Japanese botanist’s unfinished illustrated plant guide finally published

Photo courtesy of Kazuoki Makino
Tomitaro Makino
Photo courtesy of Kazuoki Makino
Tomitaro Makino

An illustrated guide by botanist Tomitaro Makino (1862-1957) left unfinished at his death has been completed and published.

The book — released Nov. 25 and titled “Makino’s Illustrated Manyo-Plants in Color” — focuses on plants featured in the “Manyoshu,” Japan’s oldest anthology of poems.

Makino, known as the “father of Japanese botany,” had planned for the book to be published in his later years.

It was edited by one of his great-grandsons, among others, and uses illustrations and materials found among items Makino left behind.

Makino had a strong interest in plants featured in the “Manyoshu.” He held unique views on plants with uncertain names and often published his thoughts in essays and other writings.

Makino’s great-grandson Kazuoki Makino, 76, serves as curator of the municipal Makino Memorial Garden & Museum in Nerima Ward, Tokyo. He explained how about 15 years ago, a set of about 110 drawings titled “Manyo Shokubutsu Zu” botanical illustrations was found among Makino’s belongings, along with “Manyo Shokubutsu Mokuroku,” a list of plants featured in poems in the “Manyoshu” organized by Makino using the Japanese syllabary.

While Makino had drawn some of the illustrations himself, most were done by Nampei Mizushima and other artists working under Makino’s supervision. The collection included full and partial views of plants, with their names and the relevant poems written in the margins.

The mokuroku list includes the names of 168 plants, including some whose ancient appellation is no longer used, or whose identity is unknown. Makino wrote the existing names of the plants and his views on each one.

Photos courtesy of Kazuoki Makino
Left: An illustration of a red spider lily included in the plant guide, which Tomitaro Makino believed was the plant “ichishi’ in the Manyoshu.
Center: An illustration of bush clover included in the plant guide by botanist Tomitaro Makino.
Right: Camellia flowers drawn by Nampei Mizushima under the supervision of Tomitaro Makino. A relevant poem from the “Manyoshu” is written in the left margin.

The local board of education in Makino’s hometown of Sakawa, Kochi Prefecture, owns a Makino manuscript titled “Manyo Shokubutsu Zuhu” (Manyo plants field guide). It is thought Makino intended for this manuscript to be included in the illustrated guide — along with the discovered illustrations and plants list — because it includes what appears to be a preface and an explanation of “ominaeshi” (golden lace), which appears at the end of the list.

Explanations for plants other than golden lace cite related parts of Makino’s published writings and other materials, covering some 112 species described in the “Manyoshu.”

“In his later years, Makino likely had a lot of work he wanted to pursue in addition to the ‘Manyoshu’ [project],” Kazuoki Makino said. “He probably felt he had to study more, and the manuscript was eventually left unfinished. I’m glad we were able to publish the illustrations in the exact colors Makino wanted to show.”

“Makino’s Illustrated Manyo-Plants in Color” is published by Hokuryukan Co., Ltd. and costs ¥14,300.