It is said that flowering cherry trees of the "somei-yoshino" variety became known throughout Japan only after they were planted around the nation to celebrate Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). According to botanist Tomitaro Makino (1862-1957), there were no "somei-yoshino" in his native Kochi Prefecture before he got saplings shipped in.
I learned about Makino's great love for flowering cherries during my recent visit to a garden in western Tokyo where his residence used to stand.
The 150th anniversary of this great botanist's birth fell on April 24. A self-taught man, Makino did not even finish primary school.
Flowering cherries of the "edohigan" variety got their Japanese name from Makino, as did "kinmokusei" (fragrant orange-colored olive) trees. He collected 400,000 specimens and named 1,500 new species, for which he came to be called the "father of botany" in Japan. He is respected by many people to this day for devoting his life to research while fighting authoritarian universities.
Makino simply loved plants. "The world of plants is my heaven and paradise," he noted repeatedly in his autobiography. His concluding words were: "As the owner of the most precious treasure, I have no desire for wealth or fame." His was the happiest life anyone could wish for.
Torahiko Terada (1878-1935), a physicist who grew up in Kochi, once observed: "To become a scientist, one must fall in love with nature. And nature confides its heart only to its lover." I am sure Makino heard all sorts of whispered confidences from flowers and trees.
This year, the "sakura zensen" cherry blossom front began its northward journey from Kochi more than a month ago. On the heels of the pale pink blossoms, young green leaves are filling the fields and mountains.
A monument to the learned scholar is inscribed with his own words: "Flowers exist, therefore I exist." I think about those words in this season of blooms.
—The Asahi Shimbun, April 29
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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