TOKYO 2: Tokyo National Museum, Chiba University, Tojo House, Akihabara Electric Town, Angyo Village of Garden Plants, Omiya Bonsai Village, Bonsai Art Museum, Shinjuku Station



Phil and I had agreed to accompany Hirata sensei to Chiba University this afternoon to give a short presentation about our TRIAD experience so far, so we had a limited amount of time in which to explore Tokyo in the morning. Hirata sensei recommended that we head to Ueno Park to visit Tokyo National Museum.

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With 87 National Treasures, 610 Important Cultural Property Holdings and over 110,000 artefacts all in all, Tokyo National Museum collects, houses and displays a wonderful array of artworks and antiquities including ceramics, metalwork, textiles, weaponry and Buddhist sculpture from Japan and other Asian countries. Established in 1872 it is Japan’s oldest national museum and on the walls of its 5 galleries is the world’s largest collection of Japanese Art.

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I was excited to visit to see Tokyo National Museum’s collection of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) by one of my favourite artists, Katsushika Hokusai, but unfortunately they were all taken off display for conservation purposes so I had to make do with a couple of postcards from the museum shop instead. I will have to come back to Japan to visit the museum another time!

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Still, with so much on display I spent a very pleasant hour or so strolling around the Hankan Gallery. I was delighted to learn that the photography of most artefacts in the gallery was not prohibited, so I was able to photograph the items I found particularly beautiful or interesting. Here are some of my favourites:-

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The main purpose of our visit to Tokyo National Museum was to view the special exhibition ‘Masterpieces of Buddhist Sculpture from Northern Japan’. Photography here was prohibited though so I wasn’t able to photograph my favourite sculptures, the Yakushi Triad Statues from Shojoji Temple. Something about the name…



After a pleasant morning at the museum Phil and I travelled with Hirata sensei to Chiba University’s Matsudo Campus to attend the Japan-Korea Student Seminar held in the Tojyogaoka Ceremony Hall. Here Phil and I gave a 10-minute presentation about what we have learnt so far about Japanese horticulture and tradition. Well I say 10 minutes – we’ve seen and experienced so much during our time as TRIAD fellows that we couldn’t possibly have condensed it into 10 minutes. We actually gave a 14-minute presentation and I know this because one of the other students made a special tongue-in-cheek ’14 minute’ sign!




Whilst we were at Chiba University Matsudo campus we had some time to explore the grounds and the nearby Matsudo City Park. There was a rather lovely Ume (plum) grove for our enjoyment.

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Hirata sensei recommended that we visit Tojo-tei, the former residence of Tokugawa Akitake, brother of the last Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Built in 1884 this minimalist traditional Japanese-style wooden house shows how the upper classes lived during the Edo and Meiji periods. So many rooms lead off from what seems like a labyrinth of corridors – it would have been quite easy to get lost inside.

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There was also an exhibition of traditional Japanese toys for use to enjoy in the main living room.

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The garden at Tojo is also a significant part of the residence as it was designed to be viewed from various windows and corridors inside the house.

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According to Hirata sensei this beautiful ‘yellow’ cherry tree in the garden is quite a rarity.


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On the way back to our hotel that evening Hirata sensei offered to show us around the Akihabara electric town. Naturally we jumped at the chance to have our first taste of the bright lights of Tokyo. Akihabara was such a contrast to the beautiful, tranquil gardens we have been visiting – it’s hard to believe we’re in the same city! To give you a little history, Akihabara Station was the hub for black market radio parts and other electronic items after World War II, and during the 1960s and 1970s became the place to visit for cut-priced electronics, new or used. Today the district is hailed as the centre of Japan’s otaku (geek) culture and in addition to the hundreds of electronics shops selling everything from the latest tablets, mobile phones, cameras, televisions and home appliances to used electrical goods and electronic ‘junk’, there are many places dedicated to the anime and manga.

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Oh, and as you can see in the photo below many trains have women only carriages. Funny looking women in this one though…

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Sunday was the last day on which we would have the pleasure of Hirata sensei’s company and guidance. Sadly it was another wet day but we didn’t let that get in the way of our itinerary for the day. Hirata sensei had very kindly hired a car to take us to some of Greater Tokyo’s less accessible spots.

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Once we’d collected the car our first port of call was a visit to Angyo, Kawaguchi in north east Tokyo. Angyo is frequently referred to as ‘The Village of Garden Plants’ or the ‘Tree Nursery Village’ due to its 380 year plus history as a distribution centre for garden plants and flowers. Angyo’s red, loamy soil and excellent water table provide the optimum growing conditions.

Today Angyo is renowned for its production and training of high quality trees, which are successfully marketed as ‘Garden Plants of Angyo’. Trees are trained in the ‘Angyo-style’ using techniques such as ‘fukashi’ (promoting earlier flowering of blossoms), ‘nemawashi’ (preparing for uprooting from the soil), ‘nemaki’ (root wrapping) and, of course, bonsai. Unfortunately the famous market at Angyo’s Jurian Hall was not open on the day of our visit but we were able to have a look around the indoor and outdoor plant centres there.

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Looks like it’s not just garden centres in the UK which get all lovey-dovey around Valentine’s Day. Well, White Day to be technically correct.

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We were also able to catch a glimpse of trees and bonsai growing in some of the other nurseries around Angyo.

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Next we stopped for a spot of lunch at a nearby Udon restaurant where, as well as eating a delicious lunch, we were able to see the noodles transformed from paste to plate.

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After lunch we drove on to the Omiya Bonsai Village in Saitama City. Omiya has been the epicentre of the bonsai industry from 1923 when the bonsai industry in Tokyo had to seek out alternative accommodation for their businesses due to the adverse effects of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Omiya was chosen on account of its clean water, available land and good soil. One of the horticulturists at this bonsai nursery was kind enough to let us wander around the bonsai and take pictures, something which is not usually permitted for the general public.

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Some of the bonsai at the nursery were very beautiful and very old. I particularly liked this bonsai Magnolia – I only wish it was in flower whilst we were there!



One of my favourite elements of bonsai is something called ‘shari’ – the decayed, often white-coloured, pieces of wood which attractively twist and curl from many bonsai. There were some stunning examples of shari at this bonsai nursery.

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We were also very fortunate to see Japan’s oldest bonsai tree here – a one thousand year old shimpaku (Japanese Juniper). I couldn’t resist having my photo taken beside it.

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Next stop was to the nearby Bonsai Art Museum, which was established in 2010 to promote the culture of bonsai both internationally and in its home city of Saitama where bonsai is a designated traditional industry. The world’s first publicly-run bonsai museum, the Bonsai Art Museum has many bonsai on display as well as bonsai pots, paintings depicting bonsai, and exhibition rooms showcasing the traditional styles of displaying bonsai indoors.



Luckily there was plenty of interpretation in English so I was able to dramatically increase my knowledge of bonsai ready for our week training with a bonsai master in Kasai City in a few weeks’ time. I learnt that there is much more to the art of bonsai appreciation than just the overall shape. It is important to imagine a great landscape compressed into a pot to fully appreciate Bonsai. One should also observe each individual element of the bonsai, including the following:-

ROOTS                  The first thing to observe is the spreading of the roots. The roots help to hold the soil in place in the pot, and the vigour of the tree can also be appreciated by seeing roots swell with age.

TRUNK                  The trunk supports the areal parts of the tree and is the first part of bonsai appreciation (called ‘Tachi-agari’). One should also appreciate the differences in bark type.

EDABURI              The name for the gracefully-shaped branches exhibited by many bonsai.

LEAF      The leaves of all bonsai are different, even within the same species.

JIN          The perished tips on branches.

SHARI    The decayed, often white-coloured parts of trunks.

BONSAI FORMS                                Shohaku Bonsai, Zoki Bonsai, Chokkan Bonsai, Fukinagashi Bonsai, Kengai Bonsai and Netsuranari Bonsai


Since the Edo era the Japanese have used potted plants to decorate both the inside and outside of their homes. Signs at the Bonsai Art Museum explained some of the principles behind the arrangement of bonsai in a Zashiki Kazari display. Zashiki Kazari is bonsai work displayed in an alcove. Attention is paid to the combination and overall harmony in the room, with the focus placed on the ‘shoboku’ – the main Bonsai in the display. Other elements such as hanging scrolls, smaller Bonsai and tables are also used. There are three main styles for the display of bonsai indoors – Gyo, Shin and So.

Outside there were lots of Bonsai to appreciate and to compare, although unfortunately photography was only permitted in a small area.

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All these ‘no photography’ signs make the blogger’s life rather difficult at times. This sign made me giggle though…



I had fun trying to work out which of the Bonsai was my favourite and what, if anything could be inferred from the name of my selection. I finally settled on this Shimpaku called ‘Jyuun’ because I liked the overall shape and the particularly attractive shari. Apparently ‘Jyuun’ means ‘cloud of happiness’ or something similar. Oh well, it’s not the first time I’ve been told I have my head in the clouds.



It was quite a journey back to central Tokyo but we mustered the energy for a little evening exploration of Tokyo. Chisato Suzuki – an ex-student of Hirata sensei – had joined us for the afternoon and had agreed to be our guide for a day next week. Once we had said our goodbyes to Hirata sensei Chisanto took Phil and me to Shinjuku Station so that we could experience the world’s busiest train station for ourselves. Even though it was a Sunday and by no means rush hour the station was still heaving with people. I dread to think what it would have been like on a weekday morning! The area around Shinjuku Station is also quite iconic, in all its neon-light glory. Shame about the rain though – we only had one umbrella between the three of us so Phil and I had to take it in turns venturing outside the station to take photographs!

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  1. Ian Clayton

    You do seem to having a great time. What an experience! Really sad that we will not be seeing in weeks time but will be thinking of you. Enjoying your blog very much. Love Ian x

  2. rhiannonharris2014

    I’m sad you’re not able to make it too Ian but I’m sure there’ll be other opportunities! I really am having a great time over here!

  3. Pingback: Mastering Bonsai with a True Bonsai Master | Triad Fellowship

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