kimono artist, Ichiku, we toured the Ichiku Kabota Museum and garden.
The next day was a long ride thru what is referred to as the Japanese Alps past a feudal castle, small towns and mountains. On our way to Takayama we stopped for lunch at a rest stop, which are quite different than those in the US. In Japan most have a store, a number of lunch options including sit down restaurants or coin operated selections, a kind of Japanese fast food. These would become a regular stop along the trip. After lunch we had a quick tour of a Wasabi farm complete with sampling Wasabi Ice Cream, pretty tasty. Once we got to Takayama we were able to wander around the old part of this feudal village before enjoying a group dinner, Japanese style.
The next morning we explored the local farmers market in Takayama before heading to a World Heritage site, Shirakawa-go. The steep roof line of the thatched roofs is meant to deal with the winter snowfall in this mountain village. The same techniques have been use for centuries. After exploring this little town we had lunch on the hill top above overlooking this gorgeous little valley. We headed from there to Kanazawa which has a rich heritage of arts and crafts. We arrived in time to visit the Nomura Samurai House and then a walk around the Geisha district. Ayumi, our second guide joined us this day for the rest of the trip. She is the garden specialist on the trip and Hiro was the cultural specialist.
Next we were off to Kyoto, the former capital and cultural center of Japan. We will spend the next few days here and barely make a dent in all the cultural attraction. Kyoto boasts 17 World Heritage Sites. We did manage to see several including The Golden Pavillion, The Ryoanji Temple, Daitokuji, Daisen-in, Zuihoin, Kotokuin and Tenryu-ji Temple. This did give us a good glimpse of Zen culture, gardens, architecture and horticulture. We also had time to check out the market and some of us attended a tea ceremony. The last evening in Kyoto we had a garden lecture by professor Chisao Shigehori, a well known garden designer and teacher in Kyoto. He was also one of Ayumi’s professors. Following the lecture we had a very large, traditional Japanese dinner and then a Geisha performance.
The following day we left Kyoto headed to Takamatsu stopping at Kiseki no Hoshi Botanical Garden along the way. This reminded me of a rather large flower and garden show with several intricate displays. There was also an incredible hillside, modern garden that was adjacent to the complex. After lunch there we stopped by a very modern temple, Honpuku Temple designed by Tadao Ando. Then it was off to Takamatsu.
The next morning we started at what turned out to be my favorite garden of the trip, Ritsurin garden. I know it was my favorite because I almost drained the memory in my camera. It was a very large strolling garden with lots of water and beautifully pruned trees. We followed that by a visit to a Bonsai nursery and a brief explanation on the art of bonsai. Lunch that day was at a restaurant that featured the local specialty, Udon noodles. That afternoon was spent driving along what they call the Mediterranean of Japan on our way to Matsue.
On the next morning we went to Adachi Museum Garden. It is called by many experts as Japans best garden. The garden has an incredible borrowed view. They purchased the adjoining property to maintain the view past the garden. This garden is viewed all from behind glass. I don’t think I fully appreciated it because being a gardener, I wanted to be out in it. We followed this garden with lunch and a visit to Yuushien Garden, a peony garden.They prune many of the peonies so they bloom in the fall which was nice to see since it was fall. I didn’t expect to see peonies blooming. We ended the afternoon with a visit to Matsue Castle. This was a very impressive building and one of the few feudal castles that survived.
Our final road trip was to Osaka. We had a brief stop at the Matsue Museum to see the sculpture park. We arrived in Osaka early afternoon so had plenty of time to wander around the local vicinity and see a bit of the more modern Japan. We had a final farewell dinner together before parting ways. It was good group and together we shared some incredible memories. Im sure many of us will get to travel together again.