The con­stant gar­dener

China Daily (USA) - - SHANGHAI | THE BUND - By ZHANG KUN in Shang­hai zhangkun@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Mi­chio Fu­ji­moto, the win­ner of the pres­ti­gious Hon­orary Cit­i­zen of Shang­hai award who has for decades helped en­hance Sino-Ja­panese re­la­tions through cul­tural ex­changes, talks about leav­ing a le­gacy in the city

Mi­chio Fu­ji­moto has spent much of his life ded­i­cated to the craft of cul­ti­va­tion.

But the 86-year-old does not sim­ply cul­ti­vate plants — he also brings to­gether busi­ness, peo­ple and even towns from dif­fer­ent na­tions. Case in point: the re­la­tions be­tween Wake, a town in the Okayama pre­fec­ture of Ja­pan, and Shang­hai’s Jiad­ing dis­trict.

Dur­ing his days as the gover­nor of Wake, Fu­ji­moto was in­spired by a fam­ily friend to con­tinue the tra­di­tion of main­tain­ing close re­la­tions with China.

“This fam­ily friend, who was about the age of my father, used to run a tex­tile busi­ness in Shang­hai be­fore World War II,” Fu­ji­moto re­called. “He told me a lot about the good life and good peo­ple in Shang­hai, so I felt very close to the city. This played a part in my de­ci­sion to choose Jiad­ing as our friend.”

Ex­changes be­tween Wake and Jiad­ing started in 1987 when Fu­ji­moto made his first of­fi­cial visit to the Shang­hai dis­trict. He has since been vis­it­ing Shang­hai reg­u­larly, bear­ing wit­ness to the dra­matic changes brought about by ur­ban­iza­tion and eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

“Shang­hai is now a com­pletely dif­fer­ent city from be­fore,” he said. “Back then, there were no ex­press­ways, so it took more than an hour to drive from Hongqiao Air­port to Jiad­ing. To­day, that jour­ney takes just 10 min­utes.”

In 1991, Fu­ji­moto helped two tech­ni­cians from the Malu Fruit Com­pany in Jiad­ing to study grape cul­ti­va­tion in Wake for eight months. A year later, stu­dent del­e­ga­tions from Wake be­gan vis­it­ing Jiad­ing to en­gage in ex­change in ar­eas such as medicine, farm­ing and ed­u­ca­tion. In the years that fol­lowed, more groups of tech­ni­cians and en­gi­neers went on to study in Wake.

Thanks to Fu­ji­moto’s con­tin­u­ous ef­forts, Malu was the first area in China that man­aged to grow grapes in low­den­sity trel­lis. To­day, Malu is well-known in the na­tion for its pro­duc­tion of the fruit.

Af­ter sev­eral years of ex­change be­tween the two lo­cal­i­ties, Fu­ji­moto de­cided to build “some­thing solid that can be passed on to the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions” to com­mem­o­rate the re­la­tion­ship. The re­sult was the build­ing of a wis­te­ria park in Jiad­ing in 1997. An ex­pert gar­dener him­self, Fu­ji­moto played a key role in cu­rat­ing the more than 30 types of the plants grown in the park. He even helped with graft­ing of the plants and the build­ing of the trel­lis.

“The cherry is also an iconic plant of Ja­pan, but the most fa­mous lo­ca­tion for cherry blos­soms all over the world is the Ti­dal Basin in Wash­ing­ton DC,” he said. “The trees were do­nated to Wash­ing­ton DC by the mayor of Tokyo in 1912 to com­mem­o­rate the friend­ship be­tween the two coun­tries. I had hoped that we could achieve the same by in­tro­duc­ing the Ja­panese wis­te­ria to Shang­hai.”

To­day, the wis­te­ria park is a fa­mous tourism spot in Jiad­ing, at­tract­ing half a mil­lion vis­i­tors dur­ing the flower fes­ti­val that usu­ally lasts two weeks in April.

For his con­tri­bu­tions to Shang­hai’s cul­tural, tourism and en­vi­ron­men­tal in­dus­tries, as well as the pro­mo­tion of con­stant ex­change be­tween China and Ja­pan, Fu­ji­moto was on Sept 30 awarded the Hon­orary Cit­i­zen of Shang­hai ti­tle, the high­est award a for­eigner can re­ceive in the city.

Since his first visit in 1987, Fu­ji­moto has re­turned to Shang­hai more than 70 times. Dur­ing these trips, he of­ten col­lects Chi­nese species of wis­te­ria to graft them onto Ja­panese ones.

“The wis­te­ria is a strong plant. Given plenty of space, sun­light and wa­ter, they can grow rapidly and live for as long as 500 years. It gives me great joy and sat­is­fac­tion see­ing peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate the wis­te­ria,” he said.

De­spite his age, the Ja­panese in­tends to con­tinue with his trav­els to China to visit the wis­te­ria park in Jiad­ing. Such is the poignance of this park that he has even ex­pressed a de­sire to lit­er­ally be­come a part of it some­day.

“I am a very old man and don’t have much time left,” he said.

“Next year when the wis­te­ria bloom, I wish to come to Jiad­ing again with my chil­dren and their fam­i­lies. That would be when I would make ar­range­ments for them to have half my ashes scat­tered in the park when I depart from this world.”

“The wis­te­ria is a strong plant. Given plenty of space, sun­light and wa­ter, they can grow rapidly and live for as long as 500 years.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Mi­chio Fu­ji­moto (cen­ter) vis­its the wis­te­ria park in Jiad­ing dis­trict, Shang­hai.

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