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Friday, July 16, 2004

PACIFIC FLORA 2004

A year of flower power


Staff writer

Looking for places to go this summer? Well, if you want something unique then head for Hamamatsu City in Shizuoka Prefecture.

News photo
The pathway (above) leads to the replica of Monet's home; tulips from Thailand blooming in the International Garden area.
News photo

Right in front of Lake Hamana, the Shizuoka International Garden and Horticulture Exhibition is taking place and there you can see 6,000 varieties of flowers and other plants. Also known as Pacific Flora 2004, the international flower exhibition started April 8 (it ends Oct. 11) and has already attracted more than 2.9 million visitors, ogling at the flora spread over a space 12 times the size of Tokyo Dome.

Pacific Flora 2004 is a bit different from your usual botanical gardens. It's not just about seeing beautiful flowers or increasing your knowledge of botany. Visitors can also learn something about different cultures and lifestyles while wandering around the 12 pavilions and the gardens.

After strolling through the main gate, visitors can go where they please. One of the exhibition highlights is the Flower Museum Pavilion, which boasts an almost life-size replica of the house and garden of 19th-century painter Claude Monet located in Giverny, France.

As well as being an Impressionist painter, Monet was also a talented landscape designer. He created his dream garden near a tributary of the River Seine and spent the latter half of his life there. Many of his masterpieces, including his painting of water lilies, were conceived in this garden.

The replica in Hamamatsu is well-designed, with a psychedelic mix of orange, pink, white, purple and yellow flowers, as well as abundant greenery. The pond and the bridge that arches over it is best to visit in the morning, when the water lilies are in bloom (they "nap" at night).

It's known that Monet was inspired by Japanese ukiyoe pictures, and this arched bridge is a excellent example. Appropriately, ukiyoe prints have been hung on each wall of the replica house's dining hall. In an adjacent room visitors can view a short film about Monet and learn more about his life and philosophy toward gardening and nature in general.

Visitors will encounter ukiyoe prints again in the Japanese Traditional Horticulture Museum, a pavilion that gives insight into the history of Japanese gardening. Here, the gardening boom in the Edo Period (1603-1867) is traced back to the first three shoguns of the Tokugawa Shogunate, who were very fond of flowers such as camellia and maple. Among the historical exhibits are ukiyoe prints that depict potted-plant vendors and ordinary people of Edo enjoying gardening.

In addition to the history exhibit, various traditional garden plants -- as well as precious bonsai, including some courtesy of the Imperial Household Agency -- are on display. Speaking of which, the Emperor Showa Nature Museum is a pavilion that presents specimens collected by the late Emperor Showa -- a keen botanist -- at his country residence at Suzaki on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture, as well as his equipment used during his botanical research.

More local flowers and vegetation can be observed as you stroll through Hyakkaen, where some 500,000 flora of 5,000 different varieties, including gladiolus, lilies, petunia, salvia, hibiscus, bamboos, herbs and other plants and vegetables, are gathered. Unlike other areas, all plants in this section have their scientific names displayed, so you get the feeling that you're walking through a living encyclopedia.

Rare plants from other nations -- such as the Jurassic tree and baobab from Australia and jacaranda from Brazil -- are also on display, in an area called the International Garden. The small gardens here focus on 24 different countries and regions of the world, giving visitors an opportunity to sample the unique horticulture of many different cultures.

There are also gardens where you can see examples of the work of top international landscape designers from nations such as the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, as well as Japan.

For those who feel inspired to go home and start -- or expand -- gardens of their own, shops will be selling seeds and plants. And there's food, too. Food stands and restaurants offer a variety of tasty dishes from around the world, but don't forget the local specialty -- unagi (eel) from Lake Hamana.

Before departing, be sure to check out some of the examples of the latest horticultural technology. This section is not only aimed at improving the breeding of species, but also gives tips on how to develop an eco-friendly garden.

If you do decide to visit Pacific Flora 2004, be prepared to spend a lot of time under the sun so bring a hat or sun-block. There are, however, plenty of seats in shade where you can take a break.

Overall, Pacific Flora 2004 is a wonderful summertime event. Note, though, that since it covers a lot of ground, you might not be able to see everything in just one day. A return visit, though, is a good option, as flowers and various other exhibits change according to the season, until the finale on Oct. 11.

To reach the Pacific Flora 2004 from Tokyo and Osaka, take the shinkansen to JR Hamamatsu Station. From there, a shuttle bus to the exhibition site is just 500 yen. Admission to Pacific Flora 2004 for adults between the ages of 18 and 64 is 2,900 yen. It's 2,000 yen for those aged 65 or over, 1,500 yen for high-school students, and 800 yen for junior-high students and elementary-school children. More information is available at www.flora2004.or.jp/


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