25 May 2015

Scottish Gardens

Scotland has some amazing gardens and some amazing wildflowers. In the last 2 weeks I have been outdoors in the wild walking through an ancient oak forest, carpeted with wild bluebells and unfurling green ferns. Darroch (Gaelic for oak) Woods in Blairgowrie, about 30 minutes north of Dundee is a special place to take a walk in the spring. 

The perfume from the bluebells would catch you as the wind blew....

The bluebells were amazing.....Scottish, native bluebells, as opposed to the Spanish bluebells seen in many gardens and now too in the wild. Scottish bluebells have their flowers mostly on one side of the stem and the petals of the flowers themselves curl all the way back. They are also a much darker shed of blue. 

The forest is also home to many ferns which were slowly unfurling, their fronds just opening ensuring that they are a beautiful fresh green colour.

This weekend we went to Branklyn Gardens in Perth. The garden is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is described as one of the finest private gardens in Scotland. It was started in the 1920s by the original owners the Rentons, a 2-acre garden surrounding a arts and craft style house. It is predominantly a collection of plants from the Himalayas and China, some collected by the original owners and others by the famous plant-collectors Ludlow and Sheriff. 


Whilst it is not a large garden it is home to many plants and national collections, including  primula and rhododendron, the national collection of meconopsis (Himalayan Poppies), which are currently at their peak and some beautiful peonies and acers. 



Acer and rhododendron

A few weeks ago when I was at Hill of Tarvit with the National Trust I managed to get a few free plants, leftover plants from last year. One of them was a trillium. My plant has grown well in my garden and I have been excited by its few flowers (maybe 4 altogether). I wonder just how old the trillium below is....

Today I went for a run with friends in Tentsmuir, the beach/forest close to Dundee, which I have posted about before. It is lovely to be able to run along the beach, with the sea on one side and the forest on the other. The forest is full of ancient pine trees and carpeted with ferns, bluebells, wild viola etc. As I am running I often expect to see some sort of dinosaur wandering the forest....it is primordial!

22 May 2015

Japan 2014, Day 10, Tokyo

Our last day in Tokyo...was to be a busy day. With our flight not until 1am we left the hotel about 11am and headed out to do some last minute shopping and sight-seeing. 

We went to Ueno, north of our hotel to visit the Tokyo National Museum which houses an amazing collection of over 110,000 art works and antiquities from Japan and other Asian countries. 

Here's the outside of the main museum building and the mascots of the museum, to encourage kids to visit and learn. 

The gardens of the museum house a number of old tea houses.

The museum's collection contains 87 Japanese national treasures and 610 objects classed as Important Cultural Property. 

Here are some of my favourite objects.

This lobster is over 300 years old and is made of metal. It is also articulated. Amazing.

This beautiful drawing of a teapot is also over 300 years old.

The samurai armour was amazing.

The textiles, mostly kimonos were stunningly beautiful, hand embroidered masterpieces. 

This is one of several Haniwa sculptures in the collection. Haniwa are terracotta figures which were produced from the early Kofun period to decorate tombs. During the 5th century, sculptures of people and animals started to appear. 

This is a contemporary netsuke. Netsuke are miniature sculptures that were invented in Japan in the 17th century. At that time Japanese robes did not have any pockets and the wearers needed somewhere to store their belongings. They used to hang containers called sagemono from their robes, attaching them with a cord. The objects were attached to the wearer's sash by a carved, button  like toggle...these are the netsuke. 

They were made famous in the west in recent years by the book The Hare with the Amber Eyes.

The museum houses a collection that was donated by Princess Takamado which she collected with her husband Prince Takamado. The collection consists of  many contemporary netsuke which are displayed in the museum in the Prince Takamado Collection Room. I loved this one of a fish egg sushi and the fish swimming up the river to spawn. 

This stunning hairpiece looked so delicate.

After the museum we wandered around Ueno Park, one of the first public parks in Japan, founded in 1873. 

We loved this manhole cover, decorated with cherry blossom...why can't we decorate our manhole covers so beautifully?

Shrines, temples and mausoleums also dot the park.

The swan boats that you can pedal round the lake...

One part of the lake is full of lotus and it was amazing to see the lotus seed heads..

We finally had to admit that our trip was over and headed to the airport. Haneda Airport has to be one of the most amazing airports I have ever visited. It used to the domestic airport for Tokyo-Japan but a new terminal dedicated to international travel opened in 2010, allowing long-haul flights to use the airport at night (hence our 1am flight). 

Terminal 3, the international terminal has many areas including a shopping/restaurant area that resembles an old Edo period street, the Nihombashi Bridge, a torii gate....

There was also a modern shopping area - Tokyo Pop and the Cool Zone - kawaii goods, Japanese design and the chance to play on the largest scaletrix track I have ever seen. 

You can still go outside at Haneda Airport to the viewing platform and watch the planes coming and going....the telescopes allowing you a view over the Tokyo Skyline...

Or you can view from the inside too!

20 May 2015

Japan 2014, Day 9, Nikko

Day 9 saw us make another early start to head north of Tokyo to the town of Nikko....or in reality to the shrines of Nikko. It was a short journey on the shinkansen to Utsonomiya where we changed to a local train for the final leg of the journey to Nikko.

As you can see, this was the only day of our trip where it was raining....it was wet, but it was only water...and it added to the atmosphere as we walked towards the shrines through the forest.

Shinkyo Bridge, which stands at the entrance to the shrine complex and is considered to be one of Japan's three finest bridges, which was built in 1636.  As you can see, whilst we were a few days to early for peak autumn leaves in Kyoto we were a few days too late in Nikko.

The path through the forest to the shrines of Toshugo, the  Rinnoji Temple and the Futusaran Shrine. The colours were still inspiring, the leaves on the trees and the ground just shrieking out for a photograph.

We saw a girl getting being photographed for some publicity materials, dressed in a beautiful kimono.

The shrines and temples of Nikko are also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. There are a total of 103 buildings recognised within 3 key complexes - the Toshugu Shrine, the Futurasan-jinja Shrine and the Rinno-ji Buddhist Temple. When we were there some of the buildings were covered in scaffolding so we didn't visit them all. The entire Rinno-ji Temple was covered in scaffolding as was the famous Yomeimon Gate to the Toshugu Shrine (the photo below is from my previous visit to Nikko when the shrine was uncovered just so you can see how amazing the carving is).

The Toshugu Shrine is actually a mausoleum to the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.  The shrine was built by his grandson Iemitsu in the first half of the 1600s. Over 55 of the buildings in the shrine were built in the space of 18 months, including the Yomeimon Gate. According to the shrine's financial records the cost was the equivalent of 40 billion yen!!!

Just outside the gate is a beautiful 5-storey pagoda, the original built in 1650 but was destroyed in a fire and was rebuilt in 1818. Each storey represents an element - earth, wind, fire, air and void. 

Just inside the gate there are many storehouses which are elaborately decorated with beautiful carvings and decorated in gold leaf. This is a panorama of the Sanjinko, three sacred storehouses, which house the harnesses and costumes used in the Procession of 1000 Samurai which is held in the spring and autumn. To the far right is the Shinkkyusha, Sacred Stable where the famous "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" monkey carvings can be found.

The Drum Tower....

Another panorama of the lower complex...

Climbing further up the stairs through the cryptomeria forest to the grave of Ieyasu.

The gate to the grave site....

This is the Karamon Gate, the third gate to the complex and providing access to the most important building, the main shrine. It is painted completely in white powder chalk featuring intricately carved Chinese sages.

The site is full of lanterns and stone pagodas. They were very atmospheric in the mist and drizzle.

After we had visited the Toshugu Shrine we wandered through the woods towards the Taiiyuan Shrine. The leaves were amazing colours...orange, yellow, flame red...

Now for some random shots from Nikko...prayers and torii gates.