While cherry blossoms are the flower that most clearly symbolizes Japan, the country is in fact treated to dramatic displays of seasonal flowers all throughout the calendar year. These blooms hold a special place in Japanese culture. Festivals are held to celebrate them, and specific seasonal flowers are used in traditional celebrations throughout the year. The ancient language of flowers, “hanakotoba”, is also used to communicate feelings such as love, support, and even the desire for revenge.
A welcome sight after a long winter, plum blossoms, or “ume”, begin to bloom in late January. These pink and white flowers were the original inspiration for “hanami” (flower viewing) until the 8th century when cherry blossoms took over in popularity. Nevertheless, there are still many “ume matsuri” (plum blossom festivals) in the early spring that draw crowds of picnic-ers to parks across Japan to enjoy these delightful flowers.
Odawara Plum Festival is one of the most extravagant of these festivals. Taking place just 2 hours from Tokyo, you can enjoy the spectacle of 35,000 plum blossom trees in bloom against the backdrop of Mount Fuji.
Cherry blossom (“sakura”) season is undoubtedly the most celebrated floral event in Japan’s meteorological calendar. The wave of blooms moving from the south of Japan to the north gets a heartening amount of news coverage each year. “Hanami” picnics reach their height during cherry blossom season as parks are filled with people making merry beneath the boughs.
Most of Tokyo’s larger public parks feature impressive cherry blossom displays. Mount Yoshino in Nara prefecture is considered Japan’s most spectacular “hanami” site.
Wisteria (“fuji”) is a flower associated with nobility and sophistication in Japanese culture, harking back to feudal times when only members of the upper classes were permitted to wear purple. During wisteria festivals, the dangling vines of purple, pink, and white blossoms are arranged in impressive displays. In this season, people are drawn to specialty parks where tunnels and trellises of the flowers create a magical effect.
Ashikaga Flower Park features an especially beautiful wisteria display, boasting an 80-meter long tunnel of the flowers and a 150-year old wisteria canopy called the Great Miracle Wisteria.
As Japan enters its rainy season in late May, hydrangeas (“ajisai”) begin to blossom around the country. Depending on the acidity of the soil, this fickle plant can range in colors from blue, pink, purple, and white. For this reason, in “hanakotoba” (the language of flowers) hydrangea has the symbolic meaning of pride or fickleness.
In the temple town of Kamakura, just south of Tokyo, there are spectacular hydrangea displays in the Hase-dera and Meigetsu-in temples.
In Japan’s hottest months, July and August, sunflowers (himawari) finally open their sunny blossoms. Due to their radiation filtering capabilities, vast fields of sunflowers have been planted around Fukushima following the nuclear disaster there. The flowers have become a symbol of hope and healing in the region.
The prime place in Japan for sunflower viewing is Himawari-no-Sato, a flower farm in Hokkaido. Over a million sunflowers bloom during the summer months, and visitors can explore mazes plotted around the fields and ride on tractors and bicycles.
Chrysanthemum (“kiku”) is a deeply respected flower in Japan, symbolizing the Japanese monarchy. These flowers are meticulously bred and pruned, and the prettiest are put on display for the autumn chrysanthemum festivals called “kiku matsuri”.
Yushima Tenjin Shrine and Daienji Temple in Tokyo host two of the most acclaimed chrysanthemum festivals in Japan.
The significance of flowers
From the delicate plum blossoms of January to the regal chrysanthemums of autumn, flowers hold a special place in the hearts of the Japanese people. Festivals dedicated to these blooms enliven parks and temple grounds, drawing crowds to celebrate nature's vibrant beauty throughout the seasons.
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