Kawachi fuji, Kyushu, Japan

Wisteria hunting in Japan

Review: Tania Compton

Nestled in a small valley in the Saruwatari Mountains an hour from the city of Kitakyushu on Kyushu, the south western island of Japan, is a remarkable family farm where over several generations every known form and colour of wisteria, fuji in Japanese, has been impeccably trained over tunnels, pergolas and domes.

This wisteria wonderland has no official website but about a million Google hits.  It is not in a botanic garden in Kitakyushu, as some searches would lead you to believe, but is a small rural operation with a tiny pillar box kiosk where you pay your £5 entrance fee and then follow your nose.

When the wisteria is in flower, usually for a fortnight or more, from the last week in April to the second week in May, the air in the valley smells like someone has just taken the lid off a freshly brewed pot of the best jasmine tea, with a few lychees thrown in.

The tunnels, each well over 100 metres long, are a vision of pastel pinks and mauves broken up with creamy and pristine whites.  Sounds dodgy but when you are there, boy, does it look fabulous.

The lower tunnel follows the sloping contour of the ground like a gently curving tube or a very hungry caterpillar with Barbara Cartland standing in for Eric Carle. It has a schematic division of colours, straight sides and an arching top.  You slow down as you get to the end wanting to prolong this immersion in saturated colour.  We kept turning around to go back through it in the other direction.

The second tunnel veers off at a 90 degree angle higher up the hill, a rainbow shape made with thick metal scaffolding poles.  It is five metres across and 2.6 metres tall in the centre at the top and if you have a herd of Ooompah Loompah’s on hand it would be great to copy.  Each tunnel takes two men three weeks to prune in late May with a second going over in winter.   No lipstick pink Kuchi-beni-fuji in this tunnel, just an incredible blend of blues and whites.

Not to be missed

When you think no wisteria fantasy could ever be topped you climb up to the next level where your nose is tickled by a 100 square metres of the variety called ‘the wisteria that scratches the sand’.  An exceedingly long racemed W. floribunda ‘Multijuga’ it sways in a breeze like sea anemones in an ocean current. This misty mauve canopy is the conjunction of several venerable wisterias trained horizontally over thick bamboo polls roped to upright posts.  The ancient gnarled trunks that snake up and along the trellis flatten out as they age resembling long planks of cork taken from an oak.  The younger ones twist and contort into multiple figures of eight.  Then for a final coup de theatre you emerge from this celestial ceiling and below you wisteria flows down the hillside like lilac lava flow.  Kiwachi fuji might be hard to find but it’s even harder to leave.

Quibble

Getting there (see below).

How to get there

Not easy if you are pressed for time.  We went there as a stop off between Nagasaki and Kyoto.  We took the Kamome Express (green car) from Nagasaki to Fukuoka-Hakata Station and spent the night in an expensive traditional Ryokan: Zen Oyado Nishitei where we ate one of our best dinners in Japan and slept on Tatami mats with the moon glowing though the rice paper window screens as Peony Coral Charm went from peach to cream.

An English speaking guide and driver, the wonderful Tetsuro, picked us up the following morning for our 2 hour drive to the Kawachi fuji which we would have struggled to find even if we were character literate.  From there we drove to Kokura where we took the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto.

With thanks to Jenny @ Travellers World Salisbury 01722 411600