Monday, October 29, 2012

Baba’s Garden

One particular highlight of our trip to Japan was returning to my in-laws place after being away for 18 years. I’ve always found their place to be absolutely fascinating. The family home has been owned and lived in for several generations.

They live in the countryside so they have quite a large garden. My mother-in-law who we call Baba has always been a keen gardener but now that she’s in her 80’s she has not been able to care for her garden the way she used to. It was sad to see her garden looking so overgrown and uncared for.

So what better job to occupy myself with than to get stuck in and tidy up her garden. The challenge was: What could I do in the short time I was there?




Some interesting aspects of the project were, finding all the tools I needed...

...helping my daughter to appreciate some of the joys of gardening...

...and finding ways of overcoming the language barrier...

This is me pictured with my brother-in-law Kazuharu, who was very grateful for my help tidying up his parents garden. He knew it needed doing but just didn’t know where to start. I was glad to be able to help.

Plus it seemed I even provided some entertainment to some of the locals – 
including the postman and a few nosey neighbours.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Rice Harvest

Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan (where my wife’s family lives) is a rice growing region that has recently been designated as an Agricultural Heritage area because of its traditional methods of growing and harvesting rice, much of which is still done by hand. Most of it is grown on the valley plains but sometimes you can see rice paddys carved into hillsides, none so famous as this site known as 'Sen Maida' which translates as 'a thousand paddys' which we visited in Wajima.

I found my first visit to a genuine rice paddy 18 years ago to be a fascinating experience. On this recent visit I witnessed for the first time, the rice actually being harvested...

...and then hung out to dry on huge drying frames.

Those who truly appreciate quality rice believe these old natural methods are the best for preserving the natural flavour and goodness of the rice.

That probably explains why some of Japan’s best Sake (rice wine) is produced in the Ishikawa region. There are some 36 Sake-making companies in Ishikawa, most of which have been handed down through several generations, the oldest of which dates back to 1716.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Visit to Kenrokuen Garden

We spent the last couple of weeks in Japan visiting my wife’s family. While we were there we went to visit one of the 3 most famous gardens in Japan known as Kenrokuen. It is situated in Kanazawa, which is the largest city in Ishikawa prefecture where my wife’s parents live, which is on the west coast of Japan’s main Island of Honshu (north of Osaka).

From what I understand the garden was first established in the 1600’s. It was a private garden belonging to a Japanese Lord and was first opened to the public in 1874. However the garden was only designated as a National Site of Scenic Beauty as recently as 1922, and a National Site of Special Scenic Beauty as recently as 1985 which put it in the top 3 in Japan, and deservedly so. 

I’ve been inspired in many ways by the Japanese approach to gardening which I first came to appreciate when I visited Japan for the first time back in 1990. The first thing you notice is that the Japanese are meticulous in their attention to detail and no effort is spared when it comes to maintaining things of beauty, even sweeping moss off the pebbles on the floor of a meandering stream (as pictured below).

I’ve tried to incorporate into my own garden the various ideas I’ve gleaned from my observations in Japan.

These are a few of the fundamental observations I’ve made of Japanese gardens:

1. They pay special attention to detail when trimming hedges and pruning trees. They’re not afraid of severe pruning where necessary. Even towering pine trees do not escape the attention of the meticulous Japanese gardener.
2. They make sure that all the gardens features are clearly defined including trees, shrubs, pathways, and other landscaping features, including water features and garden ornaments.
3. They make good use of a variety of materials including stone, brick, and timber - even bamboo and ceramic tiles.
4. They keep the design of any landscaping elements as simple as possible.
5. They make the best possible use of every last inch of space.

This is the second time I’ve visited the Kenrokuen garden. Last time I visited was springtime 18 years ago so there was a lot more colour and flowers to be seen compared to this Autumn visit. But even without the blooms and the colours there was beauty to be found in the rich tapestry of form, texture and the majestic vistas they produce, even if only in various shades of green.

Last time we came here my daughter was only 5 years old. She doesn’t remember our visit all those years ago so it was a completely new experience for her this time, which she thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve been hoping my love of gardening will rub off on her eventually.