Visiting Hamarikyu Gardens

Visiting Hamarikyu Gardens

I recently spent a cold afternoon strolling around Hamarikyu Gardens, a stone's throw from The Asahi Shimbun Tokyo headquarters, the office to which I send my biweekly manuscripts.

Why visit a famous garden in the dead of winter when there's not much to see? Tsk-tsk. It's the lack of the in-your-face colors and fragrances that vigorously compete for attention, like in the spring, that opens one's senses to the muted joys that abound if only we become aware.

To fully take in the small, pale-colored blossoms of the winter-blooming sakura, for example, is possible precisely because it’s a quiet, subdued time.

The garden was cloaked for winter with "yukizuri"--fixing the branches of trees by suspended ropes to protect them from breaking off under the weight of snow. Tokyo doesn’t usually get enough snow to warrant such measures, so it’s done mainly as a marker of seasons.

It’s the same for "komo-maki," the straw belly-band looking mats wrapped around the trunks of pine trees. These mats are traps for harmful insects. When the temperatures dip, bugs on the branches descend the trunk and reach the straw mat, find it relatively warm and decide to winter there. Before spring rolls around and temperatures rise and the insects start moving, the straw mat is removed and discarded, critters and all. Today, pesticides do the job, so they are ornamental, adding to the viewers' feeling of the winter season.

What is it about men and hunting? Is there some innate need for many guys to feel smart and cunning by making a needless kill?

Hamarikyu Gardens was originally the site of a feudal lord’s villa where he hunted ducks. This was before guns, so how? The bigwig would hide behind duck blinds, send out domesticated ducks as decoys, and use feed to lure waterfowl into narrow channels, called "hikibori," before releasing falcons to capture the birds. Watching poor creatures frantically trying to escape deadly claws is not my idea of fun. But hey, to each his own.

Walk around the garden and you’ll see moats connected to Tokyo Bay. Peer into the water, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see some goby, sea bass or even a small stingray visiting from the ocean.

Along the way are teahouses that serve "matcha" and sweets at a reasonable price. And the "masculine" 300-year-old black pine with sharp, thick needles standing alongside the "feminine" red pine with softer, fine needles at the Otemon Gate are magnificent.

Winter gardens? You bet!