Green fingers: Japan sending garden-repair teams abroad

Tokyo (AFP) –


Tokyo plans to send green fingers to every corner of the world on a mission to spruce up Japanese-style gardens that have fallen into disrepair.

There are some 500 traditional gardens scattered across the globe -- from France to the United States to Thailand and Argentina -- with dozens now in dire need of help after years of neglect, Japan's land ministry said.

Some 40 gardens need immediate repair work with trees growing out of control and toppled-over stone lanterns among the host of problems plaguing them, a ministry official said.

Worried about a national embarrassment in the making, Tokyo has decided to tackle the problem head-on by sending in expert gardeners to the worst-affected sites, starting with a five-person team travelling to Romania this year and then on to California.

Japanese gardens are distinguished by unique aesthetic features such as stone bridges, ponds, mossy paths, lanterns and perfectly pruned bonsai-like trees.

Most are maintained at a near-obsessive level, but many of the ones built outside Japan since the late 19th century -- often as part of expositions -- lack the experienced staff needed to keep them in good shape.

"Japanese gardeners left manuals after building the sites, but it's difficult to maintain them," the ministry official said.

"We hope these... gardens can be a place for spreading Japanese culture to people overseas."

The plan followed requests for help from embassies and overwhelmed garden caretakers.

The initial team will spend several weeks each at the sprawling gardens which measure around 5,000 square metres (1.23 acres) each.