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bonsai

At last I can post what I’ve been trying to for the better part of three weeks. Welcome to the delightful little town of Nagahama. Today trees! Tomorrow toys! and things not beginning with a T. I ventured out there on Sunday the 15th of February and when I say ventured I want to stress just how much of an adventure this was. It required a 5 HOUR round trip! Including a 2 hour train ride over flat, dull plains out into the heart of the inaka. Our destination was Nagahama, a tiny town on the shores of Japan’s largest lake, Biwako. Our goal was an exhibition of plum trees, housed in the Japanese equivalent of a mansion, in large pots. The trees that is, not the mansion. Japanese houses aren’t contained in pots. Well except for the ones with the old school earthquake defences. Now, I really, really like plum trees. In fact I find them to be slightly more aesthetically pleasing than sakura. Sakura is beautiful of course and the combined effect when all the trees turn pink every April is breathtaking. Yet, there is something about the minimalism of plum trees that I really like. The sparseness of the branches that are lined with small clumps of delicate but gorgeous flowers is a perfect minimalist motif. Simple lines that provide a relief to a small area of focused complexity and simple colours spotted with bright sections that seem almost too colourful to be actual flowers are less overwhelming than sakura and equally pleasing to the eye. However. 2 HOURS! To go and look at trees, even really pretty trees seemed to be asking a lot. And so it was with a lot of trepidation and with very low expectations that I boarded the train and settled in for a looooooong ride. I started to get excited sometime after we had gone past Kyoto and all the surroundings were suddenly completely new to me. At first these views were pretty damn boring and brown but I started to spot snow covered mountains in the distance. Eventually the suburbs gave way to the countryside and I was treated to tiny Japanese villages with traditional roofs and the occasional glimpse of the great lake itself. The most mysterious stop on the route was when we had to sit in a train station for about 15 minutes whilst we changed trains. We sat on the train, idling on the rail and noticed a large group of families all waiting on the opposite platform but far too far down to actually board the train. There was a kind of fence on either side of them turning the platform into, well, some kind of viewing platform. I later found out that Nagahama is home to the oldest continually operating train station building in Japan, dating back to the Meiji-restoration era. And what’s more they still have a steam train that runs along the modern track. I had just seen a massive clutch of Japanese train spotters! The lovely scenery and the feeling of being somewhere uninhabited, strange and old fashioned started to get me really excited so that by the time we finally got to Nagahama I was actually quite giddy. The big question of course was, ‘were the plum trees worth the trip?’. They Were Amazing. Of course you could tell that just by looking at the beautiful photos I have dotted this post with. Not being one for flowers normally I don’t have the language to describe such gorgeous plants so I shall let you drink in the pictures yourself. Apparently this is a practice called “bonbai.” Bonbai is much like bonsai in terms of it’s techniques, the shape of the trees and how they are cultivated but unlike bonsai it doesn’t strive to create vistas in miniature. Rather the trees grow to a natural size and the shaping is purely done to give them a pleasing shape. And some of the shapes are incredible, especially the trees which seemed to be almost dead but were happily flowering. I mean just look how thin that tree is at the base. It looks like it should have snapped in half. But yet, still flowering. This particular tree was over 400 years old and many of those in the exhibition were about 200 years of age. We were so impressed that on a complete whim we bought our own tree. A bonsai. Sadly this entry is a bit late and our tree has already flowered and withered away before I could take a photo of it in bloom. I’ll try my very best to get photos next year (assuming Fran can keep it alive for one year.) Afterwards we had a walk in the Japanese garden of the mansion and it too was wonderful, full of elaborate rockeries and stone formations, all covered in a rich green moss. Oh and there was this guy too. The thinnest sumo wrestler I have ever seen. So, so much so good. The trees were really good but I was still dubious about the time spent. And then I had a wander around the town. Come back tomorrow to discover what it was like.

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