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The 1200-year-old wisteria at Fujino-Ushijima

Two powerful forces came together to produce this post: firstly my determination to visit new spots every year; secondly a heinous blow to my self-esteem, delivered with fine precision by Lina and Dru, who claimed on Dru's blog that I've become such an Indiana Jones shrine hunter that I don't write girly posts about pretty flowers anymore.


"If you prick me, do I not bleed? if you tickle me, do I not laugh? if you poison me, do I not die? and if you wrong me, shall I not revenge? The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."

Thank you, Shakespeare, couldn't have said it better myself!

So, muttering self-righteously and plotting retribution, I took off for Fujino-Ushijima (藤の牛島) in Saitama to see a 1200-year-old wisteria that's been designated a natural monument. I didn't accidentally add a zero to that number: it was allegedly planted by Kōbō Daishi* (774–835). It's also mentioned in records of the Muromachi era (1337–1573).

* Is there anything in Japan that is not attributed to Kōbō Daishi?

The 1200-year-old wisteria at Fujino-Ushijima.
Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

I wrote in detail about wisteria in a previous post, so this time, let's focus on a famous kabuki dance called Wisteria Maiden (藤娘 Fuji Musume). It was first performed in 1826 at Nakamura-za in Edo, but it didn't become truly famous until a century later, when Onoe Baikō VII (尾上梅幸), the best-known kabuki actor of his time, delivered his renowned interpretation at Kabuki-za in Tokyo. It remains one of the most popular dances in the repertoire. It's quite sensual: the lyrics (長唄 nagauta or long song) that accompany the dance refer to the closeness of the wisteria and its supporting pine tree, and compare the entwined stems with two lovers sleeping together.

Here's Bandō Tamasaburō V (坂東 玉三郎in the role of the wisteria maiden:

The wisteria at Fujino-Ushijima

The tree covers an area of 700 square meters. Massive, breathtaking, with the sweetest fragrance imaginable. It's bliss beyond description to walk underneath its trellis, with long wisteria blooms brushing against your face. The main wisteria has two trunks, but there are other smaller plants, including a rarer white wisteria.

It's the most expensive flower garden I've visited in Japan. It costs ¥1000, which I think is a bit steep, but … this entire garden consists of wisteria, in other words, it probably receives visitors for only one month each year. It's crowded during wisteria season, but not unbearably so. I should add that I went very early and escaped by 10:30, when it got busy.

There's nothing to do except to look at flowers, buy kitsch souvenirs and eat at a so-so snack shop in the garden. The rest of the garden is meh, and it's in a semi-rural semi-urban sprawl.

This wisteria at Fujino-Ushijima covers 700 square meters.

It requires a bit of a trek: I took the Tokyo Sky Tree Line from Asakusa to Kasukabe, changed to the Noda Line, got off one station later at Fujino-Ushijima and walked to the garden. The train journey is about 45 minutes on a rapid express or 60 minutes on a local; the garden is 15 minutes on foot from the station.

Just be warned that Kasukabe Station is slightly confusing. I couldn't find any sign pointing me towards the Noda Line, and eventually had to ask at the ticket counter. It's Platform 7, in case you want to know.

Now for my obligatory rant. Why, Japan, why do you have to play endless announcements over loudspeakers in public places? Here, too, ad nauseum, unnecessary waffle broadcast in that syrupy sweet, high-pitched female voice that is so inexplicably popular in Japan. Shut up already and give me a brochure to read.

I hate that voice. It's also used for platform warnings and train announcements and the sodai-gomi truck in our neighbourhood. If I ever meet a real woman who speaks like that, I swear I will slap her silly.

Herewith endeth my rant.

More wisteria trivia

Why is it called wisteria in English? The botanist Thomas Nuttal said he named it in memory of Dr Caspar Wistar (1761–1818), but he changed it to wisteria instead of wistaria because "it sounded better".

Various websites tell me wisteria symbolizes "playfulness and adventure", but no explanation is given why. Perhaps because it grows so boisterously?

The flowers are fragrant but cannot be used to distil an essential oil. Only artificial compounds can recreate their fragrance.

An old-timer like the one at Fujino-Ushijima is called a rōju (老樹 very old tree) in Japanese.

Thank you

Thanks, Lina and Dru, for providing extra motivation to drag my lazy bones off to Saitama. I didn't say anything about temples, did I?, though I got my revenge by clobbering you with (a bit of) history. Here's a video I took of the wisteria, followed by more photos.

All that is one tree ...

New life on a tree that is 1200 years old.

White wisteria

Sign pointing the way

The manhole covers in Fujino-Ushijima also have a wisteria design.

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