Japan As They Saw It

“the national skill in training plants”

    In the extensive garden and grounds which surround the temple [at Asakusa], we saw most curious specimens of the national skill in training plants (some of them not more than from one to two feet high) to assume the appearance of ancient trees. There were also some most grotesque wooden figures clothed in garments of chrysanthemum, and placed in all sorts of ridiculous attitudes. One, for instance, represented a boy tumbling head over heels, the different parts of his dress being formed by the foliage and flowers of different colours: the trousers brown or green, the coat yellow, and the waistcoat white.
    A steam engine and railway carriage, nearly as large as real ones, were most perfectly modelled in the same way. The body of the carriage was green; yellow flowers formed the foot-board; the wheels were brown, and the windows some other colour. How these growing plants can be trained in such a marvellous manner baffles my comprehension; but the artists must not only possess skilful hands but infinite patience, as well as most grotesque imaginations.

Lilias Dunlop Findlay Swainson, Letters from China & Japan, 1875

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