Turning Japanese (Part I - Osaka Castle)

After our recent trip to the USA, our kids kept bugging us about wanting to experience "winter" themselves.  We decided to try "snow chasing" in Japan which is much nearer.

Knowing that there would be no cherry blossoms on this trip, I decided to keep an eye out for other interesting plants instead.

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First up was the Cameliasasanqua, a most welcome colorful sight after surfacing from the Osaka subway on our way to the Osaka castle.  It is also known as the Christmas camellia or sazanka to the Japanese.  It is native to Southern Japan and its first recorded cultivars date back to Japan's Edo period (early 17th century). There are over 250 varieties, most of which are found in a collection owned by Professor Naoki Hakoda of the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology.

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Next was the Brassicaoleracea, also known as the Ornamental Kale or Ornamental Cabbage.  Although of Mediterranean origin, the Japanese first used this plant as an ornamental.  It is cold tolerant.  Low temperatures actually degrade the green pigment and turn the leaves cream, purple or pink.  The colors are said to come out after the first hard frost.  We came across pots of B. oleracea on the block of the Osaka Castle. 

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Also along the path to the Osaka castle was a bed of flowers.

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Not a plant, but interesting nonetheless were the giant stones forming the castle walls.  The largest of these stones is the Takoishi stone (Octopus stone) forming part of the Sakuramon-masugata square at the Sakuramon gate which is the main entrance of Osaka castle.  The huge stone has a surface area of 59.43 square meters, a thickness of 90 cms and an estimated weight of 130 tons.My kids' attempt at wall climbing.Within the inner bailey and right in front of the Municipal Museum, I found specimens from one of my favorite plant families, the Cycadaceae. More specifically, I found specimens of the Cycasrevoluta (Japanese sago palm, King sago palm or just sago palm).  It is the only cycad native to Japan.  Yes, it is a cycad, not a palm as its common names imply.

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This is the view of the Osaka Castle during winter.  In April, all those bare trees are covered with cherry blossoms.  I'm sure it is quite a sight and we are tempted to return just for the view.

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Unfortunately we were pressed for time and not able to visit Nishinomaru Garden and the Plum Grove on the castle grounds.  I imagine that they are not as beautiful in winter as they are the rest of the year.Nishinomaru Garden & Sakura II by jpellgen on Flickr (used through CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Plum Grove Park (Osaka castle) by tsuda on Flickr (used through CC BY-SA 2.0)

(To be continued)