【Interview】An interview with “Kokedama” (moss ball) specialist, Isao Umiji

Jyoseikan, located in Kochi city, is a place that holds various events. Among all the events, “Kokedama tsukuri” or “moss ball-making” is a particularly special event that has captured our attention. Under the instruction of the “kokedama” (moss ball) specialist, Isao Umiji, every participant can easily make their own plant. We were very fortunate to have this opportunity to interview Isao Umiji, who is recognized as the inventor of moss ball plant.

  1. Please briefly introduce yourself.

I was born in 1943. I am turning 76 years old this year.  I was born and raised in Kochi.

  1. Can you please give us a brief introduction of “kokedama” (moss ball)?

We usually grow our plants in a container, don’t we?  Well, “kokedama” is a special planting method that covers plants’ roots and stalks with mosses and let plants grow in natural and relaxing way.  Additionally, when it comes to looking at plants, we either see plants in nature or in containers. “Kokedama” give us a new way to appreciate nature. Instead of caging plants in a small pot, “kokedama” allows plants to grow in a natural way. Please note that “kokedama” are not indoor decorations, they are plants that need photosynthesis. Do not put them inside for more than 3 days. It is even better if you can grow them outdoor.

  1. What made you start making “kokedama”?

In garden center, I often saw tree roots being bound with cloth and ropes.  I appreciated how they were bound in a beautiful ball shape. And that was where I got my inspiration from. The word “kokedama” didn’t even exist back then. I once considered ‘Kokemaru’ but decided to go with ‘Kokedama’ at the end. I never thought it would become so popular now.

  1. How long have you been making moss balls?

About 15 years.  Actually I intended to make “kokedama” to be indoor decorations in the beginning. But the plants died for the lack of photosynthesis. I then went on to try different methods and started to understand more and more about plants. I also managed to capture people’s attentions along the way.  Now, we can make cactus, crops, and most of the plants on earth into “kokedama”. However, we still cannot make big tress into “kokedama”. (Laugh)

  1. As a native of Kochi, what do you think is the charm of Kochi?

Kochi’s nature is the first thing that comes into my mind. There are a wide diversity of tree species in Japan and among all the prefectures, Kochi enjoys the largest number of species. Kochi has been called ‘isolated land’ since the past. I think the charm of Kochi is nature.

  1. Where is your favorite place?

Everywhere is awesome, regardless of whether it is a tourist spot or not. Personally, I prefer rural areas where there are only few cars and people but has fresh air and clean water.

  1. Are there any rare animals in Kochi?

I think it’s otter. The increasing amount of deer troubles the residents. Besides, I think wild boars also count as rare animal. Even though they won’t appear in urban area, there are Japanese Serows, wild boars, monkeys, raccoon dogs, green pheasants and many other animals in the mountains.

  1. Do you have anything to say to the tourists visiting Kochi?

Please come to Kochi and experience the nature, mingle with the locals and try things that you cannot do in your country. Stroll around the city and appreciate the rivers, ocean and many other nature.

It is our honor to have this opportunity to interview Mr. Isao Umiji. The friendly “kokedama” specialist made jokes and spoke in Sato dialect throughout the interview. Both his warm smile and “kokedama” plant brought comfort to people.

◆For more details about moss ball-making and event reservation, please visit Jyoseikan website.
Jump on the band wagon and make your very own moss ball!

※Please note that you cannot take“kokedama” (moss ball) abroad.

Interview date: February, 2019.