A pleasing harmony of climate, plants and architecture
The architecture of this facility, designed by Hiroshi Naito, honors the outstanding talent and achievements of botanist Tomitaro Makino. It is a peaceful place, with something that penetrates deep into the heart. It is a space thoughtfully designed to share Makino's great feats of plant taxonomy with generations to come. The Tomitaro Makino Memorial Museum, completed in 1999, is now more than 20 years old, and the vegetation that was planned for the building is thriving apace, creating a pleasant blend of architecture, plants, and local climate.
Something in Makino’s work brings Leonardo da Vinci to mind. Although he is known as a great scholar who compiled Makino's Illustrated Flora of Japan, a groundbreaking work in Japan’s botany, the sources of his ability seem to be a formidable interest in nature, intense powers of observation and artistic capability, as well as unbridled energy. Makino was born in 1862 to a family that ran a sundry business and sake brewery. This was a tumultuous transition period for Japan, and Makino was born the very year that the famous Ryoma Sakamoto left Kochi Prefecture to continue his fight against the Tokugawa shogunate and for a return to imperial rule. Having lost his parents early, Makino was raised by his grandmother. It is said that in his childhood he spent his time exploring the nearby fields and mountains, and from a young age showed an abiding interest in plants.
While Makino was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Tokyo at the age of 65, he had been an autodidact all his life. The record shows that he voluntarily dropped out of elementary school after two years. From the age of 10, he attended a temple school (private elementary school) in his hometown of Sakawa. At the age of 11, he began to attend three different schools; he studied the Chinese classics at the juku (private tutoring school) of Ito Tokuhiro (aka Ranrin); he explored various Western subjects at a school known as Meikokan and began learning English at an English language school. We can assume that since Makino had already mastered the basics of learning, elementary school was tedious for him. As a matter of fact, he wrote all of the scholarly papers in English, papers detailing the more than 1,500 new species and varieties he discovered during his lifetime.
Makino had begun observing plants as a very young boy, and his sketches were drawn with incredible precision. His knowledge, language skills and illustration ability are thought to have been acquired naturally through the guidance of his own desire, rather than from any formal schooling. The process by which his unrelenting interest in the providence of nature formed his wisdom and drawing prowess as well as the impression given by the sketches and notes he left behind are similar to those of da Vinci. His is a talent that blossomed thanks to nature’s guidance.
I believe that it is not on the level of skillfulness or mastery that we should view Makino’s illustrations, but rather as representations of the world that can be drawn only by one who has intuitively comprehended the rhythm and balance of the mystery of creation. The lines he draws without hesitation convey to viewers his conviction that he is depicting the truth. Something like the very essence of the plants, not only their descriptions, fill the spaces of his notebooks, bringing to mind the condition of this botanist who wrote in one of his essays, "Perhaps I am the spirit of plants.”
The botanical garden named after Makino was completed in 1958, a year after his death. It was built on Mount Godai, a location to which he had assented. Because the garden was created on a donated portion of the grounds of Chikurinji temple, the 31st temple of Shikoku Sacred Sites, a pilgrimage route runs through it. In 1999, the garden was expanded and the Makino Memorial Museum was established. It is said that the architecture designed by Hiroshi Naito focused on the plants, environment and climate, and, paired with the plants growing in the courtyard, the museum creates a comfortable atmosphere that’s hard to leave.
The building’s deep eaves encircle the inner courtyard, and the movement of the organic curve of the roof corresponds to the plants and the sunlight filtering through the trees, producing a pleasant impression. In order to create a soft and graceful curve, every rafter extending from the steel keel forming the building’s spine to the inner and outer circumferences is of a differing length and shape, and the architect’s ideas and imagination are keenly felt in the painstaking design and planning of each one. The design of this building also reflects careful consideration of the environmental impact, including the slope of the site, wind pressure, and the reuse of rainwater.
Among the exhibits, there is a manuscript for a botanical research journal in which Makino mentions the “Plant Collecting March” and a sheet of music for the march pasted on the back cover of one of his observation notebooks. The lyrics of the song read, "With a trowel in my hand and a specimen satchel on my shoulder, I am having a good time gathering today, and the gentle flowers of the various plants I've picked will soon bear the fruit of knowledge." In these words are revealed a bit of the character of this well-respected individual. Coupled with the cheerful and rapid commentary of Ms. Kae Komatsu, the public relations officer who showed me around the grounds, I felt the spiritual warmth of Tomitaro Makino in the air.