Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, November 01, 2010

In Time for Hagi

Before the show of fall color, Japan looks with fondness and melancholy to a simple native.


Wild boar asleep among bush clover (hagi)

Mochizuki Gyokusen (1834-1913)

Honkan Gallery, Tokyo National Museum

Photo: Human Flower Project

Summer was hot and long in Japan this year (we Texans deeply sympathize). A chrysanthemum master we met in Nihonmatsu said his fall flowers were running two weeks behind schedule. And with some soaking rains in late September, though greenery had seen its greenest days, leaves still hung high and lush, only a few tips of crimson.

But Japanese nature-lovers don’t waste time waiting. Not “to everything there is a season” but “in every season, look and see.”

The Great Books shelf of the Human Flower Project has now a second volume (the first being Jack Goody’s Culture of Flowers). Before crossing the Pacific we’d ordered Sumiko Enbutsu’s A Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo: 40 Walks for All Seasons. A tour book like no other, it turned out to be a leg-stretcher and eye-opener, a mind-bender and heart-wringer.

Her book chapters chronicle the flowers that predominate visually and culturally throughout the Tokyo year. Our visit in late September/early October, fell outside the bounds of “cherry blossom time” or “falling leaves.” Without her guide—and key cues dropped by both friend Georgia Silvera Seamans and author Daisetz Suzuki—we would have missed the event of the season: hagi.

Lespedeza bicolor is a shrubby plant native to Japan, its growth habit rather like our old Kentucky forsythia. As yellow forsythia is a harbinger of spring, purple hagi is a first breath of autumn. Enbutsu writes eloquently of the strong associations that the Japanese have held for hagi “since ancient times.” She observes that of all the plants referenced in the Manyōshū, Japan’s great 8th century anthology of “vernacular poetry,” hagi appears most often.

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Posted by Julie on 11/01 at 10:16 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink
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