Kokubunji man’yō shokubutsuen
Kokubunji Man’yō Botanical Garden
1-13-16 Nishimoto-chō, Kokubunji-shi, Tokyo
TEL: 042-325-2211 (Japanese only)
The website (Japanese) provides an index of the plants in the collection, with modern Japanese names and alternatives where there are different theories about the plant’s identity, the poems that accompany them, their Family, and distribution in Japan.
The garden is in the temple grounds and so is open permanently, all year round.
The garden is approximately 18 minutes walk from JR Kokubunji 国分寺 station on the Chūō line 中央線 from Shinjuku, or 15 minutes walk from JR Nishi kokubunji 西国分寺 station.
To take a bus to the garden from Kokubunji station: leave the station by the South Exit 南口, and take the Keiō 京王 bus no. 寺85 bound for Sōgō iryō sentaa (総合医療センター) and get off at Izumi-chō nichōme (泉町二丁目）. Continue along the road, and turn left at the next intersection (Kokubunji yon-shō iriguchi 国分寺四小入口), past Kokubunji Municipal Primary School No. 4 (国分寺市立第四小学校). Walk down the street, keeping the school grounds and Kokubunji Park on your left; eventually you will come to another left turn – take this, and the temple and garden will be on your left.
The botanical garden occupies the majority of the temple precincts, and so immediately upon entering the grounds, one is surrounded by the plants and their associated poems. On the right of the entrance is a small pond, displaying plants of the waters and marshes. There are also benches here, where one can sit in the shade and take one’s ease. On the right of the entrance, one finds bushes and trees, and a path leading up the hill into the woodland in which the temple is set, and where more trees and poems can be found. The plants are identified with large, white signs, giving the Man’yō name, modern Japanese name, family, a sample poem and its reference number in the anthology. Given the temple’s small size, the garden is compact, and one can take in all the plants in close proximity.
The temple is located near Kokubunji park, and is neighboured by Motomachi hachiman 元町八幡 shrine, making it popular with both locals and tourists, and is likely to be crowded, particularly at weekends and public holidays, as locals call at the temple to pay their respects or make arrangements for services, while tourist pass by and take photographs.
Musashi Kokubunji temple has its origins in the mid-700s, when the then Emperor, Shōmu 聖武 decreed in 741 that a network of Buddhist temples should be constructed throughout the country to spread the protective power of Buddhism throughout the land. Over the subsequent centuries, the temple has suffered some vicissitudes, including being caught up in a battle and burnt to the ground in 1333, with the result that the main temple hall holding an image of Yakushi nyorai 薬師如来 dates from the mid-1700s. Other than its location, though, little remains of its Nara origins, despite the province of Musashi 武蔵 being a famous source of dyestuffs for the capital.
The Many’yō botanical garden has its origins the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, when the then head priest of the temple, Hoshino Ryōshō 星野亮勝, decided to rennovate the temple grounds, which had become somewhat wild and overgrown. Having an interest in archaeology, Mr Hoshino decided that the rennovation project should be to create a garden to provide the local people of Kokubunji with the essence of the Man’yōshū in their immediate vicinity, and re-emphasise the temple’s links with the period. Fortunately, a number of Man’yō experts from Tokyo University lived locally, and were able to provide him with advice on the project, the first stage of which to catalogue the plants already on the temple grounds.
Depite having little familiarity with the Man’yōshū or its plants or, indeed, of gardening, Mr Hoshino set out in 1950 armed with a black-and-white illustrated guide to Man’yō plants, and discovered that of the 162 mentioned in the anthology, 50 were already present on the temple grounds, leaving him 112 to acquire. This was a lengthy process, involving trips to Mount Takao and Sagami to collect specimens, while simultaneously consulting with Man’yō experts and reading the anthology in order to decide upon the best poems to accompany them. Thus, when the garden officially opened in 1963, it was the culmination of 13 years of work and a personal poetic and botanical vision. On opening, it became the second Man’yō Botanical Garden in the country, after Kasuga Grand Shrine, and the first in eastern Japan.
In later years, Mr Hoshino wrote and self-published a book about the garden (Hoshino Ryōshō 星野亮勝 (1986) Kokubunji man’yō shokubutsuen 国分寺万葉植物園. Tokyo: Hoshino Ryōshō) and used the royalties to support the garden’s upkeep, along with contributions from Kokubunji city’s local authorities. The temple continues to support the garden, under the stewardship of Mr Hoshino’s son, the current chief priest, Mr Hoshino Ryōga 星野亮雅.