When the largest Japanese park in Europe celebrates Hanami

- through Henry Oudin

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Designed at the very beginning of the 1980th century, before being restored in the XNUMXs, the Oriental Park of Maulévrier is the largest Japanese-inspired park in Europe. Report in Anjou during the Hanami festival.

Explosion of cherry blossoms. Japanese lanterns at attention. The eastern park of Maulévrier put on its thirty-one, this Sunday, April 7, to celebrate Hanami. In Japan, it is a centuries-old custom. It dates back to the XNUMXth century, during the Nara period. From the first flowers, the Japanese go picnicking with family or friends under the cherry trees to enjoy their entry into full bloom.

In Maulévrier, about ten kilometers from Cholet, Didier Touzé, the park's head gardener, and his team are finalizing the final preparations before the opening to the public scheduled for noon. They finish installing shade sails above blue tarpaulins erected on the lawn, to welcome visitors who come to have lunch there. Everything is ready. The small white flowers shrouded in pink of the Prunus serrulata Accolade levitate above the large parterre of soft green grass which extends below the Château Colbert. Multicolored koi carps waggle in their tanks near the opulent flowers of pink and purple Asian magnolias in full bloom. Just like the trumpet-shaped azaleas. Besides its aesthetic appeal, Hanami has a spiritual dimension. Flowering lasting only a few weeks (sometimes only a few days), this popular festival symbolizes the impermanence of things, the fragility of existence.

bald cypress and bonsai

13 hours. Visitors climb on a path that zigzags through beeches, redwoods, bald cypresses and other ginkgos towards the tea room planted on a height overlooking the park. Under an awning erected on a lawn, cooks serve bentos, lunch baskets filled with carefully carved, decorated and cut food. On the menu: miso soup, grilled salmon, fried chicken (karaage), fried breaded pork (tonkatsu), rice cakes and tea. The line lengthens in front of the cooks' stall and continues along the tea room towards the bonsai greenhouse.

On the banks of the pond, everything has become calmer again. After crossing the Khmer bridge and its Buddhist sculptures, including that of the God Garuda holding the seven-headed naja in its claws, you climb a path that winds gently downhill towards the pagoda surmounted by a Japanese-style steeple. Below, an astonishing garden symbolizes the ages of life: birth is represented by a spring gushing from a block of rocks, childhood by a stream, adolescence by a calm pool extended by a waterfall, adulthood and professional life by the meanders of a gently winding stream and old age by a pond, a symbol of wisdom and meditation. Immortality is embodied by the large pond which occupies 3/10ths of the twelve hectares of the eastern part of a park which has twenty-six.

Flowering lasting only a few weeks (sometimes only a few days), the Hanami festival symbolizes the impermanence of things, the fragility of existence.

Age-old cloud-shaped yews (or niwaki) stand above a graceful wooden bridge painted orange-red which reveals its sacred character. A bridge connects the two small islands of paradise: that of the crane (associated with the sky and the cosmos) and that of the turtle (the bottom of the seas), which both symbolize the Ying and the Yang, the harmonious cohabitation between two extremes . Clinging to a hill, the meditation garden, hidden in the undergrowth, is a haven of peace. It is good to walk there lulled by the rustle of the breeze which agitates the light foliage of deciduous trees and by the lapping of the water of the waterfall below.

A park from the Edo period

The eastern park of Maulévrier was laid out between 1899 and 1913 by Alexandre Marcel, a famous orientalist architect – to whom we owe the La Pagode cinema in Paris -, before being restored in the 1980s. Bought by the municipality of Maulévrier, its management has since been entrusted to an association which has worked to restore it. In 1987, it was the consecration: the park was recognized by specialists from the universities of Tokyo and Niigata as an emblematic Japanese promenade park of the Edo period (1600-1868). However, the place is not entirely Japanese style. There is also a Buddhist temple and a Khmer pagoda made by Alexandre Marcel for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, before being bought by him to be installed in his park in the Loire Valley.

On April 7, on the occasion of the cherry tree festival, Maulévrier welcomed more than 2700 visitors in one day. “A record”, explains Hervé Raimbault, the director of this rapidly developing place which receives 130 visitors a year. "We continue to restore the park and to plant, we enrich it each year with 000 new plants", he underlines. Last winter, gardeners felled acacias and Douglas fir trees to free up space for planting cherry trees Prunus yedoensis, Japanese cedars (Cryptomeria japonica) and ginkgo trees

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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