Awaji: First Impressions

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From the Panoramic Observatory – Awaji Yumebutai

Japan is beautiful. No doubting that. As possibly the oldest TRIAD fellow, the 30 hour trip from JFK to KIX racked my entire being, but as Bryan and I moved from terminal to terminal, we felt a dizzying excitement about the journey ahead. Once through customs, then immigration, and with our mugshots preserved for posterity, we became official residents of Japan for the next four months.

Jet lag is real. Very real. It took about two days for our bodies to realize what time it was, and to be honest, that first day was a bit fuzzy. Our point of contact, Murase, was an excellent and gracious guide. Getting us set up with the Home Office, bank accounts, checking in to ALPHA, driving school, uniforms, etc. was no small feat for a day’s work, and there was surely no way we could have done it without him. Having slept very little the night before himself, Murase deserves an award for executing possibly the smoothest TRIAD transition ever. Thank you Murase!

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Cycas revoluta line the streets of Awaji

Bryan and I, together, make an excellent TRIAD pair, if not a little intense. We compliment each other well although we are very different people – we Ying to each other’s Yang, so to speak (I’m the Yang) – and we’re both quick to get out there and explore our surroundings. So on our second day in Japan, we did just that. With our new friend and future TRIAD fellow Satomi Doi accompanying us, we began our integration into Japanese society the best way Americans can…by shopping.

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A breakfast created from my bounty

Like I said, Bryan and I are adventurous, and not English, so we wasted no time in buying all the strange fish and pickled products we thought prudent. Satomi was of great help in deciphering some of the more unfamiliar products to us. Bryan can understand a good deal of hiragana, and I am a hipster foodie from Brooklyn, but without Satomi’s help we probably would have had an embarrassing situation on our hands. She has our eternal thanks, and we are happy to have made our first new friend in Japan.

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Orchids line the walls of Kiseki no Hoshi, awaiting installation

One thing I didn’t fully realize about Awaji, is that it is subtropical – we lay on about the same latitude as Los Angeles. The street trees are cycads. Cycads. Aloe, Camellia, and Euryops line the roadsides, in full bloom, in January. It is beautiful. Bamboo as tall as poplars cover the hillsides. Although just as problematic as back in the states, they are breathtaking as they heave with the coastal winds. Japanese blood grass, Imperata cylindrica, is everywhere, enough to make any American nurseryman salivate. But as impressive as the roadside plantings are, nothing can compare to the beauty found within Kiseki no Hoshi, the botanical garden Bryan and I have the privilege to work at these next few months.

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Breezy being easy – Kiseki no Hoshi

No pictures will do it justice – Kiseki is huge. Similarly to Longwood, Kiseki flawlessly executes extravagant, beautiful displays within a diverse and botanically important collection. But unlike Longwood, it is distinctly Japanese, and showcases the best in Japanese modern and traditional design. It is curated and cared for remarkably, under the direction of Tomoko Tsujimoto, our new boss. Bryan and I cannot express how excited, and nervous, we are to work for such an accomplished master. The next four months will be a test of our abilities as gardeners. We will build upon our skills and everything we’ve learned to this point – as students; as humans. Should we fail or succeed, we will be the better for it.

– A.D.

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The author as a medium-to-young man

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