Saitama man building huge garden in Lithuania


Kyodo News

A Japanese landscape gardener is building Europe’s largest full-scale Japanese garden in northwestern Lithuania.

Hajime Watanabe, 64, who hails from Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, is building the 170,000-sq.-meter garden in an isolated wilderness area called the Singing Stone Valley in Madzuchai.

The garden is owned by Sarunas Kasmauskas, a 44-year-old medical doctor.

Watanabe, president of the Angyo Ueki gardening company in Kawaguchi, joined the project six years ago through the influence of young Lithuanians who underwent training to build gardens in Japan.

He has experience creating gardens in six countries in Europe and the Middle East, but this is his biggest project so far.

He is planning to build a circuit-style landscape with a stone garden using more than 20,000 tons of Lithuanian granite, a hot spring and a Japanese-style restaurant. With his 40-year-old nephew, Kagemasa, and several employees, “I would like to build a garden which can also satisfy Japanese,” he said.

A forest and a lake are about 1 km away. Visitors can also see the setting sun “sink” into the Baltic Sea.

Only one-fourth of the garden is complete, but as many as 500 to 600 people are visiting the place daily, and the garden has already been chosen by Lithuania’s National Tourism Office as one of the 10 best sightseeing spots in the country.

Many locals have shown up, saying they want to do volunteer work for the project.

Kasmauskas says he decided to build the garden after having a dream of feeling at home in a Japanese garden in his old age. Watanabe says he doesn’t communicate with the Lithuanian doctor language-wise, but he understands his way of thinking on a spiritual level.

Watanabe, who is married and has two children, likes life in Lithuania: “Even after the building of the garden is complete, I plan to live there.”