Hydrangeas – snippets of Japanese culture
Hydrangeas are largely a northern hemisphere plant, or at least those popular in garden cultivation are derived from wild species from north of the equator. They can be found growing in East Asia, especially China, Japan and Vietnam, the U.S., Mexico, Central America and a little below the equator in Andean Equador and Peru. This post focuses on aspects of Japanese Hydrangea culture.
Hydrangeas have been cultivated and appreciated in East Asia for centuries, though it is understood that popularity increased there in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some species native to Japan and popular in world hydrangea cultivation today include H. macrophylla, H. paniculata and H. serrata.
Michael Hawarth-Booth in his well-known book ‘The Hydrangeas’ (1950) wrote;
“Among the wooded hills and shores of Japan, among the beautiful Red or Black Pines leaning picturesquely away from the wind, among the fretted lava rocks or the myriad tiny islets often planted by nature with blood-red Azalea, smoke-blue Wisteria and the wild white Rose, like the scene of a fairy story, the ancestral wild Hydrangeas grow”.
Reading a Japanese local contributors blog site (TsukuBlog from Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan) I learned that Japan experiences a month long rainy season (tsuyu), ending in mid-July when appreciation of natural beauty is ripe. Many Japanese consider AJISAI (or Hydrangea) to be the quintessential flower of this season, when wet and enshrouded in mist. While numerous modern varieties include pinks and whites, the original Japanese name Ajisai means a GATHERING OF BLUES.
The preceding paragraph provides context to a July 2012 GREENPEACE feature story I stumbled across on the web while researching this post – ‘The emerging power of Japan’s ‘Hydrangea’ revolution’. This is a protest against the Japanese government’s decision to restart the Ohi nuclear plant, just 18 months after the devastating tsunami and resulting nuclear Fukushima nuclear disaster.
‘… [the Hydrangea is] a flower the Japanese have traditionally loved because it blooms in June and July, giving hope during the dark, rainy season. Born out of the aftermath of arguably one of Japan’s darkest hours, the movement offers hope and is gathering in numbers – similar to how the Hydrangea forms its flower; each small flower bunches together to form a bigger, more vibrant, flower’.
Who would have thought the Hydrangea would take on this edgy symbolism!
Referred to in preparing this post; C & D Van Gelderen, Encyclopedia of Hydrangeas (2004); G Church, Hydrangeas (2007); Michael Hawarth-Booth, The Hydrangeas (1950); Green peace website (The emerging power of Japan’s ‘Hydrangea’ revolution, 24 Sept 2012); TsukuBlog, Hydrangea in Japanese History and Culture (20 June 2012).
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