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Flowers for Mrs. Kuroki

June 23, 2017

It’s certainly not unheard of for a man to show his wife that he loves her by giving her flowers. (The floral industry kind of depends on it.) But this many flowers? Say hello to Toshiyuki and Yasuko Kuroki. (This story is a sneak peek from our 30th annual edition, Uncle John’s Old Faithful Bathroom Reader, available November 2017.)
Shibazakura (Moss Pink) in Japan

Time for a Vacation

Toshiyuki and Yasuko Kuroki got married in 1956 and started their family on a dairy farm near the town of Shintomi, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. With their two children, they spent the next 30 years caring for their herd of dairy cows, which grew to 60 in number. By the mid-1980s the couple was looking forward to the day, not too far off, when they could retire and take a nice long trip to see the rest of Japan.
But it was not to be: one day in 1986 Mrs. Kuroki, a diabetic, began having problems with her eyes. Her vision deteriorated rapidly and within a week she was almost completely blind. The shock of losing her sight so quickly sent her into a deep depression; not only did she not want to travel around Japan, she didn’t want to leave the house. Formerly cheerful and outgoing, Mrs. Kuroki became a virtual recluse and rarely saw anyone outside the family.

Seed of an idea

Mr. Kuroki was at a loss for what to do…until one day he noticed some people admiring the fuschia-pink shibazakura flowers in his and his wife’s small garden. Also known as moss phlox, the flowers bloom prodigiously and they have a strong, sweet fragrance. That gave Mr. Kuroki an idea: if he planted more shibazakura around the farm, their pleasing scent might encourage his wife to venture out of the house more often to smell them. And if the flowers attracted an admirer or two, chatting with them might lift Mrs. Kuroki’s spirits.
The Kurokis farm is several acres, and Mr. Kuroki decided to plant as much of it as possible in shibazakura. He retired from the dairy business, sold his cows, and devoted the next two years to clearing trees, planting shibazakura, and tending to the young plants as they grew. He created footpaths through the fields, so that if anyone ever did stop by to admire the flowers, they would be able to walk out into the middle of the flowers and enjoy them all the more.

In the pink

After two years of planting, the fields were ready; that March the shibazakura came into bloom. The rolling fields of pink that surrounded the Kurokis’ home were a vivid contrast to the green pastures of the neighboring farms, and just as Mr. Kuroki hoped, they began to attract attention. Only a few visitors came by at first, mostly locals from Shintomi and surrounding towns. But as the years passed the numbers grew, and the story of Mr. Kuroki’s gift to his wife spread. Soon people came from other parts of Kyushu to see the flowers, then from other southern islands, and then from all over Japan. The crowds grew so large that Mr. Kuroki converted a cow shed into a visitors’ center filled with photographs and other displays. During March and April when the flowers are in full bloom, a hundred people or more drop by the farm each day to see the flowers and visit with Mr. and Mrs. Kuroki, who are usually in the visitors’ center or out walking along the footpaths that run through the fields.

Flower power

It’s a good thing that the Kurokis enjoy all the attention, because in early 2016 their story was profiled on the English language website Rocket24, and from there it spread all over the Internet. It’s a safe bet that in coming years when foreign tourists travel to Japan each April for Sakura Matsuri, the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, more than a few of them will be adding another destination to their itinerary: a visit to the Kurokis’ farm outside of Shintomi on the island of Kyushu. If they do drop by, they are likely to see Mr. and Mrs. Kuroki socializing happily with their visitors. Mrs. Kuroki still struggles with her blindness, but her depression has lifted and by all appearances she is as cheerful and outgoing as she was before she lost her sight. That she has made such a strong recovery from the depths of her despair is, for Mr. Kuroki, the greatest gift of all.

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