Floral Calendar of Japan
Floral Calendar of Japan
Written by
T. MAKINO, D. Sc. and
Published by
Selling Agents by
Copyright 1938
Total 95 pages

The Japanese have from ancient times been sensitive to the changes of the seasons, and taken a special interest in flowers and trees. The flora of Japan belongs the East-Asiatic plant region. But owing to the position of the country, the influence of the warm and cold currents, the complexity of the topography and the nature of the soil, and the abundance of rainfall, the flora has evolved to a remarkable degree. There are nearly 10,000 different species of flowering plants in Japan.

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In the New Year each house sets up two pines in front of the gate or doorway, one on each side. This decoration is called matukazari (“ pine decoration ”) or kadomatu (“gate pine”). In certain places, the decoration is limited to pine-trees only, whereas in others, bamboo and plum, the latter being a relatively recent addition, are used as well. This custom is several hundreds of years old, but its form has, of course, changed little by little during its long history. The reason why the pine-tree plays so important a part in the New Year celebrations is that its leaves are evergreen, and it withstands both heat and cold, remaining fresh and vivid throughout the four seasons, and attains an exceeding great age: thus it has the meaning of “ prosperity unchanging for ever,” and the people's desire for such a life has created a custom where the pine- tree serves as the symbolic expression of this. Thus, from olden times, the pine has been chosen as the flower for January.


The white plum by Taikwn Yokoyama

The white plum by Taikan Yokoyama

In this season of intense cold, the flower that blossoms in the face of the frost and snow is the utne (Prunus Mume: plum-tree), being the so-called pioneer among flowers. There are appreciable differences in the time of blossoming according to the temperature of the various districts. Even in central Japan, there are plum-trees blossoming along the warm coasts already in January, but as far as the Tokyo district is concerned we may say that nearly all the plum-blossoms used in the New Year decorations are hot-house grown. The varieties of the plum are, however, very numerous, and there are certain kinds, such as the tozibai, hayaume, etc., which blossom in the middle of the lunar month of December. But it is most usual, and most practicable, to consider the plum as being the flower for February.

The blossoms of the plum-tree have been held in great esteem by the Japanese people from ancient times: the length of the tree's life, the way in which the beautiful flowers unexpectedly come out from the old trunks having a charm of their own, the noble appearance of the blossoms, and the delicate fragrance which they emit in the depth of winter when nearly all other flowers are as yet asleep,—it is for such reasons as these that the plum is admired. We have already, in the January section spoken about the adding of plum to pine and bamboo decorations in celebrations. The opening of the plum-blossoms may be said to be, for the Japanese, the first tidings of spring.


The sidarezakura or “weeping cherry“

The sidarezakura or “weeping cherry“

On March 3rd the people greet the momo-no-sekku (“The Peach-blossom Festival”), when their hearts swell with a feeling that it is really spring. The momo-no-sekku is also known as hinamaturi (“The Doll Festival”), and is a festival for young girls. A hinadan or “doll-stand,” covered with a kind of scarlet baize (himosen), is set up in the room, and on it are placed various kinds of dolls and accessories representing the life of the Imperial Court in ancient Japan. What must never be lacking in this festival, as indeed its name shows, is one or two sprays of momo (Prunus Persica: peach) inserted in a vase. This also is a custom dating from ancient times, and has become one of the regular observances of the month of March (for which reason the peach is known as the flower for March); but, in reality, only hot-house peaches are in blossom at this time. … The festival is held in order to bestow blessing upon young girls, and the peach, in this connection, is said to have the power of driving away devils. The origin of this belief is perhaps to be traced back to the legend, famous from olden times, of Momo- taro's conquest of Onigasima (“Devils' Island”).


It is the sakura (cherry) that is the queen of flowers in April, and it is so representative of all flowers in Japan that the word hana (“flowers”) by itself means sakura.
“The cherries of Yosino have blossomed—
The flowers of spring that are like the supreme ruler”
This is indeed what we really feel. How right we think it is that the cherry should be the favourite flower of the Japanese, for its splendour when it blooms and for its gallantry when it falls!


When the cherry blossoms and the other flowers of spring pass away, the trees gradually begin to put on their summer attire. The leaves of the different trees first appear as a fresh, vivid green; then little by little they acquire a beautiful glossiness, just as if they had been brought back to life again. The weather tells us that summer has already come, but the calendar calls this month bansyun (“ late spring”). In Japanese poetical language the flowers of this month are known as yokwai^1 the left-behind flowers”), and in fact tutuzi (azaleas), huzi (wistarias), botan (peonies), kiri (paulownias), and honoki and taizanboku (different kinds of magnolias) flower one after the other as if they were trying to make up for being late.


The hanasyobu (iris) by Kokei Kobayashi

The hanasyobu (iris) by Kokei Kobayashi

Now, according to the calendar also, summer has really come. The earth is wholly covered with green, and all nature has put on its summer livery. It is in this month that, the grain harvest being over, water is run into the rice-fields, and the rice seedings are planted. From about the middle of the month to about the middle of July warm, moist south-east winds blow from the Continent, and practically the whole of Japan is enveloped in the so- called tuyu or rainy season, during which we have spells of muggy, oppressive weather.

The flower for this month is indubitably the hana-syobu (Iris ensata, var. hortensis: iris). This is a plant which is said to have originally grown wild in a small marsh in the mountains of north-eastern Japan, and that it was brought to Edo (the present Tokyo) some three hundred years ago and cultivated there. It is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the family of Iridaceae.
Mention must be made of the syobuta(“ iris field”) in the precincts of the Meizi Shrine, since it is the place where the hanasyobu is found in its greatest perfection. This sydbuta, beloved of the late Empress Dowager Sho- ken (consort of the Emperor Meizi), is situated to the south-west of the main shrine, and has an area of some 700 tubo (a little more than half an acre); eighty-four varieties flower there with a great profusion of colour, and its appearance is so magnificent that even professional botanists are amazed. In recent years it has become the custom to invite each year several hundred persons of distinction, foreign diplc^nats, etc. in order that they may appreciate its charm.


Early on July mornings to stand by the edge of a pond and watch the lotus flowers open is, we think, an unforgettable summer experience. The hasn (Nelumbo nu- cifera: lotus) was originally a native of tropical Asia, but it has been cultivated in Japan from ancient times, and is seen growing in abundance in ponds in the gardens of temples and private residences.


Although people say that the days are broiling, the heat in Japan does not at the most exceed 31°-32° C. … The favourite flower of the Japanese for this month has been from ancient times the asagao (Pharbitis Nil: morning glory).
Everyone is able to get himself a pot of morning glory. Though his garden be, as we say in Japanese, as narrow as a cat's forehead, if only he sets up this pot of morning glory in it and it blooms, he can appreciate the beauty of summer. The morning glory's original home is in tropical regions, but in China there are records of its use as a medicinal plant 2,200 years ago, and it was introduced into Japan about a thousand years ago.
As the morning glory has long been loved by the Japanese, it appears in many paintings and poems (uta and haiku) but because of its homeliness and its close association with the life of the common people, it does not often occur as the main theme, but is usually added as one of the natural features of the season.


The white kikyo by Kokei Kobayashi

The white kikyo by Kokei Kobayashi

“Gathering the flowers blooming in the autumn fields—
When we count them
their kinds are seven ”
This is a poem written a thousand years ago, and from ancient times seven flowers, known as aki no nanakusa or “the seven herbs of autumn, * have been taken as the representatives of all autumn flowers, and have been much used as subjects of poetry and painting. All are plain, homely flowers, without the least trace of gaudiness.

Well, what are the seven flowers of autumn ? They are: hagi (Lespedeza spp.), susuki (Miscanthus sinensis: pampas grass), kuzu (Pueraria Thunbergiana, var typica: arrowroot), nadesiko (Dianthus superbus), ominaesi (Patrinia scabiosaefolia), huzibakama (Eupatorium japonicum), and kikyo (Platycodon glaucum).


Branches laden with ripened kaki

Branches laden with ripened kaki

October is a month for fruits rather than for flowers. Apples, grapes, figs, kaki(persimmons), and chestnuts are the most important.


The mountains become gay for a while with red and yellow hues; of flowers there is only the chrysanthemum to give colour to autumn as it dies. But the red foliage (momizi) of the trees and the chrysanthemums are able by themselves to make both the country and the garden as beautiful as did all the hundred flowers of spring. Places noted for their momizi or chrysanthemums are crowed with people, for November offers the last chance for outings in the year.
Just as the cherry is considered to be the queen of flowers in spring, so the chrysanthemum is to be regarded as the queen of flowers in autumn. We suppose that you already know that the crest of the Japanese Imperial Family is a chrysanthemum flower and as such is revered by the whole nation.


We have finally reached the last month of the year, which, according to the Japanese calendar, is the first month of winter.

Tya-no-hana (tea blossoms) and sazanka (Camellia Sasanqua) are about the only flowers of this month. Tya-no-hana are the blossoms of the famous Japanese green tea, and are white and very lovely; they have five petals and long yellow stamens. The leaves are gathered in May.
The sazanka bears a certain resemblance to the camellia (tubaki), but it is quieter in appearance. The flowers are pale pink or white. It is cultivated in gardens, and is used for making hedges; in the south of Japan it is found growing wild.