By Avi Landau
紅白が丘二分の芝ざくら (鷹羽狩行) - Deep crimson and white - the hill divided in two – SHIBAZAKURA – Takaha Shugyo (my translation)
I opened the door and felt my face was gently lapped by the spring breeze- which as I stepped out I soon realized carried with it, in patches that could be detected on and off, the sweet smells of the season`s flowers.
Walking down the road, heading towards the university, I saw many of them- planted in front of my neighbors homes- in gentle, soothing, warming colors…..
I passed a small park. With all the young leaves just come out, I wondered at how many shades there were there that fell within the range of the color we call green.
I crossed a major intersection. I saw a small vermillion Inari Shrine off in the distance and thought of how naked and lonely it now looks since the sacred grove around it was cut down……..
Then I turned the corner and it all turned purple ! Before me was a near perfect square which made my eyes pulsate and my head spin.
I had experienced pain from the brightness of light before- but never from the intesity of mere color. I could FEEL the purple (or whatever the exact name of the shade you see in the photo is)- and stood frozen by the road before I regained my senses pulled myself away.
But it burned such a deep impression on my eyes and mind that it was a long while before I stopped seeing a mirage of that square before me
What was it?
A field of moss phlox- a hardy, low growing flower originally from North America, which has become popular as a decorative plant in Japan.
Its Japanese name SHIBAZAKURA ( 芝桜) can be translated as meaning- lawn cherry blossoms- because when planted it spreads out over the ground like grass and blooms in spring in flowers not unlike cherry blossoms ( the English name also reflects the fact that the plant spreads out over the ground like moss).
Shibazakura blooms in various colors and the Japanese have taken creating patterns on the ground with them in front of homes or in parks.
A couple of days after my encounter with the moss phlox in Tsukuba, I happened to be in Tokyo at a station along the Seibu Line. There I saw posters promoting a flower park in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture whose main attraction in April and May is its the color patterns of SHIBAZAKURA created on its rolling hills.
Doing a search on the internet, I found at least 12 places which were considered MEISHO- (名所)- famous spots, for moss phlox.
Here is a link to such a place in Yamanashi Prefecture, with an excellent view of Mt. Fuji. The website has a live web-cam so that you keep track, minute by minute, of the moss phlox situation there
If you go- don`t forget your sunglasses to protect you from the intensity of color !