An introduction of the history
An introduction of the history of the garden, spanning its many periods.
The First Period
Kumamoto University School of Pharmacy Medicinal Plant Garden
At its founding in 1926, a 18,400m2 plot of land was purchased for use as a medicinal herb garden. This tract of land includes the present day School of Pharmacy grounds, the cultivation field, and staff housing. A 6612m2 section of the plot was traded for a corner on the south west edge, where the grounds were built, while the specimen garden was built on a section of land of the same size. The west side of the grounds were used for the cultivation fields, and the Kumayaku Medicinal Herb Garden was completed in 1927.
The Koelreuteria paniculata, Lindera strychnifolia, Corni fructus, Crataegus cuneata, and Vitex cannabifolia and other historic trees in the park today were transplanted from the botanical gardens of what was then known as Dai Go High School. These same specimens were originally grown at the Banjien herb garden of the former Hosokawa Clan (in the herb garden district of Kumamoto City). All of the 150 varieties of medicinal trees there were donated by Dai Go High School following the abolition of the feudal states system in the Meiji Period. Since the these trees all came from Dai Go, the namesake of Banjien is indeed accurate.
The comprehensive nature of the collection of cultivated specimens is in large part thanks to the efforts of the manager of the garden at that time, Professor Munasada Tetsuji, and Assistant Professor Kondo Hidao. Professor Munasada studied abroad in Germany from 1927 to 1930, and during that time he constantly sent the school European seeds and seedlings, and provided instruction on how to grow them. During this same period, Assistant Professor Kondo attended to the actual design and construction of the garden, obtained various medical plant seeds and seedlings, grew them, and scoured the fields and mountains of the prefecture, collecting and transplanting indigenous species. Within just three years after the opening of the garden, the Medicinal Garden Plant Catalogue (part of the second of the Kumamoto College of Pharmacy Report) was compiled and published in September 1930. This catalogue contained the Japanese names, scientific names, medicinal parts and medicinal name, and applications, of 143 families and 1000 species of plants running the gamut from spermatophytes to pteridophytes.
In 1931, as part of a visit to the Kumamoto Region, the Showa Emperor graced the school with his presence. This momentous event provided the momentum for the Medicinal Plant Garden to take on its finished form and further enrich its selection of plants. According to the Medicinal Garden Plant Catalogue, 98 families and 360 species of medicinal plants where being grown there at the time.
As Japan neared war in 1941, the subsequent period saw the once national renowned Kumayaku Medicinal Herb Garden fall into disrepair, leading many of varieties of plants growing there to die out from lack of care, or from damage caused by the war. As a result, the garden had to be started anew after the war ended. During the years to follow, the classrooms and research funding provided to the pharmacognosy classrooms responsible for the direct management of the garden was meager indeed, and while the staff did their best to rebuild the garden, they were not able to restore it its pre-war glory. Even worse, the great flood which befell Kumamoto City on June 26, 1953, caused catastrophic damage to the garden once again, particularly the herb gardens. It was tremendously unfortunate that so many precious plants withered and died during this period, and that the recovery of the medicinal herb garden was so significantly delayed.
Yet even during these trying times, in 1962, Assistant Professor Hamada Seri successfully developed a fruiting Mucuna sempervirens variety, a species designated as national natural monument, which is considered to be one of the botanical garden's crowning achievements. Only two plants of this variety were ever grown, one here in Kumamoto and the other in the Shinjuku Imperial Garden in Tokyo.
Following the flood, University staff once again diligently collected all of the varieties of plants that were lost, and in 1963 the plants grown here at the time were catalogued in the Kumamoto University School of Pharmacy Medicinal Plant Garden Catalogue (B5 Edition, 41 pages). The volume contains 173 families and 1100 varieties of plants, as well as details of their cultivation status at the time.
The planned construction of the new main experimental laboratory building for the School of Pharmacy, which was to begin in 1964, created the impetus for a commemorative hall (695m2 in area) to be placed in the center of the arboretum in the fall of 1963, which then necessitated the relocation of a rather large number of tree species to a specimen garden. As a further complication, the current location of the specimen garden was not immediately suitable for plants to be moved there. Instead, they had to be temporarily planted in the open land near the school gymnasium as a stopgap measure. Worse still, this relocation had to be done during the harsh heat of the summer, leading again to a substantial loss of precious medicinal plants.
The Second Period
The Start of the Kumamoto University School of Pharmacy Medicinal Plant Garden and the Inauguration of Its First Director, Professor Murakami Seikaku
April 1974 marked the start of the Medicinal Plant Garden as a research facility belonging to the Kumamoto University School of Pharmacy. During this period, under the oversight of professor Murakami Seikaku, the first garden director, many of the physical elements of the garden, such as the specimen garden and buildings, were prepared.
The specimen garden was designed to be 3196 m2 in area on the east side of the University grounds. This area was prepared first by replacing all the soil, the quality of which had degenerated severely due to being mixed with debris in the wake of the war. In addition, a two-story research control building was built using reinforced concrete, as well as a glass-covered greenhouse. Some of the land area used by the cultivation fields had to be given up to build a tennis court and staff housing. Despite this significant loss of land area, the cultivation fields were a success, and staff were able to grow medicinal plants such as Bupleuri radix, Coptis japonica, Phellodendri Cortex, Jinseng, zedoary, and stevia on its warm and flat land, and to conduct cultivation experiments of sporophylls.
It was through the ambitious collection efforts, which centered on Kumamoto Prefecture but also extended to every region of Kyushu, conducted by Assistant Professor Hamada Seri, and technical officers Hori Itsuo and Kitaoka Koki, that such a wide variety of species of plant were collected to create this model of a garden.
The Third Period
Inauguration of the Fourth Director, Professor Nonaka Toshihiro
Starting with the inauguration of the fourth garden director, professor Nonaka Toshihiro, the specimen garden underwent a full-scale reorganization, based on the concept of systematic classification during planting. This effort was chiefly overseen by Assistant Professor Hamada Seri. In 1985, a new edition of the Plant Catalogue, which recorded 183 families and 1417 varieties, was published. In 1983, the garden received approval from the Ministry of Health and Welfare to cultivate poppy and hemp plants (until around 1995).
After the inauguration of Professor Nonaka, the two-story experimental research building on the north side of the management building took on a clearer role as a research facility, as it was outfitted with all sorts of experimental apparatus, including a laminar flow cabinet. A lot of valuable research was conducted during this period, chief among them research in elucidation of the causes of dermatitis that frequently occurred among tobacco growers (around 1985); cultivation of pathogenic bacterium of the gray blight which ran rampant in Western Japan, investigation of the pathotoxin, and presentation of defensive measures (1985-1990); synthesis research in gray blight bacteria and cultivation research of its metabolic toxins (1985-1995); and specification of growth acceleration substances of rice roots (joint research with researchers dispatched from the University of Montana, 1990-1995), along with many others. Research of the components in plants belonging to the Solanum family was particularly active during this period. The university's use of samples from its own cultivation fields in experimental trials was also a practice worthy of special note. In this period, over 200 essays were written using plants from the Solanum family alone.
Many of the Center's socially minded activities, which continue on to this day, also started during this period. Still other major developments were classes at the botanical garden becoming a mandatory at the University, and the garden's admission into the Japan Association of Botanical Gardens. The garden was also highly active in a number of learning activities, including hosting prefecture-wide lectures, broadcasting university classes to the public, and holding special courses geared towards pharmacists.
The Fourth Period
Inauguration of the Fifth Garden Director (and First Center Director), Assistant Professor Yabara Shoji
Assistant Professor Yabara Shoji was inaugurated as the garden's fifth Director in April 2003. Up until this point, the botanical garden facilities had been part of the School of Pharmacy, but were now made part of the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, as part of the university-wide initiative to emphasize graduate studies. At the same time, the botanical gardens laboratory, which had formerly been managed as part of the herbal medicine and natural chemistry laboratory, was now established as an independent Medicinal Botany Laboratory, with Director Yabara appointed as the full-time professor responsible for the education of its students.
Director Yabara conducted research in plant constituents, with a focus on indigenous plants of the Himalaya region. He oversaw the education and graduation of 12 undergraduate students, 8 master's students, and 3 doctoral students.
Director Yabara's most noteworthy achievements were his efforts at coordinating and hosting learning activities such as viewing parties for various plant and flower species, study groups, and so on. The Understanding Medicinal Plants in Kumamoto event is held every year for two days. With over 100 people attending from all over Japan, it has become one of the most famous events at Kumayaku. On the first Saturday of every month, a Monthly Medicinal Plant Viewing Party is held, where dozens of participants gather for a lively, fun time. On the second Thursday of every month, the Shokanron Easy Reading Club is held, in which members read and discuss the Shokanron, a classic tome on Chinese herbal medicine. Furthermore, the Elementary Kampo (Chinese Medicine) and Herb study group is held every fourth Monday, and invited pharmacy instructor Nagasawa Kyoko to as lecturer.
In 2006, the botanical garden was designated as a (Regional) Botanical Diversity Preservation Base Garden by the Japan Association of Botanical Gardens. As part of the effort to survey endangered plants and their preservation outside of designated cultivation areas, the center is earnestly compiling a Red List of the endangered plants of Kumamoto Prefecture. Additionally the center has set to work preparing a genetic resource garden of the medicinal plants of Kyushu, centering on Kumamoto, that shows the ecological profile of the region, and new indigenous species of the region continue to be added as soon as they are collected.
In 2010, the gardens were renamed the Eco-Frontier Center of Medicinal Resources, with the goal of advancing cultivation, research, education, and enlightenment regarding medicinal resources that form the basis of medicine. The title of the Garden Director was changed as well, and Associate Professor Yabara became the first Center Director.
The Fifth Period
Inauguration of the Second Center Director, Watanabe Takashi
In April 2015, Professor Watanabe Takashi, former head researcher of the Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden (Plant Resources Research Center Director, among other held positions) of Kochi University of Technology was inaugurated as the second center Director (or sixth facility Director including the Directors of the Medicinal Plant Garden).