For a great number of years I have admired the art of Japanese garden landscapes and the beauty of the cherry blossom season. For a very long time I have dreamt of one day seeing the cherry blossoms and it is now one thing I can check off my ‘things to see’ list. After a long 15 hour plane ride and having watched a few movies whilst trying to get some sleep during the flight, I finally landed at Narita International Airport in the afternoon. At this point I was more than happy to sit for another hour to get to my hotel if it meant that I would have a comfortable bed to sleep in.
After a good night’s rest, my official first day of sight-seeing in Japan consisted of hunting down any cherry blossom trees I could lay my eyes on. Fortunately, not far from where I was staying I stumbled across a small garden called ‘Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu.’ The history behind this garden is quite interesting and a piece of history that may not be all that well known. During the Edo period (1655 – 1658), the land the gardens are now currently flourishing on were reclaimed from Edo bay which in modern day Japan is now referred to as Tokyo Bay. In 1678 the gardens were the residence of Okubo Tadatomo. Tadatomo had significant influence on the garden design you see today. In 1871 (Meiji period) the gardens became the residence of the Arisugawa-no-miya family and were purchased four years later, in 1875, by the Imperial Household agency.
Unfortunately, on September 1st 1923 disaster struck. The garden grounds that once had an aura of tranquillity were destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake. All buildings that once stood were completely destroyed and almost all the trees that once stood proudly were reduced to ash from the fires that also struck the area. The garden grounds were handed over to the City of Tokyo in 1924, and amazingly in April that same year the gardens were completely restored and re-opened to the public. Still to this day the gardens are labelled as a ‘place of scenic beauty and special historic interest’, a title given by the National Government in June 1979.
This Japanese landscape garden is beautiful and simple, with a central lake that is spring-fed, paths leading right around the grounds providing perfect viewpoints of the garden, and rock and land formations. Overall Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu was a very inspirational garden. I am glad that I had stumbled across it and took the chance to venture inside and discover what I have.
After visiting Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu gardens I made my way to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It was almost overwhelming the amount of people there to celebrate the cherry blossom season. Thousands of people had picnics laid out under the shade of the cherry blossom trees. Everywhere you looked there were people taking photographs or simply having a pleasant stroll around the gardens, I myself included. It was truly breathtaking being able to see hundreds of cherry trees so heavily covered in flowers. As the petals fell it seemed as though snowflakes were falling, and the petals covering the ground looked like snow.
Shinjuku Gyoen garden was once a part of the grounds that made up the Edo residence and was given to Kiyonari Naito by Ieyasu Tokugawa. In later years the gardens suffered from the air raids in 1945 with most of the trees and established gardens left completely destroyed. On May 21st 1929 the gardens were re-opened to the public with the new title of ‘Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
I have managed to make a list of just a small selection of the plants that are featured throughout the garden during Spring.
- Chaenomeles speciosa (Flowering quince)
- Prunus serrulata var. serrulata
- Malus Halliana(Hall crabapple)
- Prunus lannesiana cv. Hisakura
- Rhododendron ponticum
- Prunus lannesiana cv. Sekiyama
- Prunus campanulata
- Prunus cv. Grandiflora
- Prunus pendula cv. Pendula
- Prunus cv. Albo-rosea
- Prunus speciosa(Oshima zakura/cherry)
- Prunus x yedoensis cv. Yedoensis
- Prunus lannesiana (Carr.) Wilson
- Prunus x subhirtella cv. Subhirtella
- Prunus x kanzakura cv. Kanzakura,
- Prunus campanulata
- Prunus x kanzakura ‘Rubescens’
- Prunus jamasakura Sied. ex Koidz,
- Prunus ‘Youkouzakura’ (Sunlight/Sunshine Cherry)
- Magnolia liliiflora (white form)
- Narcissus pseudonarcissus (wild daffodil, lent lily)
- Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood)
- Davidia involucrate (Dove tree)
Throughout my travels around Japan the biggest highlight was being able to see the cherry blossoms. It was an amazing experience. For years I have dreamt of seeing the blossoms at their prime and it was pure luck that I saw them when I did. It truly seems that I was chasing the cherry blossoms all over Japan, everywhere I went I saw all the trees in full bloom. It was when I returned to Tokyo at the end of my trip that the blossoms were completely gone.
By Bonnie-Marie Hibbs