SINGAPORE: Visitors flocking to take in the annual cherry blossom display at Gardens by the Bay will have something else to look forward to. For the first time, Japanese dolls will be planted among the flowers, to evoke the feel of a "magical sakura forest", said Gardens by the Bay’s senior assistant director of flower field design, Marziah Haji Omar.
“We have this big teahouse as the centre of the display - as if it’s a sakura forest - which will host tea ceremonies,” she told Channel NewsAsia ahead of the cherry blossom display's debut on Friday (Mar 16). “Then there is also a smaller teahouse with dolls, which will fit the theme of 'Imagination'.”
There are Instagram opportunities aplenty. Visitors entering the Flower Dome will be greeted by a large Tori gate framed by large trees from Japan.
As they venture down from the second floor, visitors can admire smaller cherry blossoms and head into a Kyoto-style setting with ball-jointed dolls while soaking in the view.
Organisers have recreated the signature gates that lead to the landmark Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto. The gates are seen as a path between the human and divine worlds and make for a fun photo op with the dolls.
Avid doll collector Ethan Ng was the brains behind the doll display. The 35-year-old tutor said he first started collecting ball-jointed dolls in 2009 and now has about 50 such dolls of different sizes.
Six of the 10 dolls on show belong to Mr Ng. The other four belong to his friends, who also helped him with the set-up.
Each doll is about 60cm tall and Mr Ng added that the props have been scaled to fit their height.
He told Channel NewsAsia each doll on display is about S$1,000. His dearest dolly? It set him back S$1,200.
“The dolls being displayed here are all dressed in traditional Japanese clothes to fit the overall theme. They are the newest and the most presentable that we have. They have glass eyes which make them look more realistic and less cartoonish," he said.
“Other dolls sometimes have eyes painted on.”
It was pure happenstance that led him to create this year's doll display. At last year's cherry blossom exhibition, one of the Gardens by the Bay directors spotted Mr Ng and his friends posing their dolls among the flowers for photos.
“He invited us to take part this year and of course we agreed,” said Mr Ng. “For us doll collectors, it’s a great pleasure and honour to be here.
“It’s an opportunity to showcase these dolls to the public, dressed in their finest, so that hopefully many people will like the dolls, like what they see.”
SPECIAL SAKURA TO LOOK OUT FOR
Gardens by the Bay also enlisted the help of Japanese sakura consultant Satoshi Kokubun from Grefica. He oversaw the placement of 23 species of cherry blossoms that will progressively bloom at the Flower Dome over the period from Mar 16 to Apr 8.
Some blooms to look out for include the Prunus “Snow Fountain” and the Fuji Shidare, he said.
The Snow Fountain is from Kyoto and its weeping-like structure and pure white flowers give the impression of snow falling.
The Fuji Shidare meantime, is unique because of its slanted growth and is admired in Japan by those who see beauty in its asymmetry. The tree needs to be pruned yearly, compared to normal sakura trees which need little maintenance.
The Somei Yoshino is the most well-known cherry blossom, which can be seen in Washington and several parts of Tokyo. Somei Yoshino cherry blossoms only bloom for a week in early April, and were brought over to Singapore for this event.
Mr Satoshi said that he hopes visitors to this year's display can enjoy the transient beauty of the sakura.
"I want Singaporeans and visitors to enjoy that feeling. I want them to remember their good memories created at the event with the sakura - with their family, friends and partners," he told Channel NewsAsia.
He added that even though there are about 500 types of cherry blossoms in Japan, it is hard to come by so many species on display at once.
Temperatures within the dome have been kept to around 19°C to prolong the life of the blossoms, offering a picturesque way to beat the heat.
With the event running until Apr 8, organisers said the staggered blooming of the sakura will mean visitors have different photos ops each time they swing by.
The Flower Dome is open from 9am to 9pm. Admission charges apply.