Human Flower Project

Fighting Fear with Chrysanthemums

To withstand a national tragedy and endure its frightening aftermath, Nihonmatsu lets custom, light, flowers and festivity take the lead.


Two valiant samurai, made with chrysanthemums

Nihonmatsu Kiku Ningyo, 2010

Photo: Human Flower Project

How do you say it in Japanese? “The show must go on.”

That sentiment prevails this fall in Nihonmatsu, a town only 37 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility.

The effects of the March tsunami that flooded the power plant’s reactors, causing a meltdown, have yet to be satisfactorily determined. Enrollment at kindergartens in Fukushima prefecture was much lower this autumn; small children are the most vulnerable to radioactive exposure and presumably many families have moved elsewhere. There will be no more farming in the vicinity of the plant, and national alarm over tainted spinach, tea, milk and other produce from a much wider area continues.

imageDisplay at Nihonmatsu’s kiku festival, October 2010

Photo: Human Flower Project

Furthermore, there are still huge discrepancies among the scientific estimates of the radioactivity that’s been released into the Pacific, from both accidental and deliberate discharges of contaminated water and from toxic, post-tsunami rainfall.

When the area nearest the plant was evacuated in mid-March, people were transported to Nihonmatsu to be checked for radioactive poisoning. Most recently, residents have been voicing their concern over a plan to store contaminated soils in or near the town.

Despite the national tragedy and ongoing sense of peril, Nihonmatsu’s famed fall events were held this year. The Chochin Matsuri (lantern festival) took place in early October, and the elaborate chrysanthemum show, one of the last such horticultural extravaganzas in Japan, took place too, up at the local castle—Kasumiga-jo.

imageKiku Ningyo: life-size chrysanthemum doll

Nihonmatsu, Japan, 2011

Photo: Nihonmatsu Kanko

Among many highlights of the kiku show are lifesize chysanthemum dolls and gigantic chrysanthemum sculptures. The satellite-shaped ozukuri are especially magnificent, though when we visited in early October of last year, the blooms were just beginning to open.

As if the kiku masters of the town didn’t have enough on their minds this year, they also consulted with horticulturists at Longwood Gardens in the U.S., and that collaboration succeeded in producing a single chrysanthemum plant with 1,167 flowers – the first North American ozukuri of this floral scale.

Congratulations to the residents of Nihonmatsu for not just braving a horrific year but blooming despite it.

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