Today, as I arrive in Bunkyō Ward, I am overwhelmed. In front of me is the massive Tokyo Dome, the home of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team, but this isn’t why I am here. Outside the stadium, there is the strangest roller coaster I have ever seen, Thunder Dolphin. The seventh tallest continuous circuit roller coaster in the world; it twists and turns between the buildings, and through the middle of the first Ferris wheel in the world to have a hollow centre; again, this isn’t why I am here.
The Fan Who Knew Too Much
Today I am in Bunkyō to see a tree.
I follow what looks like a castle wall for about ten minutes, before eventually arriving at the entrance to Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens. Special Historic Site and Special Place of Scenic Beauty, the gardens are named after a poem by the Chinese poet, Fan Zhongyan; the poem is Yueyang Castle:
Be the first to take the world’s trouble to heart, be the last to enjoy the world’s pleasure.
At the entrance, I pay my ¥300 and make an enquiry as to the location of the tree. “That is a different garden,” says the woman as she hands me the ticket I have just paid for. She then takes out a map of Bunkyō and highlights where I am right now, then circles the place where the tree is. Not wanting to upset the apple cart by asking for my money back, I thank her for her help and enter the gardens anyway.
The first thing that strikes me is the magic of Tokyo Dome. The dome is white and provides an impressive backdrop to the many Japanese silver leaf and maple trees. The interesting thing though is that the dome refuses to be photographed. As I focus my camera, the roof of the dome just magically disappears as it blends into the white Summer sky. It is hard to explain. The roof is made of some magical material that makes it look like a living organism, perhaps a chameleon.
I continue to explore the wrong gardens; the peace and tranquillity are quite welcoming. A huge lake takes up most of the area, and there is a nice walking route around the lake. The only thing that spoils it for me is the restoration project that is currently taking place until next year. The workers here have their work cut out today as it appears that a large part of the lake has crumbled during this week’s heavy rainfall. Water is being sucked away by a huge industrial pump.
The thing that makes these gardens worth a visit though, are the scarecrows.
Scarecrow Brother, Where Art Thou?
I actually spent a time last week trying to find rice fields in Tokyo, just so that I could see what a Japanese scarecrow looks like. Today I am not disappointed. Never mind the crows, these sinister creations scare even me.
I continue to explore the deserted gardens. I must be the only person here; presumably, everyone else is in the correct gardens. I walk all the way around the lake, and toward the exit. I am really looking forward to revisiting all nine of the Metropolitan Cultural Heritage Gardens in Tokyo during different seasons; in a few months time, I will get to enjoy the dappled shades of autumn leaves.
I leave Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens and walk the thirty minutes to the similarly named Koishikawa Botanical Gardens. I pay the ¥400 entry fee and explore.
These gardens are managed by the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Science and are the birthplace of Japanese botanical research. Dating back to 1684, the garden displays a collection of over four thousand species of plants, and a herbarium containing over 1.4 million specimens. With over four thousand species and a map written entirely in Japanese, my search for one specific tree is almost fruitless.
“What Goes Up Must Come Down”
I wander through the lush garden foliage for over an hour; it is the most peaceful place I’ve been to in my life. Eventually, I find Mendel’s Grapevine. Next to the grapevine is the tree, Newton’s apple tree.
The tree rarely grows apples. When it finally does bear fruit, the apples are instantly devoured by the many crows in the park, so many crows; maybe I should have stolen a scarecrow from the other gardens.
Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree is not the original tree that he floated under before he invented gravity. This tree is just a sapling from the famous tree and was delivered to Japan in 1964. It was almost incinerated on arrival at Haneda International Airport because the leaves were infected, but an agreement was made so that the tree could be replanted in an isolated environment, and now it is here.
Rather ironically, I learnt today that the original Newton’s apple tree is in Lincolnshire, England. My birthplace.