Impressionist paintings under the Japanese cherry blossoms

The first French painters who took their easels out to go paint in the middle of nature were quite influenced by the art of Japanese prints.  More modestly, I went to let my Nikon get some fresh air in Hasselt…

The blooming of Japanese cherry trees always has a particular resonance. I lived a long time on a street where there were many planted and where the car licensed CD drove Madam the Ambassador of Japan by every year.  (It was that time when the title could not indicate that it was only to designate the Ambassador’s spouse).  Is the same fervour still tangible in the biggest Japanese garden of Europe?

Under the immaculate arch of a white prunus, she arrives running from the end of a little alley.  Dressed in a short white dress and oddly wearing brown sneakers, she holds her white shoes in one hand.  And in the other hand, hand that probably belongs to her new spouse.  He, himself, wearing jeans and a white shirt.  Seeing my smile, they grant me a happy “hello!” while rushing towards the exit.  And so, young Japanese couples also come to have their pictures taken in parks?  What a shame to get here too late…

First steps in the garden are a little disturbed by the throbbing traffic noise from the nearby motorway.  But we simply need to get closer to the water to only hear its sweet swash that intensifies when we approach the big waterfall…

“I laughed at the blond wasserfall that tousled through the pines…” wrote Arthur Rimbaud (Dawn, The Illuminations).  The pines here are cut as clouds.  To lean under the pines cut as clouds holds something somewhat indecent. It is like looking under the robes of ladies from the old days, in crinoline: we can see the entire frame.  There are more seductive discoveries to be made.

“The first venture was, in a path already filled with fresh, pale gleams, a flower who told me her name.” (Rimbaud).  This one is the Cornus Florida flower, a shrub with a sumptuous flowering, for which the identity is revealed by a botanical label.  A lovely East-West trade with this plant originally from America in the European Japanese garden.  We stay here in the whites slightly haloed in colour… 

Colour above all?  The delicate spring foliage of various Japanese Maple trees create effects of a luminist painter around the stone lantern.  A bit farther, the ceremony house reflects in the water of the “sea” next to the beach where thrilled children come to feed the enormous koi carps (0,50€ per pack of food at the entrance of the garden).

Activities are regularly offered in this ceremony house dipping in the water: introduction to the tea ceremony by a tea master, ikebana classes, bento workshops… But it is while climbing the little hill, in the tea pavilion slightly neglected by visitors of the day that a more intimate image waits for me.

Behind a simple claustra made of bamboo stems, the tea pavilion rest room, with its blue mat littered with leaves seems to be expecting someone.  “Beautiful if you wanted, beautiful if you wanted, we would sleep together… in a big square bed…” In the back, do they also have traditional ballads on the theme of conjugal futons in Japan? Or possibly haikus, these short poems that frequently celebrate love… I then think of the two lovebirds from the beginning of this story…

Just like magic, I see the young couple again under an arbor standing among cherry blossoms.  Their little reception seems like a tavern at the edge of the water or lunch on the grass, some themes so dear to impressionists.  It is fresh and happy.  In the glasses, the champagne or bubbly is as rosy as the flowers are.

The deep and grave sound of a bell chimes at regular intervals.  I follow the movement of other visitors who move towards the small pavilion from where the sound seems to come.  We must get closer to the wedding for this, but it visibly does not bother the ambient serenity.  We must say that it is a peace bell…

This bell, suspended under a wooden roof, carries a Japanese inscription on the left side and on the right side, the same inscription – at least, one can only imagine – in Dutch.  Translation:  “MAKE THE BELL TOLL FOR PEACE AND FREEDOM HERE AND EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD.  150 years of Japan-Belgium diplomacy, Japanese Garden Hasselt 2016”.  This bell is not operated by a flapper hanging on the inside (like our bells supposed to go to Rome once a year), but hit from the outside by a suspended trunk.  Demonstration….

This little girl participating in the little party under the cherry blossoms is the one to operate the peace bell.  With one hand and eating a strawberry with the other.  Reassured by the ease of its operability, I will make it sound myself in honour of the newlyweds and will even slip a small contribution in the little offerings temple in order to bring them luck.

On the path that leads towards the exit, I turn around to this image of a little family that might be on its way to join the party under the cherry blossoms.  Yes, we are indeed in Belgium, in Limburg, in Hasselt.  And not in Itami, the Japanese sister city that gifted this garden, inaugurated in 1992, as a present for the twinning to the Limburg city.

Hasselt Japanese Garden:

Open until Sunday 3rd November, days and times: check website – dogs not allowed.

But what is the nature alone like ? Dive into a secret valley.

Text and photographs: Germaine Fanchamps

Translation: Andrea Johnson-Ferguson