By Yuka Matsumoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKITAGAWA, Kochi — The mirror-like surface of the pond reflected the shimmering tropical sunlight, and colorful water lilies floated upon it. The exact scene that master impressionist Claude Monet had dreamed of was right in front of me, in the village of Kitagawa, Kochi Prefecture.
After Monet moved to Giverny, northern France, he produced about 300 paintings of water lilies while cultivating a garden. Blue water lilies, which Monet long yearned for but never saw in flower, can be seen here in Monet’s Garden Marmottan in Kitagawa Village, near Cape Muroto.
“The blue water lily is a tropical plant that won’t grow in areas with low temperatures like Giverny,” the garden’s spokesman Takatoshi Ushimado, 36, said.
Light-blue flowers bloom beautifully from tall, slim stalks that stand straight up in the pond. The red and white temperate water lilies seen in the garden were originally divided off from roots grown in Monet’s garden in France.
To my surprise, the water lilies are planted in pots. About 190 pots are submerged in the meter-deep pond. They are carefully placed according to the colors of their flowers in clusters that form shapes like ovals. If they were planted directly in the pond bed, the water lilies would continue to propagate and would cover the whole pond. Landscapers enter the pond once a week to remove flowers that have finished flowering and any extra leaves.
“The water mirror won’t emerge without proper care,” Ushimado said.
The water lilies are at their best until late October. The lilies bloom in the morning and close their petals by about 2 p.m. Therefore, a morning visit is recommended.
The garden opened in 2000 and comprises three gardens over three hectares: the Water Garden featuring water lilies; the Light Garden based on Monet’s expedition to the Mediterranean Sea; and the Flower Garden that is as colorful as an artist’s palette.
The village of Kitagawa initially planned to build a winery using the village specialty of yuzu citrus. But this project fell through due to the burst of the economic bubble. Looking for ways to revitalize the village in connection with France, it came up with a scheme to re-create the garden of Monet’s home. People involved in the scheme visited France and received permission from The Claude Monet Foundation to build the only “Monet’s Garden” outside of France.
The garden in Kitagawa has received instructions from the administrator of Monet’s Garden in France. However, in the garden in Kitagawa, yuzu is also planted to take advantage of the local vegetation.
Fresh aroma in autumn
Kitagawa is one of the most renowned yuzu production areas of Japan.
Ikeda Yuugaen Corp. has developed a concentrated yuzu beverage that is served diluted with water, the first of its kind in Japan.
“My company only uses organically grown yuzu,” said President Ippei Ikeda. The company sells a yuzu beverage containing honey, and a jelly with white flowers inside it.
It is said that the whole village is filled with the scent of yuzu in late autumn when trees bear fruit.
Nakaoka key in spread of yuzu
The person who established yuzu production in the village is believed to be Nakaoka Shintaro (1838-1867), a close associate of Sakamoto Ryoma, who was a key figure in the historical events leading up to the Meiji Restoration.
Kitagawa, which is surrounded by mountains, has only a few flat areas. Flooding and famine had long troubled the villagers, and yuzu was considered a good condiment to eat with fish even when they could not afford salt. The citrus could also be sold at a high price. Born into the family of a village headman, it is believed that Nakaoka encouraged the villagers to cultivate it.
Nakaoka Shintaro Kan, a museum about his life, is located in his birthplace of the Kashiwagi district. A picture of a smiling Nakaoka welcomes visitors in front of the museum.
Keiichi Nakamoto of the museum jokingly said, “There aren’t any other shishi [leading figures of the restoration] who smile like him, don’t you think?”
Through his job as a headman, Nakaoka came to the conclusion that it was necessary to change the structure of society in order to enrich his village. He left his domain to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate and was committed to forming an alliance between the Satsuma and Choshu domains. However, he was assassinated in Kyoto along with Sakamoto without seeing the start of the new government. He was only 29 years old.
The house where Nakaoka was born has been reconstructed near the museum. There is also a yuzu orchard nearby.
“People who visit this area can experience the environment where Shintaro was born and grew up themselves,” Nakamoto said.
I put my hands together to pray in front of the grave where his hair is interred. The grave is in the Shorinji temple overlooking the village.
On the way back from the temple, I picked up a tiny yellow fruit on a sloping path. It was a yuzu that had fallen prematurely, ahead of its time.
It takes 80 minutes by plane from Haneda Airport to Kochi Airport, then about 25 minutes from the airport to Kochi Station by bus. From there, it takes about 1½ hours on the JR Dosan Line, followed by the Tosa Kuroshio Tetsudo’s Gomen Nahari Lin to Nahari Station. Take a village-operated bus to Kitagawa from Nahari Station.
For more information, call the Kitagawa tourism association at (0887) 32-1221.
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