Man’yo Botanical Garden
This literary allusion is not coincidence.
For fans of Japanese culture, the Man’yo Botanical Garden’s name may seem unusual. After all, the Man’yo is actually the name of an anthology of ancient poetry — hardly something that you’d associate with horticulture!
Fascinatingly, this literary allusion is not coincidence as the Nara prefecture gardens (also known as Kasuga Taisha Garden) have been carefully constructed to contain every type of plant mentioned in the ancient text and even includes sentences from the poems themselves on the signs. Such is the attention to detail that even the grain plants in the garden are the exact type that would have been used for dyes and food during the period that the poems were written in.
The highlights of this garden are its seasonal specialties such as camellia, irises and its most famous attraction, the wisteria — all of which bloom in late spring and early summer. As the wisteria are associated with the Fujiwara clan, which enshrined its entity on these grounds, the sight of them in full bloom has been designed to be as spectacular as possible and inevitably draws visitors from all around the world.
This obviously adds a seasonal aspect to the gardens as the aesthetic appeal can vary greatly depending on what time of season they are visited. However, even in the seasons when there isn’t much nature to see, the area may be worth visiting for the rustic tea house located on its grounds. Known as Ninai Jaya, it is one of the few places to eat traditional dishes such as green rice porridge with rolled omelet and pickles; a local variety of sushi known as kakinoha that is served in a rolled-up persimmon leaf; and zenzai, a kind of sweet red bean soup eaten hot.
Depending on the season, the Man’yo Botanical Garden is well-worth taking a side trip from Kasuga Taisha to explore. While the garden varies from stunning — especially during the wisteria season — to a little bland during the winter and early spring, with attractions like Ninai Jyaya, there will always be something to experience there even when the flowers aren’t in full bloom.