It was on Thursday, 4th February that four of us, David, Denise, Michael and I, set out from Birmingham airport en route for Japan. We travelled via Dubai to Tokyo where we were met by David’s friend, Katsuko. She was able to spend some time with us and it was incredibly helpful to have someone who not only spoke the language, but also knew her way around the city.
On our first day we went by train to Saitama prefecture to the famous Omiya bonsai village where we visited 3 bonsai nurseries.
The following day, Sunday, we went to see the 1st part of the Kokufu-ten Bonsai Exhibition, which was held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. The Kokufu is split into two parts each lasting 4 days and each part having 181 exhibits and, for the first time in its history, we were allowed to take photos of this most prestigious show.
The trees were awesome, as you would expect, almost makes you feel like giving up!
The next day we had a bus tour, which included a visit to the top floor of the World Trade Centre – great views over the city; this was followed by a very pleasant boat trip round the harbour.
On Tuesday we visited the Shunka-en Bonsai museum and on Wednesday we paid a second visit to the Kokufu to see even more great trees. Whilst there, we were given free tickets to see a Suiseki exhibition which was being held in another part of the building. After admiring the amazing stones we paid a second visit to the exhibition sales area where you could buy all manner of bonsai related items, some of which were actually affordable prices.
The following day we left Tokyo on the Shinkansen (bullet train) en route to Kyoto and were treated to some great views of Mount Fuji. Kyoto is a beautiful city full of ancient shrines and temples and until the late 19th century was the former capital of the country.
Whilst in Kyoto we visited the giant bamboo groves, a few temples and bonsai nurseries, the famous Golden Pavilion (below) which is set in stunning gardens, and an Ume blossom garden.
Unfortunately, it was a bit early in the year for the best blossom display but some of the trees were displaying their beautiful flowers.
After 3 nights in Kyoto, we travelled on to Osaka, where we stayed for another 3 nights.
Another highlight of the tour involved a short train journey to a place called Ishibashi for a visit to the nursery where David did his training. More sightseeing included a visit to Osaka Castle – a very imposing edifice, built on top of a hill with lovely views over the city. The current building is largely a modern reconstruction as much of the original was damaged during WW2 (and other, previous wars) and is now run as a museum.
Our return trip to Tokyo on the Shinkansen was as efficiently managed as we had come to expect, they even managed to arrange for the rain to fall whilst we were on the train so that we didn’t get wet! On our last night in Tokyo, we had yet another lovely meal in yet another traditional Japanese restaurant before turning in to prepare for the long flight home.
My abiding memories of Japan? – Apart from the bonsai of course, are the food (love it, it’s all very pretty although some of it can be decidedly weird); the cleanliness – streets, vehicles, even the waterways get swept; the people – generally very polite and helpful; and lastly the weather – in 2 weeks, we only had two short spells of rain but the rest of the time it was dry and mostly bright.
My thanks go to David and Katsuko for their hard work in organising the trip and to all my companions for making it a most enjoyable and memorable trip.