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2015年5月12日 星期二

Seeing Chinese Wisteria Tunnels in Japan (在日本看中國紫藤隧道)

There are beautiful flowers aplenty. But it's rare to find a flower which will bloom so prolifically in late April and early May as the purple vine or Chinese wisteria ( Wisteria sinensis) (紫藤 朱藤、招藤、招豆藤、藤蘿). As in so many things, the Japanese took from China certain materials or methods and by dint of constant and careful reflection, turned it into an art. If we need an example, then the art of growing the Chinese wisteria would appear a perfect one. Whilst the people in Henan, Hepei and Shandong provinces in China busy themselves with boiling and then mixing the wisteria flower with glutinous rice to turn it into "wisteria cakes", the Japanese would turn the Chinese wisteria into a visual delight. Since 1977, there has been a garden specially dedicated to the growing of this principally bluish-purple flower which hangs down in millions of strings. When they bloom together in Hanoi, Fukuoka Prefecture on northern Kyushu Island (北九州 福岡縣) the spectacle can be  breathtaking. This special hillside wisteria garden is called Kawachi Fujien 河內藤園  at the south-western part of Kyushu Island. 



Lured by a photograph of the garden, I booked a place in a photographic tour group  which held out this garden as its star attraction. This is a photo of what I found there. There were so many people who visited the same garden that I had to wait for more than an hour before I could take a few photographs with less people. During the two hours we spent there, there must have been at least 10 separate groups, including people who came all the way from South East Asia, China, various parts of Japan, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and even some Northern Europeans. We were told by our local tour guide that the owner of the garden would charge entrance fees according to the percentage of Wisteria in full bloom. The garden covers an area of about 10,000 square meters and there are some 150 wisteria in 22 slightly different varieties. This year, the flowers started to bloom in late April but by the time we arrived, we were charged only 70% of the full admission charges. Paradoxically, this is not bad at all. The weeklong Japanese holiday ended just the day before we arrived. We were told that had we gone there a day before, all we could photograph would be people, people and more people!  



This is one of the groups we found at the entrance



 To my surprise, I found not only wisteria in blue or purple, but in green and white too!


These are some of those growing at the side of a path which led to the top of the small hillock.

  
The proportion of purple and white wisteria may vary from clump to clump.


There are different shades of purple

 
This is a clump of pink wisteria dangling at the side of the path. But normally, these strings would stretch between 4 to 6 feet or more down and they would grow on specially built metal and bamboo frames. They can grow to a size of 10 meters by 10 meters in twenty years' time. Believe it or not: the oldest wisteria tree in the garden is more than 100 years old!


This is part of the forest of wisteria at the hill top. Apart from this, there are four separate arch-shaped tunnels covered from top to bottom with wisteria, one at the top of the hill and three others at three different levels, parallel to each other, each lower than the previous until we reach the one at the bottom of the hill, the one most visited by older folks and people who are not prepared to make the effort to trek up the fairly steep path on the left of the entrance.


When you reach the top of the hillock, there's a small flat area from which you can look across the valley and see the surrounding hills, all covered with pine trees and also the wisteria dome immediately below.

 
At the top of the hill, there is a patch some 20 feet by 50 feet in which you'll find wisteria in white and purple and green. You literally have to bend down your body before you can pass them because the lower tips of the wisteria strings would be just about 3 to 4 feet above the ground and you will have them brush against your face or hair. Their profusion is simply unbelievable. 


There is however a corridor at the side closest to the hillside where you can walk without having to bend down


Purple in front and ivory white behind


The start of the human height corridor
 

 
There are alternate grids of pink, purple and ivory white


white in front and purple behind

 
the purple patch


The ivory patch


You feel literally bathed in a sea of wisteria

This is how thick it can become


a string which is permitted to grow at the fringe of the frame


This is how tightly their clumps can be


One of the strings


A few of the flowers at the tip of the string. They are pea like flowers

Immediately below the wisteria rectangle at the hilltop, there is an eskimo igloo-like dome. But many of the flowers have wilted. Perhaps that's why we got a 30% discount on our admission charges..


The side of the dome


Beside the dome, there are also some other flowers on the hill slope


This is the small tunnel leading down hill


This is the third tunnel, the one closest to the hill top about 263 feet long. Here we find wisteria of purple, ivory, white, and green.


This is part of the the lowest tunnel of more than 700 feet long. It's practically impossible to get a shot without people. This is the best I could do. But whether we can or cannot get people off the photo, there's is a legend about the Chinese wisteria which goes something as follows: Once there was a beautiful country girl who longed for true love. She prayed and prayed to the goddess of love for a really really long time. The goddess took pity on her. She told her that she would soon meet a handsome boy at the woods behind the village. The girl waited and waited. Spring came. She went into the woods, all alone. But instead of meeting her dream lover, she was bitten by a viper. Just as she was about to give up all hope, a young man in a white gown appeared. He sucked the poison out from her feet. She fell for him. But her parents objected because the boy came from a poor family. However, she would not have any other man arranged for her by her parents. Unable to resist her parents' wishes and not being able to persuade them to let him marry the young man in white, she jumped off a cliff with him. At the spot where they died, a tree sprang up. It was the wisteria. It is said that the white wisteria is the spirit of the young boy and the purple that of the girl, who couldn't grow all alone but must always wind herself around the white wisteria. A sad really tale of love.