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Japan in Autumn: Burnished Glory

Gardens glow with autumn colour; calm, gentle and serene. Skies are clear, days are sunny, and nights are crisp causing leaf colour to change in the most dramatic way. Exhilarating displays of chrysanthemums adorn many temple gardens.


Our very first ‘Ross’ garden tour was Japan in autumn 1980. I was enchanted at this introduction and have loved Japan all these years since. I love her ethereal beauty at cherry blossom time and I love her burnished glory in autumn.

There is so much colour in autumn. Maples, deciduous azaleas, birch, and dawn redwoods; all aglow. In the mountains, there are great contrasts. Deep evergreen cedar forests highlight grand swathes of native Japanese maples in full, vibrant glory. This is my favourite season!

Japan hosts the world’s finest exhibitions of chrysanthemums in autumn. You will see them at railway stations, city parks, temples, and castles; magnificent displays made with breathtaking precision. Testament to horticultural skill and dedication, individual chrysanthemum plants can be up to 18 months old, 3m in diameter with 1,000 flowers! Such is their expertise, that any one plant has a stem no thicker than a pencil.

In Nagoya, the exhibition is 500m long and beautifully positioned with Nagoya Castle and the recently reconstructed Hommaru Palace towering in the background. Our travellers are all spell-bound, beyond description!

We stay in traditional style at Nikko Kanaya, now 149 years old. From here, views to the red- lacquered Shinkyo Sacred Bridge are sublime. This bridge dates to 1636 and spans the UNESCO-protected Daiya River, along with the extravagantly decorated Toshogu Shrine and temple complex, resting place of the most revered Tokugawa Ieyasu.

To celebrate our 40th Ross tour to Japan, we planted, along with members of the Kanaya Family, an Australian Wollemi Pine in the beautiful gardens of the hotel.

This beautiful mountainous region is overlooked by the sacred Mt. Nantai (2,486m high), a treeless sleeping volcano. The Toshogu Shrine is surrounded by a 400-year-old forest of ancient Japanese Cedars ( Cryptomeria japonica ), planted in 1617. They once lined the whole route of Tokugawa Ieyasu's funeral procession that led from Tokyo to Nikko.

Strolling gardens were popular when Japan was ruled by Tokugawa Ieyasu and then, his descendants. Owned by wealthy samurai, gardens were designed to allow their wives to promenade and admire the landscape. Two such gardens are Rikugien in Tokyo and Kenrokuen in Kanazawa.

Both are specified as ‘Places of Scenic Beauty’ by the Japanese Government. With picturesque lakes and streams, perfectly placed rocks, meandering pathways and mighty stone lanterns, they are embroidered with an exquisite selection of plants. In Kenrokuen, the ‘yukitsuri’ (snow maypoles, pictured above) are erected over the 12,000 mature pine trees to protect them from the weight of winter snow.

Nothing is more traditional in the ‘world of horticulture’ than Japanese bonsai. Mastered over a thousand years and evolving into many {feature} styles and sizes, these bonsai command attention especially when they are displayed in one collection at Omiya Bonsai Art Museum.

We stroll into Mansei-en Bonsai Nursery, now life-long friends. Filled with exquisite, rare and ancient bonsai, there is one juniper that is dated 2,000 years old, collected in the wild in 1990 by the late Saburo Kato. This is the world’s oldest bonsai and I have been watching the training programme for 30 years!

After 50 visits, Japan is still my favourite destination. People are friendly and respectful, cuisine is deliciously tantalising, and landscape is perfectly sublime.


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