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This time of year, many people are thinking about decorating a tree. But at Tokyo’s Showa Kinen Park, the trees themselves are the decoration.

The park, about 10 miles from Yokota Air Base in Tachikawa, opened Japan’s first government- sponsored bonsai garden Nov. 3 in an effort to draw interest in this ancient art form, which originated in China and has been practiced in Japan for at least 700 years.

Bonsai, translated roughly as “potted plant,” is the art of growing and maintaining a miniature tree to reflect nature. Harmony and beauty are the goals, and every trim of a branch and twist of a trunk is cultivated deliberately and carefully.

“The special thing about bonsai is they change; they have more [character] as time passes,” said Yushou Yabe, one of the park’s two full-time bonsai caretakers. Through the care or observation of a bonsai plant, enthusiasts say, one experiences all of the seasons and is brought closer to nature.

The bonsai garden showcases 61 trees, all donated, many national competition award winners. The oldest tree in the collection is 300 years old.

Nestled on the north end of the park’s extensive Japanese garden area, the bonsai showcase exhibits the plants in a mostly outdoor setting allowing visitors to get close and contemplate the trees’ shapes against the backdrop of the park’s traditional buildings and landscaping.

“It has been bonsai fans’ dream to have a permanent facility to promote bonsai in Japan,” Yabe said.

He and his colleagues care for the trees during park hours so visitors can get a chance to observe their meticulous maintenance.

Seeing the staff tend the bonsai “is part of the learning experience,” Yabe said.

Tiny trees not your bag? Showa Kinen Park — 444 acres of land that until 1977 was the U.S. military’s Tachikawa Air Base — has plenty more to offer.

Surrounding the Bonsai Garden is the Japanese Garden, 15 acres of traditional landscaping and architecture. A visitor strolling through the grounds can see native Japanese trees — especially breathtaking in fall and spring — a tranquil stream-fed pond, bamboo patches, a waterfall and a traditional “seichiken,” a building designed for viewing nature. The Japanese Garden also has a pavilion called Kanfu-tei, where visitors can enjoy a tea ceremony for 500 yen (about $5) per person.

Showa Kinen Park’s Children’s Forest is aimed at giving kids a good time. Rainbow Hammocks are a series of multi-level nets made for clambering. Nearby is the Bouncing Dome, a rolling white hillscape made when air is pumped under the same kind of heavy-duty canvas that covers the Tokyo Dome. Visitors can slide between hills and jump on the tops. Both hammocks and dome are extremely crowded on weekends, somewhat limiting their free-play appeal, but weekdays are considerably thinner — and adults can join the fun on the Bouncing Dome then.

Across a sidewalk from the dome is the Misty Forest. Twice an hour, the hilly area fills with a thick, cool mist, creating a mysterious atmosphere and a perfect setting for hide-and-seek.

For adults seeking fresh air and exercise, the park offers bicycles and boats for rent and a Frisbee golf area, open to individual or group play. At the park’s center is an enormous open field, called Everybody’s Field, providing space for a picnic or for tossing a football.

While the Bonsai Garden is open year-round, the park offers additional visual treats some months. More than 100 cherry trees bloom from late March through April and visitors flock there each spring to see professionally designed tulip gardens. Poppy fields ring the open field later in spring, followed by sunflowers in summer and pink and white cosmos in autumn.

If you go ...

Showa Kinen Park hours: Nov. 1 to Feb. 28, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; March 1 to Oct. 31, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Dec. 31, Jan. 1, the fourth Monday in February and the following day.

Entrance fees: Adults, 400 yen ($3.90); children (elementary school through junior high ages), 80 yen (less than $1); children younger than elementary school age get in free.

Getting there: By train: Nishi-Tachikawa station on JR Ome line, follow signs to Showa Kinen Park when exiting station. Park entrance is directly in front of station exit. By car: See park Web site at for map. Parking fee for cars is 820 yen (about $8).

For more information: Visit Showa Kinen Park’s English Web site at


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