The constant gardener
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.”
Michio Fujimoto (center) visits the wisteria park in Jiading district, Shanghai.