Last Updated on October 6, 2021
Kew celebrates Japan’s breath-taking plants, art and culture
From October 2-31 2021, the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens invites visitors to immerse themselves in the art, plants and culture of Japan with a brand-new autumn festival supported by Daikin UK. In a year when travel has been limited, RBG Kew is delighted to celebrate the fascinating culture of Japan with this festival.
Temperate House, the world’s largest surviving Victorian glasshouse home to over 10,000 plants across five continents, displays a large-scale artistic installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota, titled One Thousand Springs. Renowned for vast webs of thread installations spanning the room through which she explores human existence, Shiota’s One Thousand Springs suspends from the roof of the Temperate House. The piece is constructed out of 5,000 haikus submitted by members of the public, telling stories of our shared connections with nature.
Artist Chiharu Shiota said, “The Japanese language was formed by a culture that cherishes the natural world. Many cultural practices like ikebana, bonsai and hanami are based on the contemplation and enjoyment of nature. For One Thousand Springs, I chose to focus on the haiku. The traditional haiku mentions one of the seasons and many haikus are based on observations in nature.”
A specially commissioned Chalk Garden also features in the Temperate House Octagons. This collaboration between Otis Landscape Associates and Kodai and Associates presents contemporary Japanese garden design within a uniquely British landscape, inspired by Japan’s dramatic southern cliffs and showcasing native plants including grasses, shrubs and trees. Set against the classical architecture of the Temperate House, Chalk Garden presents a unique juxtaposition of Japanese and British cultures, cultivating a sense of calm and reflection. In my opinion, it looked quite elegant.
Kew’s own horticultural team also designed a spectacular display celebrating the magnificent Chrysanthemum, Japan’s national flower. Chrysanthemums are culturally significant in Japan, featuring on passports and banknotes and renowned as a symbol of longevity, rejuvenation and goodwill. Kiku Matsuri (Chrysanthemum Festivals) feature across Japan every autumn, where growers compete in classes for the coveted prize of first. In response to this tradition, Kew’s Horticulturists feature six varieties of chrysanthemums with yellow and orange blooms to evoke the setting sun in autumn and create a cheerful blaze of colour.
Not to leave out the melophiles, the unique ambience of Japan’s landscapes is featured via an emotive, immersive soundscape by sound artist Yosi Horikawa within the Temperate House. The soundscape includes harmonious natural sounds of the rivers and waterfalls of Kagoshima, atmospheric soundscapes from the Cedar mountains of Gifu and bird calls set across the waves of the Philippine Sea. It also makes viewing the rest of the plants residing in Temperate House all the more pleasurable.
Paul Denton, Head of Visitor Programmes and Exhibitions at RBG Kew says, “Kew has a strong connection to Japan through both our architectural features and our plants in the Gardens. The beauty and harmony of Japan is rich and fascinating, and the natural world as a whole is woven through Japanese culture in a unique and tangible way. We are honoured to celebrate the country’s rich connection to nature through contemporary art, iconic plant displays, food and crafts in a brand-new festival this autumn.”
After hours, Temperate House hosts a varied programme of dance, theatre and live music. Visitors can also enjoy performances from dance company Butoh UK and electronic musician and DJ Anchorsong, whilst learning about the intricacies of sake with experts from Japan House London. Artist Hanako Matoya will also give demonstrations of ikebana (Japanese flower arranging).
On weekend mornings, Japanese busker ICHI will be taking the notion of a one-man band to new limits, combining his quirky handmade instrument inventions with steel-drum, ping-pong balls, typewriter, toys and other everyday objects. Afterwards, in the afternoon, Japanese shodō master KASHUŪ will present giant calligraphy performances, an age-old Japanese tradition. For the calligraphy, there is quite a crowd that forms around 30 minutes before so I would advise getting there early and picking your spot carefully or it will be a bit hard to see her detailed brush strokes.
Outside of the Temperate House, Momijigari, the Japanese custom of autumn leaf hunting can be done by following a 1.5-mile trail encompassing Japanese landmarks such as Chokushi-Mon and the Japanese Garden, and the Minka House. While the autumn colours are certainly unique, don’t expect the vibrancy that you usually see during the summer. The trail includes key Japanese horticultural highlights such as bamboo and ginkgo, which makes for quite a calm and peaceful experience.
If you fancy a day out to enjoy the calmer side of Japanese culture linked to nature, head down to experience it in Kew.
Kew Gardens is easy to reach on foot from Kew Gardens Station (overground and District Line) and there is limited pay and display parking if you prefer to drive.
Entrances are at
Victoria Gate (TW9 3JR)
Lion Gate (TW9 2DF)
Elizabeth Gate (TW9 3AB)
Brentford Gate (TW9 3AF)
Ferry Lane car park is close to Brentford Gate
The full programme and ticket booking for the events and exhibitions at Kew can be found on the website.
Looking for something different? We also recommend the Royal Observatory at Greenwich for a day out in London – find out more!