This is the first of a series of informal reports by myself on our visit and meeting in Japan in 2008. For the second report, please click here. For the third report, please click here.
For many of the 55 non-Japanese members, this must be one of the most fascinating and interesting visits for a number of years. This is not to decry any other visits, meeting and conferences. But it is fact that, for many people, visiting Japan by themselves is a very daunting prospect and unlikely to be undertaken. So to have the opportunity to visit under the guidance of our Japanese members was something not to be missed.
Whilst many people helped not only with the planning and organization but also with running the event, our thanks go to Mr Kozo Sugimoto, Mrs Mikiko Sugimoto and Ms Masako Yasutake as the lead team for the event, seen above (left to right) with Keiko, daughter of Kozo and Mikiko.
We were met at Nagoya Centrair Airport and driven to Ena City in Gifu Prefecture where we were to stay for the first two nights of our visit. Some of us had opted for Japan-style rooms and were delighted (well, I was) to enter a room simply furnished and decorated and a haven of calm and contemplation. The one question was "Where's the bed?" but this was answered later when, after returning from our welcome banquet, the table had been moved and two futon beds laid on the floor. And for those who found one futon a bit "firm", there was the possibility of using a second to give a slightly softer resting place.
The event started in spectacular fashion with a party and banquet at the Enakyo Kokusai Hotel in Ena City. We were given a display of Japanese archery, Basara dance and Taishomura dance, the latter accompanying a Japanese singer.
The bows used by the Japanese archers were much longer than I have seen used before, and obviously very powerful. The display left a lasting impression on us as an audience, also a lasting impression on the wall of the hall!
Both dance groups were very enthusiastic, though I cannot claim to understand all the nuances of their dances. However the singer made quite an entrance due to her western-style costume. This, so I understand, stems from the era of western contact with Japan in the late 19th century, but it was quite strange to me, seeing someone in western dress but Japanese make-up singing in Japanese. Just one of so many fascinating aspects of Japan, its history and culture.
The banquet was a fine mix of western and Japanese dishes, something for everyone and a gentle introduction for some of our group, less used to Japanese cuisine. And the room was finely decorated with floral displays featuring, of course, clematis, and composed by one of the hotel staff.
Clematis patens in the Wild / Rare Plant Nursery of Mr Yamaguchi
Our first full day and it was raining when our coaches left for a walk through the countryside to look for Clematis patens growing in the wild. With umbrellas unfurled and wearing an assortment of rain-proof (we hoped) clothing we set off, following Mr Saiju Yamaguchi who had joined us.
We walked for about 10 minutes, not quite sure where we were (we had been given lovely hand-drawn maps but it was raining too hard to use them) when, along side a rice paddy field we spotted white-ish flowers in the adjoining low shrubs, on the edge of wood and forest.
Those who visited Japan with the Society 10 years ago were immediately reminded of the similar location where we saw Clematis patens on that trip. But even for them, this was just as exciting and for those people for whom this was the first time seeing Clematis patens in the wild, it was quite breathtaking and well worth braving the wet weather.
Unfortunately the weather had taken its toll on many of the flowers, with discoloured edges and nibbled or otherwise damaged sepals. But one could still see the wide variation in flower shape of Clematis patens in the wild,. lending to a similar tendency in many of its cultivars.
In spite of the weather was were all enthralled at this sight and spent a long time just standing in the rain admiring these plants and their location.
But eventually we had to move onwards. Saiju Yamaguchi had mapped out a walk through the Japanese countryside which not only included Clematis patens but also Chionanthus retusa (the Chinese White Fringe Tree), Veratrum Stamineum var. micranthum and Schizophragma hydrangeoides, treats I'm sure for the knowledgeable but still a pleasant stroll for the rest of us, especially since the rain was now easing. We ended up in a small village, with some quite old houses and some very interesting gardens.
After a short stroll around the village our coaches arrived to take us onwards to the nursery of Mr Yamaguchi. He is internationally known for offering many very rare plants, especially native Japanese ones, and goes out often on plant finding expeditions. So a guided tour of this nursery given by the owner was a treat indeed.
I will leave the description of the treasures of this nursery to the journal next year, save for this beautiful and very floriferous Clematis japonica.
Kasugai Garden Center - Clematis Nursery of Kozo and Mikiko Sugimoto
After a Japanese style lunch we had but a short journey to our afternoon destination, the nursery of Kozo and Mikiko Sugimoto. Greeted by the Sugimoto family, and a beautiful display of Clematis 'Pure Heart' (see left), we were to spend the next few hours wandering the glass houses and outside displays of both familiar and also new clematis cultivars. Each Attendee Bag that we received when we first arrived had contained a copy of their Nursery Catalogue and here at the nursery they also provided an English index. But this was not necessary here as everything was very clearly labelled.
Whilst the large flowered hybrids can be quite spectacular and, I believe, are very popular in Japan (and of course elsewhere in the world) some of my favourites were the smaller flowered clematis. Unfortunately even in this report I cannot show them all so I have selected two which caught my eye, Clematis 'King's Dream' (right), Clematis 'Strawberry Kiss' (below left) and one with obvious texensis blood, Clematis 'Cherry Lip' (below right).
In addition to the glass houses there were a number of clematis displays, constructed with great care and an eye for the detail. And there were wonderful refreshments, often unpronounceable and sometimes unidentifiable but all absolutely delicious.
The afternoon went far too quickly but there was just time for a group photo before we had to return to our hotel for dinner. If you wish to download and save/print a larger version of this group photo, please click on it. But be warned, the file is 6 Mbytes in size.
What we didn't realize until we entered the dining room was that dinner tonight was "true" Japanese style, with us, the diners sat on cushions on low chairs (so low they had no legs, just a seat and back rest) at individual low tables. I must own up, my knees soon started objecting and eventually rather than sitting cross-legged I ended up legs stretched out in front. The food was wonderful, sashimi, tempura, soup, and much more, with Japanese beer to accompany it. We dined very well this evening.
And after dinner there was still more, with Mr Yamaguchi showing a selection of slides of some of his favourite plants and a very interesting talk by Dr. Mikinori on his clematis research. Dr. Mikinori has requested that I do not publish anything about his research for the moment, so we will all have to be patient.
Constitutional General Meeting - Golden Clematis Awards
I will finish my first report with news from the Constitutional General Meeting of the Society held on Thursday 5th June. At this C.G.M. the first of the Society Golden Clematis Awards" were presented. The recipients of two of these initial three awards were not present but one was - Werner Stastny of Sweden. Not normally known for his reticence to speak, for an instance even Werner was stunned to silence.
Werner, a founder member of this Society, was nominated by Edith Schmidt and seconded by Jürgen Knickmann. They said their nomination was both spontaneous and by conviction and cited Werner for the work he has done on behalf of the Society, not just when he was president (1991 - 1996) but throughout the years. He has made connections with breeders, producers and clematis lovers in various lands but especially in the Baltic countries. And he played a special role during the "difficult years" of the split and formation of the British Clematis Society, fronting discussions with certain members, especially the late John Maskelyne, to improve relationships and ultimately bring about reconciliation between the two societies.
The other two recipients of Golden Clematis Awards were Hans Ruedi Horn Gfeller of Switzerland, nominated by Walter Hörsch and seconded by Manfred Herian, and Vicki Matthews, nominated by Szczepan Marczyński and seconded by Jon Gooch. Roy Nunn, newly appointed vice president of this Society was able to present the award certificate to Vicki personally at a recent gathering that he and Angela hosted in their clematis-packed garden.
You can read about the award, and these first three winners, on our Golden Clematis Awards page. Full citations for all three awards will be contained in Clematis International 2009
To continue to the second report, please click here.
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