Today is Botan Day on the flower calendar. Botan has long been revered as a noble flower and referred to as the “king of flowers” or the “flower of royalty.” Botan was originally brought to Japan from China during the Nara period as a medicinal plant, but there is also a theory that they were brought back by the Buddhist monk Kukai. After that, they were improved through breeding in Japan and became popular among the nobility during the late Heian period, and were eventually cultivated in temples throughout the country. During the Edo period, they spread among the general population, and most of the botan varieties we see today were improved during this time. There are many famous botan spots throughout Japan, but in Kansai, the botan at Hasedera Temple, which has a history of a thousand years, is particularly famous. Botan is synonymous with Hasedera Temple, and the 150 varieties and 7,000 botan plants blooming throughout the temple grounds delight visitors.
Finally, this year’s Golden Week has begun. After three years, the once-in-a-century pandemic is finally approaching an end. The flow of people around the world has changed significantly, and it seems that many foreign visitors are also coming to Japan. According to JTB’s estimates, the number of foreign visitors to Japan is expected to be 21.1 million (66.2% compared to 2019) or 550.6% more than the previous year. While a rapid recovery in the number of visitors from countries such as Korea, Thailand, and Singapore can be expected, the recovery in demand from China is assumed to fully begin after July 2023, with a subsequent rapid recovery. Japan had set a target of 60 million foreign visitors before the pandemic, so the current number is only a third of that goal, but it is expected to increase exponentially by the time of the Osaka Expo in 2025. The world should become more peaceful in proportion to the number of foreign visitors to Japan. We also hope that the “Hiroshima Peace Pilgrimage City” declaration or something bolder will be announced at the “G7 Hiroshima Summit 2023” starting on May 19th.
There is an old water purification plant along the Yamato River in Asakayama, Sakai City, Osaka. About 2,500 azaleas, including those over 80 years old and newly planted ones, are planted over a total length of about 600 meters, making it one of the most famous tsutsuji spots in Osaka. Normally, they continue to bloom until after Golden Week, but recently they have not lasted that long. They reach their peak in mid-April and start to decline noticeably in the latter half of the month. After the tsutsuji, the satsuki (Rhododendron indicum) bloom vigorously. Satsuki blooms in May, as its name suggests, but Satsuki is also an old name in the lunar calendar, and corresponds to June in the Gregorian calendar. In other words, Satsuki probably bloomed around June in the past. Therefore, global warming has been gradually starting over a hundred years ago and has been accelerating in the past 10 to 20 years, turning from quantity to quality in terms of physics. It seems that the world still lacks a sense of urgency about its severity.
From fossils, we know that wild roses were already distributed throughout various regions in the northern hemisphere 30 million years ago. It is said that their origins can probably be traced back to 70 million years ago. Human interest in roses can be traced back to more than 2000 years ago, as evidenced by the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” which describes roses as “the flower of eternal life.” Since then, roses have been one of the most widely admired flowers. While each flower has its flower language, roses are exceptional. There are countless flower languages to describe roses, including their color, hue, number, condition, and combination with other flowers. You can see the depth of interest in roses. Nowadays, there are said to be 30,000 to 100,000 varieties of roses, and possibly even more. However, there are no true blue roses, as there is no genetic expression for the color blue in roses. Recently, Suntory created a genetically modified rose that is quite blue, which generated a lot of attention, but it still doesn’t have the natural blue color of a flower like the gentian.
In the midst of continuous rain, fuji (wisteria) is blooming its last flowers. This year, all the flowers are blooming one to two weeks earlier than usual, and closing earlier as a result. The fuji is the same. Although the cool weather has caused the flowers to last a little longer, they are now waiting to be pruned. Knowing this, bees are gathering in swarms to seek the last bit of nectar. Under the rain, groups of umbrella-toting flower viewers are visiting the nearby shakuyaku garden in small numbers. When the rain clears, it will be time for the shakuyaku. I’m not the teacher Makino from the morning drama, but my fun of chasing flowers continues. However, the news of Ukraine and Sudan can’t escape from the back of my mind.
Since the cherry blossoms have already fallen, it can no longer be called “flower chill.” Although we had warm weather for a while, these days it has been quite chilly. According to the 24 solar terms, we are currently in the 6th term called “Grain Rain,” during which the generous rains from the sky, which are also blessings, pour down on the many grains on the ground. Each solar term is further divided into three segments of 5 days each, called “initial, middle, and final,” and starting from today, the 25th, we enter the second segment of “Grain Rain” called “frost stops and seedlings sprout.” This is the time when it’s getting warmer, frost no longer falls, and seedlings grow rapidly. Farmers are starting to prepare for planting rice, and there is a lot of energy and excitement in the air. Nearby parks are covered with fresh green leaves, and preparations have been made for people to relax and enjoy, but there are hardly any people around due to the cold weather. Golden Week starts from this weekend, and I’m sure it will be crowded with many people by then.
There are two types of wisteria in Japan: Nodafuji and Yamafuji. When we simply say “fuji,” it usually refers to Nodafuji. In kanji, it is written as 野田藤 (Noda-fuji), which is named after a place called Noda in the Fukushima Ward of Osaka City. In ancient times, except for the current Uemachi Plateau, most of the Osaka Plain was covered by the sea. The wild species of Nodafuji drifted to the area and its beauty gradually became known. It is said that about 600 years ago, Ashikaga Yoshitaka, the second shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate, wrote a famous poem about it, and the name “Noda” became well-known nationwide. Later, Toyotomi Hideyoshi visited the area as a spectator, and “Yoshino cherry blossoms, Noda wisteria, and Koyo autumn leaves” became known as the three major sights. During the wisteria season, many visitors come to see the Nodafuji. Even now, “Nodafuji” is scattered around Osaka City, mainly in the Fukushima Ward, and is known as one of the “three major wisteria spots in Japan,” along with “Ushijima no Fuji” in Kasukabe City, Saitama Prefecture, and “Kasugano no Fuji” in Kasuga Taisha, Nara Prefecture. Among them, in Izumi City, southern Osaka, there is a magnificent wisteria trellis that exceeds 30 meters in width and 27 meters in depth, blooming from a single tree over 40 years old. This town, which prospered as the Shindachi-juku on the Kumano Kaido road in the past, is now visited by many flower viewers. By the way, the back of the 5,000 yen bill to be issued in 2024 will feature the flower of the wisteria.
There are some mysterious flowers out there. While taking a morning walk, I saw what I thought was a dandelion blooming in someone’s garden. But upon closer inspection, I realized it wasn’t a dandelion at all. Its leaves were completely different and had a succulent cactus-like texture. I quickly took a photo with my smartphone and used Google Lens to search for it. It turns out it’s called a Bergeranthus and belongs to the ice plant family from South Africa. It’s a winter succulent that is heat and cold-resistant with strong reproductive ability, making it easy to grow. I looked up its Japanese name and found out it’s called “San-ji-sou” or “Terunami”. It’s named after the fact that it only blooms at 3 o’clock and the flowers open precisely at that time. It’s amazing how some flowers have such unique characteristics. If you keep this flower around, If you put this flower next to you, it will let you know that it’s three o’clock, so when this flower blooms, you can boil coffee and prepare today’s snack. It grows to about 10cm in height and produces many bright yellow flowers (although there are also white-flowering varieties) similar to dandelions from April to May. The flowers bloom around 3 p.m. and close at sunset, repeating this cycle for about a week.
It’s not quite May yet, so we can’t call it a “May weather” just yet, but with the sunshine and warmth, it’s certainly feeling like it today. It seems that the pressure distribution will change from the afternoon and it will be strong winds today, but now there is almost no wind. The many carp streamers hanging on both sides of the river are taking a break too. The cherry blossom front has moved north, and the same scenery can be seen throughout the country. Many people from overseas are also visiting Japan and are equally impressed by this tranquil landscape, saying how lucky they are to be here at this time. Some are buying carp streamers to take home as souvenirs and saying to want to hoiste immediately them up. If more and more foreigners come to japan and learn about Japan’s nature and traditional culture, the world will surely become a more peaceful and richer place.
The fuji (wisteria) blossoms all at once, filling the air with a sweet fragrance. Fujii comes in two colors: purple and white. The elegant shade of pale bluish-purple is known as “fuji-iro” in Japanese, after the flower itself, and has long been a familiar traditional color in Japan, exuding a graceful and elegant atmosphere from the entire flower. On the other hand, compared to the graceful purple fuji, white fuji looks like a pure and innocent young girl. The flower language of white fuji is “nostalgic memories”, which evokes the image of one’s pure and innocent childhood. Fuji is native to Japan and there are two types: “nodafuji” and “yamafuji”. What is generally referred to as fuji is nodafuji, which is commonly seen for ornamental and cultivation purposes. On the other hand, yamafuji is a woody vine plant distributed in the western regions of Kinki, Shikoku, Kyushu and Chugoku, with its tendrils coiling in the opposite direction to fuji’s right coil. Its flower spikes are not as long as wisteria’s, and its flowers bloom later, with a more intense purple color than huji. The “fuji waterfall” commonly seen in the mountains is yamafuji.