I departed for the Netherlands, carrying with me specimens of the kakko-so (Primula kisoana miquel), a flowering plant whose sole habitat on this earth is on Narukami Mountain (elev. : 979.9 m) which rises to the north of the city of Kiryu. Living in a city enclosed in a rich ecosystem, it is our desire to preserve for posterity and share with the rest of the world this beautiful symbol.
During the Edo Period, Philipp Franz von Siebold transported to the Netherlands a specimen of the kakko-so which is now carefully preserved in the Rijksherbarium at the University of Leiden. I examined and confirmed the museum specimen to be the same as the Kiryu kakko-so in March, 1997. The kakko-so was recognized as a unique type and assigned its own scientific name. As such, the kakko-so specimen is of special scientific significance since it is a different type.
The research staff at the university welcomed the new kakko-so specimens, having been brought to them all the way from Narukami Mountain. These pressed flower plants were brought face to face with their ancestors of 170 years past. In addition, the researchers agreed to attempt to grow the seeds which had been presented to them. Should they successfully sprout, the seedlings would be planted in a Japanese-style section of the Hortus Botanicus known as the von Siebold Memorial Garden. People from all over the world will be able to enjoy seeing the kakko-so when they come to the gardens to enjoy the spring flowers. Planting this flower will form a new bridge of friendship between Japan and the Netherlands, Kiryu and Leiden.
In mid-November, the city had already taken on the appearance of winter and an arch of Christmas lights could be seen in the downtown area. Previously, on my first visit to see the kakko-so specimen in the Rijksherbarium, it was the end of March. It was just before Easter and one could still feel the chill of winter in the air.
In the morning, as I gazed out of my hotel window, the canal appeared as a wall of fog and the brick architecture along the old city streets glowed in the mist. My sense of being a stranger here intensified. However, on this occasion, I had most important traveling companions... the new kakko-so specimens and seeds.
The purpose of my voyage was to deliver these specimens and seeds into the hands of the Leiden University Rijksherbarium and Hortus Botanicus. 170 years ago Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) had brought a kakko-so specimen from Japan and it was preserved among the some 4 million other specimens in this most impressive collection. The descendants of this kakko-so specimen live solely in the unique ecosystem on Narukami Mountain and have been identified as an endangered species.
In the process of lending a hand in the cause of the kakko-so there are several critical steps. One important step is to make sure that the plant’s existence is recognized scientifically and recorded accordingly.
Over the course of many years, the Kakko-so Preservation Society (Yoichi Asakura, President) has been carefully investigating the ecosystem in which the plant lives, making new specimen samples and recording its life cycle in photographs.
Toward the end of April, 1997, during the plant’s blooming period, Mr. Asakura and another Society member, Ms. Itoe Arai, carefully gathered samples and made a new series of pressed flower specimens.
When the offer of new specimens was first made to the Rijksherbarium, the Director, Dr. Peter Baas, was most delighted and requested seeds along with the specimens. The staff at the Hortus Botanicus are already growing a collection of primulas (to which the kakko-so is related) in order to preserve them. Dr. Baas was eager to add the kakko-so to this collection in the garden.
Indeed, in early spring, primulas are among the first flowers to add color to the dull garden and are a delight to behold. From the Himalayan Mountain range to Siberia, on to the Middle East, and extending even to the European Alps and down to the Mediterranean Sea coast, the bright pink, yellow and white varieties of primulas bloom impressively each spring.
Changes in the earth’s natural environment resulting from pollution, etc. have brought many species to the brink of extinction. Today, the destruction of the earth’s environment is proceeding on a global scale, leading to fears of the imminent danger of extinction of many wild plants. As a result of these fears, botanical gardens everywhere are attempting to serve as a means of preserving endangered species. Many such facilities have become objects of focus as a result. One case in point in Japan is the Tokyo University Koishikawa Botanical Gardens where efforts are being made to preserve the endangered Ogasawara Islands’ “Ogasawara Azalea” and the Muninno Peony, etc. They are investigating these endangered species, their special developmental characteristics and are attempting repopulation by sprouting seeds and planting them in their native environment. It is not sufficient to have these plants growing only in botanical gardens. They must be preserved as well in their native habitat.
The case is similar for the kakko-so. A local volunteer preservation society is carrying out the above mentioned activities in the hope of preserving the flowering plant. However, reforestation programs and digging the plants up by the roots for sale are factors working against preservation, bringing ever closer the plant’s extinction. In particular, the problematic construction of the Umeda-Odaira Forestry Road will no doubt have a drastic effect not only on the kakko-so itself, but on the entire Narukami Mountain ecosystem.
As for preserving endangered species in botanical gardens, it is insufficient to grow such plants in just one location. Rather, it is necessary to grow them in two or more sites.
Given the Rijksherbarium’s 400 year history and their custodianship of the Siebold collection, providing them with kakko-so seeds to grow is a most meaningful effort to say the least.
It is as if Siebold somehow managed to carry back the whole of Japan with him when he crossed the seas on his return voyage to Europe in 1820. His collection is a virtual time capsule of the Edo Period, a collection of precious items no longer to be found in Japan. These items are now held in repository at the oldest university in the Netherlands, Leiden University, the very first institution of higher learning in Europe to offer courses on Japan. This collection became the foundation of the Leiden Ethnological Museum. The city of Nagasaki has chosen the year 2000 for the historical restoration of Dejima Island, basing their plan on evidence and materials held at the Ethnological Museum in Leiden.
Unlike Siebold, I have journeyed by air, rather than by sea, to bring together new kakko-so specimens with their 170 year old ancestor in the Siebold collection in the Netherlands. Having actually arrived in Leiden, I managed to impress not only the Rijksherbarium Director, Dr. Baas, with this story, but many of his staff as well. I was greeted by Professor Kalkman, the former director, the Collection Manager of the Phanerograms (flowering plants), Ms. Kofman, and from the Library, Mr. Lut. The Curator of the Living Collection in the Hortus Botanicus where the kakko-so seeds will be planted, Ms. Carla Teune was also present along with reporters and photographers from the local newspaper. On the following day, the story appeared in the paper accompanied by a color photograph.
The new kakko-so specimens were greeted with cries of “Beautiful!” and “Wonderful!”. The 16 specimens from plants growing in the wild were laid out one by one. Each specimen revealed different aspects of the flower color, size and how the flowers are attached to the stems. Not only two-dimensionally, but through the photographs taken by the Preservation Society President, Mr. Asakura, the plant’s special characteristics were revealed.
The Siebold specimen had been brought for comparison to the room where I was welcomed. The blossoms of the older specimen were somewhat smaller and the color of the flowers had faded with age.
The new specimens were immediately made ready for preservation by the specimen specialist and were laid out one by one on the standard size paper used by the museum (50 X 30 cm) and carefully attached. The name of the collector, the date and native habitat of the flower were also recorded and finally, the collection was enclosed in a paper cover for safe keeping in the museum. Both old and new kakko-so specimens, having traversed the boundaries of space and time, were united and preserved for posterity.
On the following day, having accomplished my historical mission, I went to visit the Hortus Botanicus. The sky had undergone a sunny transformation, leaving only the memory of the previous day’s fog. The dew on the leaves which covered the ground sparkled like beads of light. It was as if I could hear the refrain, “Such is the performance of life...” echoing in nature around me.
The von Siebold Memorial Garden is surrounded by a Bengali red wall, topped with a ceramic tile roof. The dry Japanese garden was covered with fallen leaves from the Zelkova tree brought over by Siebold in 1830. The setting evoked a strong sense of nostalgia in me. Next spring, or perhaps the spring after next, when the kakko-so’s lovely blossoms appear, I wondered what emotions the sight may evoke then...
Although the Rijksherbarium of the University of Leiden has moved to the new Science Zone, the gardens themselves remain in the old city limits at Rapenburg, on the grounds of a former monastery. The gardens spread out behind the main building. Not only university students, but over 90,000 persons from around the world visit the gardens each year, among them some 10,000 Japanese. Not only does the garden serve to introduce Japan to those in Europe, but it also serves to recall the contributions of Siebold who introduced much of Western science to the Japanese.
In the back of the arbor, one cannot fail to notice the bust of Siebold around which are planted the hydrangeas which he named after the Japanese woman he loved, Otaki. There is also a Japanese maple tree, whose red autumn leaves formed a carpet around the bust.
There is a grouping of primulas in another area of the garden, their dark green leaves surviving the winter. The kakko-so, however, will not be planted with these other primula. According to the Director, Dr. Baas, it will be planted in the von Siebold Memorial Garden, for which I felt truly delighted. The staff at the museum is of course concerned with protecting endangered species. When I informed them of the plan to construct a road through the plant’s native habitat, they found it incomprehensible. Unmistakenably, it is our task to ensure the preservation of the flower’s environment so that its sole existence is not limited to the von Siebold Memorial Garden.
The year 2000 commemorates the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Liefde, the Dutch ship which drifted ashore in Bungo Province, Japan, binding together the history of the Netherlands and Japan. In honor of this occasion, many events and exhibitions are currently being planned. Retracing this unique path in history to Dejima Island, Nagasaki, and the year 1820, this time capsule of a collection created by Siebold will play a significant role in the recreation of the era.
Clip-clop, clip-clop... I turned my eyes in the direction from which this unusual sound emanated - beyond the garden wall and the canal flowing along the street. I saw the characteristic red brick buildings of the city and as a gentleman dressed in black passed by on horseback, I respectfully recalled that Siebold had lived here... it was as if I had traveled back to the time when he was writing “Flora Japonica.” Somewhere in the distance a field of kakko-so in bloom spread out before me as in a dream.