KOCHI – Yutaka Kawakami knew hardly anything about Claude Monet until 12 years ago, but the 53-year-old has now won a French award for his re-creation of the painter’s cherished garden.
“It’s my personality and I just couldn’t give up easily,” the 53-year-old said of the difficulty he faced transplanting Monet’s garden in Giverny, near Paris, into the very different environment of Kochi Prefecture.
Kawakami was honored for his work with the rank of Chevalier in the French Order of Arts and Letters.
He said he had always sought “to blend the spirit of Japanese people and the essence of French culture,” keeping in mind that while the two gardens may look similar, they can never be the same.
Even after receiving the order, he still believes his work on the garden “can be further improved.”
Kawakami was a banker until the age of 30 but then became a gardener, fueled by a passion for plants. In 2003 he was offered the chance to take charge of managing a garden park built by the Kochi village of Kitagawa.
“Back then, I only knew that Monet was an impressionist painter and nothing more,” he said.
The village founded the park in April 2000 with the aim of revitalizing the local economy on the heels of an abortive attempt to lure factories to the area. Negotiations began with the Claude Monet Foundation and the park secured approval.
Kawakami visited the original Monet garden for the first time in March 2004. He said he was astonished by the beautiful combination of colors.
“Monet was successful in capturing the moment of everyday scenery,” Kawakami said.
Since then, he has traveled to France numerous times to learn the techniques behind the Monet garden and has added many improvements to the park, using different varieties for flowers that are not found in Japan.
A native of Nankoku, Kochi Prefecture, Kawakami has spent his life with plants and flowers.
Gardening has no goal, he said. “It’s like life, isn’t it?”