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A Day in Bonsai Village

Maria Padgett

Posted on January 07 2021

A DAY IN BONSAI VILLAGE

Omiya-Ku, Saitama, Japan



Bonsai have always caught my attention. The idea of having a gorgeous tree in a tiny size in one's living room always seemed so fascinating to me. While in Tokyo, I discovered there was a bonsai village about 40 minutes away and I could not help but embark on a tiny discovery day trip to Saitama. 


FOOD

I started the journey with a pick-me-up meal I got at the local train station. It looked nothing like what I would find in the US or Honduras, and that fascinated me. The bento box had colors, textures and shapes unlike ones I had seen before. That colorful meal was a good sign that the day was going to be a pleasant one.

ART

The Bonsai Art Museum was the first place I wanted to go. As I walked in, the museum became peacefully quiet and all the exhibited bonsai took center stage. The bonsai trees ranged from Japanese apricot (my personal favorite), yezo spruce, and five needle pine to cherry, Chinese quince and forest style. The well manicured bonsai were, indeed, works of art.

Yezo spruce

Five needle pine

Chinese quince

Japanese Apricot

Cherry

Forest


After enjoying looking at such unique art, I decided to get lost in the neighborhood and I stumbled upon a couple thrift stores that were full of distinct curiosities. It was also incredible to see how people had their personal Bonsai exhibits in their gardens for visitors to see. You could not take photos, but you could enjoy seeing their unique pieces.


STROLL 

As I strolled through the village, I came across one of my favorite sights yet: a Japanese archery class. The surroundings were incredibly quiet and the only two things you could really hear were the “swoosh” of the students’ socks brushing against the wood as they simultaneously aligned into their positions and the tension of the bowstring being pulled back, waiting to be released with its arrow. It is one of my favorite memories of Japan.



The archery sight lead me to a green narrow path that opened itself into the spacious Omiya park. My trip was on a Sunday, and it was comforting to see that Sundays looked very similar to ones in Honduras and the US: families gathered, ate together and spent quality time. It was a tender reminder of home. I found an empty meadow close to some families, took my wide, multi-purpose dupatta off and turned it into a picnic blanket. I was hoping to nap for 15 minutes - I napped for one hour (and drooled). I woke up and thankfully no one looked at me weird or gave me the stink eye.  I felt restored and ready to overcome my jet lag while discovering more.


Following my restorative nap, came the need for food. The end of the park turned into a quiet, long avenue outlined by homes and tiny convenience stores. In an avenue corner, I found a tiny shop called Hikawa Dangoya. The wood-covered shop offered a variety of specialty sweets, soy sauce grilled dumplings, and mochi. Given my zero Japanese skills I could only order what I could point at, which turned out to be kushi dango or mochi on a stick. The clerk reached for the three-mochi-stick and showered it with delicious soy sauce right before setting it on the grill for a few seconds. The savory smell surrounded the area and attracted almost every person passing by. 


I was favored with a spot on the bench in front of the shop where I could enjoy the savory mochi. I sat down, and seconds later a black Mercedes-Benz parked right in front of me. A chauffeur came out to open the back door and out came an elegant, elderly Japanese woman followed by her caretaker. Her caretaker saw me, approached me, and said “my aunt would like to sit and talk with you, is that ok?”. I was pleasantly surprised and excited about a Japanese wanting to share a conversation with me. I moved over to make space for her to sit. She started sharing, in very clear english, how her husband had worked for an American company for years, which was the reason for her very good English. Her and her husband would always have Americans and foreigners over for dinner and she jokingly complained about how often she had to prepare meals for their dinner parties. Her openness to share about her life surprised me, but also moved me to listen. 

She was now a widow, her kids had grown up, and she had a bad knee. Her close relatives encouraged her to move in with them, but she refused. She said her bad knee and her living alone was the reason she was strong. She went on and said that if she lived with people that would take care of her all the time, she wouldn’t move much, she wouldn’t be active and she would deteriorate. I had never heard anything like that before, especially from an elderly person. After she said, that her car was back to pick her up and she left. It was the most brief and focused conversation I have had with a stranger. We didn’t exchange names or even took a photo. It was simply a pleasant conversation. I had a hard time with her living alone at an elderly age, but that aside, she motivated me to be strong. 

My day in Omiya was a very quiet one. I mostly observed, admired, and rested. The village reminded me of the charm of quiet, serene places and seasons. Being a very active person makes it hard for me to be OK with stillness, but it is a gift and I want to learn to cherish it. After reflecting, I left the mochi shop and made my way back to Tokyo; that is how my trip to Omiya Bonsai Village ended. 

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