Keihanna memorial park

Keihanna memorial park was built to commemorate Kyoto’s part as one of 3 main capitals in Japan’s history.  The others being Nara previously and Edo (Tokyo) recently.  Kyoto stood as Japan’s imperial capital for 1200 years.  The park is now 22 years old.  We were taken through the history of the park, and its future projects by Ida san.

The  Ueyakato landscape company now looks after the entire park running, and has done for the last 10 years.  Since that time visitor numbers have grown from 200000 per year to 600000.  Kyoto has 2000000 or so residents and many tourists so numbers are expected to grow further.

Visitor engagement activities are strong here and for a diverse range of people. These include camping, moon viewing (tsukimi), bread making, and children’s activities of mochi making and nagashisoba.  The latter involving catching noodles as they are sent down a water shoot.  These ideas were very interesting.  The mochi making particularly so beginning with rice planting and ending with the finished mochi, so cultivating an understanding of the whole cycle and process involved, and also touching on sustainability and organic growing.  These activities ran in conjunction with volunteers, who bring many different skills that can be harnessed for the wider community.

The park also features a gallery for exhibitions.  Currently a textile exhibition was being held showing products made from silk.  This was fascinating.  Each silkworm produces 1300m of thread.  Fundamental to the exhibition was the use of natural materials, and the recycling of inputs used in the manufacturing process.  Dyes were made from different water types, and a mixture of natural products.  Stacked dyeing means the dyes are used until all the dye is removed from the water creating different tones.  The water can then be recycled with no pollutant.  The dyes may be left for up to 6 years and warmed naturally to develop their full potency.

The textiles created in the exhibition were fascinating.  Made by children, amateurs, and professional artists the creations were fun and beautiful, the process was very interesting, and larger exhibits were displayed and suspended through the park

The park has 10 staff and everything is done in house.  Being part of a larger company does help to draw resources, particularly for the garden where increased seasonal labour demands can be met efficiently.  The skills within the team impressed, and again their willingness to share any specialism through engagement.  Discussion and learning from each other again is central to the success of the project.  Events are related to the expertise of the staff.  Staff are encouraged to learn on the job from one another.

The park is ran with omotenashi (hospitality) in mind.  The park is 24ha, with a free and paying area.  Areas of the park can be rented as well, for diverse activities from clubs to concerts and festivals.  Organisation and communication is key.  I was impressed with the advertising and visitor information.  It was simple and straightforward, and used photography from visitors, volunteers and staff.  With the success of this park, it may germinate more areas like this to help distribute tourism throughout the prefecture more evenly.

The parks ethos is one of people learning from nature, in a wide context.  By treating visitors as friends repeat visits follow.  I was impressed by the diversity of groups here, in particular the younger generations playing, picnicking, and enjoying the open space that is provided without charge.  This area of the park has allows real freedom.  Children were encouraged to get close to nature, and seeing many playing in the stream with family reminded me of the importance of these opportunities.  The creation of spaces where this is possible is important.

It was interesting to see a modern garden, and was a refreshing difference from the traditional and historic gardens i have seen.  Both wonderful in their own right.  The park protects the nature within and beyond.  It is sympathetic to the wider landscape.  It contains elements of traditional japanese design, with the inclusion of rice terraces and traditional skills used within.

We had a tour round the park.  We saw some beautiful red pines.  These are found usually in mountainous habitats, enjoying the dry and full sun.  The black pine is from coastal and oceanic environments.  Pines can be problematic, and may suffer from pests.  Insecticide has been injected into many of the specimens in the park to control pest numbers.  These treatments have longevity and may last for 5-7 years.

The park contains a 123m bridge, 10m in height.  This is styled on bamboo screens and shutters seen in traditional houses.  The width of the bridge was designed at 4m to ease flow, and also to allow good disabled access.  Modern gardens have the potential to improve access to gardens for all.  The park complements this access by providing a freedom from the regularity of modern space.

The garden has a natural reservoir from a historic river.  The reservoir warms the water before being used for crop irrigation in the local rice paddies (tambo).  Maple is associated with valleys and waterfall scenery.  The design of the lakes and waterfall is clever.  The 2 are not actually connected but the design levels give the impression the water from the reservoirs is feeding the cascade.

The area is a habitat for an endangered species of eagle, and this was the initial reason the habitat was protected.  To protect the habitat there are no additional plants added to the park.  Most management focuses on allowing existing seed banks and flora to flourish, and different layers to develop harmoniously.  This is done by understanding, Komorebi, and how sunlight filters through trees and their canopies.

We were lucky to meet a lovely group of volunteers helping with some tree felling and pruning within the park.  The team working between contractors, staff, and volunteers was inclusive and effortless.  Our mentor drew our attention to the respect the Japanese have for the humble ant, for its communal effort, strength, and their industrious nature.  The aims of the tree surgery are to find a harmony within the ecology.  By allowing more light to different sections of the woodland, seeds can germinate and the understory shrubs and plants can flourish.  The work of the volunteers could be seen in the flowering display of rhododendrons benefiting from the reduction in the canopy.

We were shown traditional uses of bamboo for fencing.  Bamboo is cut for use in winter.  It is dried for 3-4 weeks then hung to avoid damage.  Leaves are stripped from the stems.

Later we learnt about the pruning of red pines.  These are pruned for a soft atmosphere, with less overlapping of branches.  The flow of the tree is important.  It was amazing seeing the gardeners climbing and pruning these specimens from the top down.  Pruning requires practice and time.  The habits of individual plants need to be learnt through the season, and also over different years.  Thought and accurate choice is the best way.  The balance of the tree is always most important.  The bark of the red pine is often cleaned to enhance its beauty.

As an aside, we also learnt the importance of shrines and the habitats in and around them.  Shrines due to the sacred nature show areas of untouched vegetation over time. Usually evergreen plants abound, due to the symbolism attached to them.  Local communities maintain these.

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