I found this beautiful gem by accident when searching some flea market at Makuhari Messe. It was Saturday, and the garden was like a peaceful oasis in the middle of a busy city and its skyscrapers. In fact, there was only me and one of the park’s gardeners.
Mihama-en is a part of Chiba Prefectural Makuhari Seaside Park, and it’s a classic Japanese strolling garden with ponds, islands, waterfalls, streams and artificial hills. All these alluring elements combined to the refreshing quietness of the place made this garden very enjoyable. There is also a teahouse made from Japanese cedar by the pond.
Despite the artificial aspects of the garden and the skyscrapers on the horizon, there is still a strong sense of nature. The pond was full of life; tadpoles, carps and a lot of waterfowl were swimming about.
The Sanyo Media Flower Museum’s indoor Atrium Garden has seasonal themes in its flowerbeds, so when I visited the place at Easter, there were a lot of tulips, cute rabbits and Easter eggs. Also, the exhibition areas followed the same theme. Surrounded by variegated and lush beds of flowers, the gazebo looked breathtakingly beautiful.
Their luscious greenhouse is a round shaped, 23 metres tall building full of tropical and subtropical plants, and it even has an artificial waterfall. The museum has a restaurant and gift shop with a lovely selection of garden-inspired items.
Outdoor gardens enveloped the impressive museum building: at the front is a wide garden of seasonal flowers, in one side courtyard and the rose garden at the back of the building. Designed by the best combination of blooming time and harmony of the beds, the gardens are magnificent.
This park is one of Japan’s 100 best places to experience sakura. My timing obviously wasn’t the best; when I visited the park, only two of their 2 850 cherry trees were blooming. But the bright side was that there was only me and four or so other people far on the horizon enjoying it.
Even without the cherry blossoms there is a lot to see; the serene Lake Benten with its carps, lazy turtles and various birds, cinnabar-red lacquer bridges, early spring flowers and enough benches to study them or just to sit and relax.
The landscape is versatile; you can walk around and over the lake, or have more intensive hike through the paths on the hills. From the top of the hill opens a nice bird’s-eye-view to the park and the surrounding residential area.
On my day off I headed to see some huge birds; the Oriental white stork is also the prefectural bird of the Hyōgo Prefecture. The city of Toyooka is 70 kilometres from Ichijima, which takes less than two hours by train. The weather was magnificent, so instead of taking a bus from the station, I decided to go on foot. The 5 kilometre walk took almost an hour, and because of the stork signs, it was impossible to go wrong.
The Hyōgo Park of the Oriental White Stork’s main purpose is to restore the oriental white stork to back to its original habitation. They try to do this by organic farming; traditional farming methods bring the biota like frogs, snakes and crayfish back to the fields for storks to eat. Also, when cultivating rice fields the traditional way, the land is underwater longer, and this is crucial for the ecosystem. In Japan, the last wild population of kounotori was extinct in 1971. The park’s hard work was rewarded in 2007; after 43 years, the chicks fledged successfully in the wild.
As I arrived at the park, the big birds were sleeping under the trees behind a low fence. At the feeding time, more of these mighty birds came and circled above our heads; their prehistorical shrieks echoed from the mountains. Oriental white stork’s wingspan is over two meters, so they were a majestic sight. Kounotori is characterised as a national treasure of Japan.
There was also a hiking route which squirmed at the nearby hill, an exhibition center about the birds, and a shop full of stork items and groceries. I hiked the deserted path and its dry and rocky trail, lizards sleeping on the warm stones, until I stepped under the deep-green foliage of the forest.
Before dusk I arrived at Kinosaki, the famous hot spring town. The place was full of overwhelming small-town charm on a pastel-coloured background: people in their patterned yukatas, the weeping willows leaning over the canal, picturesque bridges and artisan shops.