Friday, 7 December 2012

Japan Trip Update - Week Four

The Shinkansen

Our final week in Japan saw Ben and I travel from Kochi on the island of Shikoku back to the Kanto region on the main island of Honshu. This involved an eight hour train journey, including four hours on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train).

Our first stop was the University city of Tsukuba, one hour north of Tokyo. Here we were greeted by Dr. Tanaka, Senior Curator of Tsukuba Botanic Garden, and Mr. Suzuki. We travelled to Mt. Tsukuba, the only topographical feature on the otherwise flat plains of the Ibaraki Prefecture. The mountain is somewhat of a mainland island as a result of this geography and home to c. 1200 species, including several endemic species. At the foot of the mountain we met with Dr. Obata, Director of Botany at the Ibaraki Nature Museum, a specialist on the flora of Mt. Tsukuba. We spent the day botanising the mountain and positively identified 80 species.

We then travelled on to Nikko in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture, 90 miles north of Tokyo. Our accommodation was a traditional Japanese guest house within Nikko Botanical Garden. The garden is owned and run by the University of Tokyo and houses an excellent collection of native plants and a research station for post graduate study. The temperature was much colder at this location, and the guest house without much in the way of heating, fortunately there was a hot spring public bath (Onsen) nearby to warm the cockles.

Final Feast with staff at Nikko Botanical Garden

Much to our delight we were joined in Nikko by Professor Murrata, Director of Koishikawa (Tokyo Botanical Garden). An entire day was spent botanising through the mountains of Nikko National Park, cloaked in snow but bathed in sunshine. This was to be our last day in the field before returning home to the UK, and what a fitting end. Spending a day with one Japan's most respected botanists, enjoying plants in the wild, was a true honour for Ben and I. To cap it all off Professor Murata cooked a feast to celebrate the end of our successful field trip. We were joined by the research team at Nikko Botanical Garden who made us so very welcome and made our stay unforgettable.

Having returned to the UK Ben and I are now able to reflect on what was an amazing trip. The successes far exceeded our expectations and we both feel so incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to experience it all. We would like to thank all those we met in Japan, who gave up their time to work with us and who so enthusiastically introduced us to some amazing sites, the exquisite native flora and a beautiful culture and country. Over 5000km travelled in country, seven botanic gardens visited, field sites from sea level to over 2000m, 11 hotel and guest houses and a mountain of business cards.

Nikko National Park

We would also like to say a huge thank you to the Friends of the Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum for their financial support and especially the Impey family for their generous donation to the project.

Ben and I are now planning the next phase of this project. In autumn 2013 we will return to northern Japan to collect seed, herbarium voucher specimens and conduct botanical surveys to support research conducted by the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford.

We hope this will be the beginning of a long term relationship with our colleagues in Japan. One that will contribute to achieving objectives across several institutions in our common goal to research, conserve and communicate global plant biodiversity.

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