Kyoto's Flowering Backstreets Are Blooming Good

Kyoto's flowering backstreets are blooming goodKyoto's famous array of back alleys are more interesting than your regular botanical garden, trumpets a new book.
Unlike most other Japanese cities, Kyoto is packed with narrow streets that are not paved with asphalt, enabling unique ecosystems to freely develop over many decades.

"Let's go seek out the Kyoto nobody knows," is the subtitle of the book "Kyo no Rojiura Shokubutsuen" (The botanical gardens of Kyoto's back alleys) written by Toru Tanaka.

"The plants inhabiting the back alley streets of Kyoto have come from regions around the world, and they are transforming into an enormous botanical garden beyond anything people intended," explains Tanaka.

"Whenever I walk the back alleys, there are unexpected discoveries and I feel I know about a new Kyoto. When people take a stroll, I would like them to enjoy unexpected sights and the gamelike amusement of not knowing what will appear," Tanaka says with enthusiasm.

The author, a former lecturer of plant taxonomy and morphology at Kyoto University of Education who is now the representative of the Kyoto Shokubutsu Dokokai (Kyoto botanical club), introduces about 80 species of flowering plants, categorized by season. They include the white forsythia, ball fern, leopard lily, balloon vine and daffodil.

The entry for the flower devil's paintbrush provides a sample of the book's tone: "Near Demachiyanagi Station on the Eizan Line. Blooms in a corner of a back alley. Also known in Japanese as 'efudegiku,' meaning 'paintbrush chrysanthemum.' Another name is 'Venus paintbrush' due to its beautiful flower. A perennial herb native to Europe, the petals turn a dark red when they wither."

Tanaka, who accepted a request by the Environment Ministry to conduct a survey of endangered plants in Kyoto Prefecture, used to think of threatened species as the highest-ranking plants, and those in back alleys as the lowest. But he rethought his opinion when he discovered the sight of flowering plants that inhabit the tall mountains and deserts of the world doggedly living in these hidden lanes, in contrast to a botanical garden that is neat and planned with purpose.

The book's 192 pages are all in color. The price before tax is 1,700 yen ($13.82).