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Edo gardening in wood block prints

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Encouraged by my host Suzuki Makoto sensei at Tokyo University of Agriculture, I recently visited the Edo Gardening Flowers exhibit being held at the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art until November 26,2009. The exhibit has spectacular colorful wood block prints showing flowers and plants in a variety of urban settings including kimonos, at festivals, commercials nurseries, educational materials, Kabuki actors, and Noh dramas.

The exhibit theme is that the Edo period experienced a “gardening culture” in which a passion for gardens and flowers permeated all social classes, including court nobles, shoguns, feudal lords and the common people. According to the catalogue, “the Japanese people’s passion to flowers surprised the American botanist Robert Fortune as seen in his diary upon his visit to Japan in the late Edo period.”

An interesting comparison is also made between between the widespread practice of Edo gardening and also the interest of common people in wood block prints. It is wonderful to see the use of flowers and plants in both high culture realms and in depictions of everyday life during the Edo period.

Two of my favorite prints are collections of plants used by children to learn the names of flowers. The one below, from the back cover of the exhibit catalog, has the names in hiragana. The exhibit also includes Edo era ceramic plant pots.

Edo gardening in wood block prints

Some more images after the jump, and also a list of plants seen in the wood block prints.

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Unusual city trees & shapes in Okayama

Unusual city trees & shapes in Okayama

Last month I visited Okayama to see Korakuen garden on a trip that also included Inujima in the Seto Inland Sea, Kurashiki, Awaji-shima and Kobe. Okayama is a modern city with wide boulevards and tons of automobile traffic. Still, I was struck by two improbable plant and fountain installations.

Above is a double pygmy date palm growing under lights in an underground passageway. This barren space is at a major intersection and is the only way to get from the tram to the sidewalk (en route to Korakuen garden). Grow lights are environmentally questionable, but adding exotic plant life in a dramatic and futuristic setting certainly brightens this subterranean space.

Okayama flower fountain

Maybe it is because of my unfamiliarity with 1970s Japan, but I was struck by this flower-shaped fountain outside of Okayama’s main rail and Shinkansen station. Friends told me that it is a common civic adornment. Still, I like the theatrical and exaggerated floral shape.