Five days in Shikoku

Patric Bosc, our editor of the French edition of Bonsai Focus, went on a Japanese tour of discovery.

Patrick: ‘On the invitation of Mr Kohei Kubota from Anabuki Travel Agency and Mr Takahiro Miyazaki of the Japanese Transports Administration, I visited Shikoku last October. Being the smallest of the four main Japanese islands,
Shikoku is located to the south-east of the Japanese archipelago. Sometimes overlooked by traditional bonsai tours, this island possesses real assets and is well worth another visit next time I am in Japan’.

Japan-Shikoku-shikoku japan map_1

Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4413
Oka Palace seen from the street

In Japan, Shikoku Island is well-known for its famous 88 temples of pilgrimage. My trip began with the city of Kochi on the south coast of the island and a major stopover of the Shikoku pilgrimage.

A 1200-year-old temple 

At dawn on the first day, we had the nice surprise of having transport with a formal chauffeur wearing white gloves. During our entire stay, we were accompanied by Mr Kubota and Mrs Ishikawa, our guide who translated our talks from English to Japanese and vice versa.

Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4351
Two pilgrims about to go through the main gate of Chikurin-ji.

The island is wooded and mountainous. We reached the mountains that surround the city to visit Chikurin-Ji temple. This is an important step on the pilgrimage and is unmissable.

Founded in 724 and well-hidden deep in the woods, this temple expresses the Japanese concepts of wabi and sabi and dignity. The discovery was an emotional moment. We were welcomed as guests of honour by Monk Yamada, who guided us through the empty grounds. It really seemed as if the temple had been opened only for us!

Later on in the morning, we met some pilgrims who had come to the temple to worship before continuing their journey.

The father of Japanese botany

We walked to Makino Botanic Garden located close to the temple. Dr Tomitaro Makino (1862-1957) a famous Japanese botanist, was a pioneer in classifying Japanese flora and the author of a work on taxonomy that’s still a reference book to this day.

Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4341
Monk guiding us through the traditional house and garden where the Lord used to stay when in Chikurin-ji. 

The gardens are situated on slopes and hills. They seem natural, but are the result of patient work to encompass the most representative Japanese species. We were lucky, because that week, the management of the gardens had arranged a temporary exhibition of pine bonsai. We were advised that these pieces were not gathered for their aesthetic value, but to mirror different pine species and their varieties, including some very seldom seen in bonsai, like the Japanese black pine with single needles and Japanese red pine with cork bark. There is also a large greenhouse where tropical species are gathered.

Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4328
Pagoda at Chikurin-ji Temple.

Time had stopped

We made a stopover at a remote village where we visited Oka Goten Palace. This old traditional Japanese house was built in 1844 by a wealthy merchant who used it as a stopover for his annual trip to Edo (now Tokyo), accompanied by a huge

Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4404
Seat of the Lord in Oka Palace. The best view of the garden through the open windows.

procession of 500 some people! I felt as if time had stopped in this small village — a feeling enhanced by the fact that we were the only visitors.

Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4353
The small pine bonsai exhibition to be seen at the Makino Botanical Garden. These bonsai are not exhibited for their aesthetic value, but to represent the many different species and varieties, including some almost never seen in bonsai.
Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4354
Close up of two varieties of Pinus pentaphyla

A French garden in a Japanese town

We drove for an hour until reaching the small town of Kitagawa to discover an almost exact replica of Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny (France). A pioneer of the impressionist movement, Monet was known to be deeply influenced by the Japanese art.

The chief gardener guided us around this astonishing place. He explained how they tried to be as accurate as possible in creating this replica. The garden may look unkempt by Japanese standards, but it actually requires constant work. I even noticed that the gardeners have arranged water lilies to mimic the reflections on the pond that you can see in Monet’s paintings.

This place was a great surprise and, while not being typical of the Japanese gardens expected by every western bonsai lover, it is worth a visit. 

Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4356
Euonymus bearing fruit is displayed at Makino Botanical Garden in a very contemporary way

A cave to Jurassic Park

We then discovered a geological oddity: the Loki cave. In fact, the rather short natural gallery leads to a clearing that’s surrounded by high cliffs. Our arrival in this clearing was spectacular: the giant bamboos and the luxuriant vegetation gave me the sense of arriving in Jurassic Park! This place is naturally secluded and has preserved many native species, both fauna and flora that are unique to Japan, including more than 600 fern species.

Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4418
The guide explains to our translator the natural process which created the Loki cave.
Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4424
View of Loki clearing. The cave, a 50m long completely dark gallery, is the only access to the clearing, which is located at the far end of the photo.

In our next issue, follow my trip to the northern region of Shikoku, with the city of Takamatsu. Plus a visit to the most important Japanese area of pine bonsai production. 

Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4405
View of the garden at Oka Palace.
Japan-Shikoku-IMG_4311-1
Entrance to Chikurin-ji Temple.

Text and photography: Patrick Bosc