楊貴妃も かくやと偲ぶ 花海棠 Even Yang Guifei / Must have been as beautiful as this / Like Hua Haitang

The enchanting figure of Yang Guifei, dozing lightly in a tipsy state, was described by Emperor Xuanzong as ‘still not enough sleep of  Hana-kaido.’ This is said to be the origin of the flower language ‘beauty sleep’ associated with Hana-kaido. The buds, hanging red, unfurl into pink blooms, making Hana-kaido a symbol of beauty since ancient times. In Japan, it is known to begin blooming just as the Somei Yoshino cherry blossoms reach full bloom and start to fall. Among the same family, almond blossoms first, followed by Somei Yoshino, and then Hana-kaido, but this year, due to the delayed cherry blossom season, Hana-kaido bloomed concurrently with Somei Yoshino. However, unlike cherry blossoms, Hana-kaido are characterized by a long flowering period of over a month. In Japan, before Hana-kaido, there were Mi-kaido. Mi-kaido bear fruits about 2 centimeters in diameter, which become edible when ripe and were also called Nagasaki apples. Subsequently, Hana-kaido mainly for ornamental purposes were introduced during the Edo period. While small red fruits resembling apples may develop after flowering, they are not edible.


桜咲く 西行さんも ほっと安心 Cherry blossoms bloom / Saigyo must be feeling very relieved / I feel the same way

When we speak of cherry blossoms, we think of Saigyo. Speaking of Saigyo, here is his next poem:

“I would wish to die
Under the cherry blossoms
In springtime’s embrace
At that moment of perfect beauty
When the moon is full”

On February 16, 1190, Saigyo peacefully drew his last breath while gazing at cherry blossoms at the Hirogawa Temple in Kawachi (now Kawanancho, Osaka Prefecture). He was 73 years old. His graceful departure, just as depicted in his poem, left a deep impression on people and has been passed down through generations, especially among poets. The cherry blossoms he mentions are not the Somei Yoshino variety but the mountain cherry blossoms, which typically bloom later than Somei Yoshino. February 16, the day of Saigyo’s passing, corresponds to mid-March in our calendar. Moreover, when we say “Mochizuki,” it falls on the day of the full moon, which falls on March 25th this year. The cherry blossom season in Osaka Prefecture started on the 29th of March this year, with full bloom expected about a week later. The Hirokawa Temple is located on the hillside of Osaka Prefecture, so the mountain cherry blossoms there would bloom even later. Therefore, the environmental conditions on the day of Saigyo’s passing would be quite different from this year. Cherry blossom blooming patterns vary each year, and the natural environment during Saigyo’s time would have been significantly different from today. Hence, I believe Saigyo’s poem remains valid as it reflects the prevailing conditions of his time. As for Saigyo’s death, religious scholar Tetsuo Yamazaki suggests that Saigyo, around February 15, the day of Buddha’s death, decided to end his life and, after several days of fasting and abstaining from water, passed away of his own volition. It is a theory worth considering.


願はくは 花の下にて 春死なむ そのきさらぎの 望月のころ


蒼天に 矢車菊の 青が抜け The cornflowers’ blue / Is so vibrant against the blue sky / It takes my breath away

The Yaguruma-giku (cornflowers) in the park have bloomed. They will continue to bloom through the summer after this. Amidst the delayed cherry blossoms, the long-awaited blue sky serves as a vibrant backdrop for their cornflower blue. Cornflower is the English name for the flower known as “Yaguruma-giku” in Japanese. Originating as a weed in wheat fields in southeastern Europe and western Asia, it earned its name from its presence among grains. Its vivid bluish-purple hue gave rise to the term “cornflower blue,” representing the color of the finest sapphires. Yaguruma-giku are also designated as national flowers in countries like the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Estonia. Furthermore, they hold historical significance, having been discovered in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. In ancient Egypt, blue flowers were believed to ward off evil, and they were placed on the chest of the king’s mummy. Subsequently, the blue flowers of Yaguruma-giku became symbols of Romanticism and were used in patterns like Marie Antoinette’s porcelain tableware design called “Petit Bouquet.” Introduced to Japan during the Meiji era, they were named “Yaguruma-giku” for their resemblance to the spinning tops mounted on poles for Koinobori, or carp streamers.

公園の矢車菊が咲きました。これから夏にかけて咲き続けます。桜の開花が遅れる中,久しぶりの青空を背景にそのコーンフラワーブルーが鮮やかです。コーンフラワーとは矢車菊の英名。ヨーロッパ東南部や 西アジアの麦畑の中に 、雑草として咲いていたことからこの名が付きました。その青紫色の美しさから、最高級のサファイアの色味を表す言葉として生まれたのがコーンフラワーブルーです。矢車菊はドイツ連邦共和国やエストニア共和国などの国花にもなっています。また古くは、古代エジプトの ツタンカーメン王の 墓からも発見された 由緒ある花です。 古代エジプトでは 青い花が魔除けとされ、 王様のミイラの 胸のところに飾られました。その後も矢車菊の青い花はロマン主義の象徴とされたり、マリー・アントワネットの洋食器の『小花散らし』の模様に使われたりしました。日本には明治時代に移入され、鯉のぼりの柱の先につける矢車に似ていることから 「矢車菊」の名が付きました。

店頭に 並んで光る ホタルイカ The fireflies in the store / Line up and glow so bright / A spring night’s dream

The taste of spring, Hotaru-ika (firefly squid), is lining the shelves. The name ‘Hotaru-ika’ originates from its beautiful bioluminescence, resembling that of fireflies. Particularly in spring, swarms of Hotaru-ika migrate to Toyama Bay, creating a fantastic sight known as the ‘Hotaru-ika Group Play in the Sea,’ designated as a national special natural monument. Hotaru-ika usually inhabit the deep sea around the Sea of Japan, and after being born in spring and completing their spawning season the following spring, they live for about a year. The reasons for their bioluminescence are believed to be for self-defense against predators, attracting prey, and communication with fellow squid, but it remains largely unexplained. Hotaru-ika spoil quickly, and most are boiled before being shipped, so it’s rare to find freshly caught ones in ordinary supermarkets. The peak season for Hotaru-ika is spring, when they spawn. Major production areas are Hyogo and Toyama prefectures. Fishing usually begins slightly before Setsubun in Hyogo Prefecture and is permitted from March 1st annually in Toyama Prefecture, continuing until early summer. In terms of catch volume, Hamazaka Fishing Port in Hyogo Prefecture is the largest in Japan, but Toyama Prefecture’s Hotaru-ika is nationally renowned. This is because Hotaru-ika from Toyama Prefecture, especially those caught in Toyama Bay, are almost entirely mature females that have migrated from the deep sea for spawning, resulting in an exceptional taste experience.

春の味覚、ホタルイカ(蛍烏賊)が店頭に並んでいます。ホタルイカという名前の由来は、もちろんホタルのように美しく発光するからです。特に、春になると富山湾にホタルイカの群れが押し寄せて幻想的な光景が広がり、「ホタルイカ群遊海面」として国の特別天然記念物にまで指定されています。 ホタルイカは普段は日本海を中心とした深海で生活しており、春に生まれて翌年の春に産卵期を終えると1年程度で寿命を迎えます。発光する理由については、外敵から身を守るため、餌を呼び寄せるため、仲間とのコミュニケーションをとるためなどと考えられていますが、未だに解明はされていません。ホタルイカは傷むのが非常に早く、多くは釜ゆでにされてから出荷されるので、一般的なスーパーで獲れたての生のホタルイカにお目にかかれることはほとんどありません。ホタルイカの旬は、産卵を迎える時期である春です。主な産地は兵庫県と富山県で、兵庫県では節分の少し前くらいから、富山県では毎年3月1日から漁が解禁され、初夏まで漁が続きます。漁獲量では、兵庫県の浜坂漁港が日本一ですが、富山県産のホタルイカが全国的に知られています。それは、富山県産、特に富山湾で取れるホタルイカは、産卵のために深海から浅瀬に来た個体なので99.9999%が成熟したメスで、味覚が優れているからです。

慰めに 焦らす桜や 雪柳 The cherry do not bloom easily / I’m a bit irritating / Yukiyanagi has become a source of comfort

On the 27th today, the Japan Meteorological Association announced the ‘2024 Cherry Blossom Blooming Forecast (6th edition)’. Due to the cold rain continuing in March due to the influence of cold air, the growth of cherry blossoms has stalled. It is predicted that cherry blossoms will bloom in Tokyo on the delayed date of 29th, more than two weeks later than last year’s blooming on March 14th, and in Osaka, it is predicted to bloom on the 31st. In various regions of western and eastern Japan too, cherry blossoms are expected to bloom significantly later than last year, and many points are likely to be more than 3 days later than usual. However, around this weekend, from the 30th to the 31st, summer-like warmth approaching 25°C is expected in some areas. Therefore, even in areas of western and eastern Japan where cherry blossoms have been delayed, they are likely to bloom and reach full bloom rapidly at this timing. In Wakayama, the Somei Yoshino cherry blossoms in the southern town of Kozagawa are in full bloom, with about 200 Somei Yoshino cherry blossoms designated as a natural monument by the country around the ‘Iwazan’ in Kozagawa blooming rapidly this week, reaching 80% bloom as of the morning of the 27th. However, the blooming in Wakayama Prefecture is predicted to be the same as Osaka Prefecture, on the 31st. This is because flowering forecasts for each region are determined using specimen trees designated by local meteorological observatories.


花見時 勿忘草も そっと咲き In cherry blossom time / Forget-me-nots also bloom / Quietly

The name of the Forget-me-not flower is well-known for its origin. It stems from a tale of tragic love passed down from ancient times in Germany. The story revolves around a knight named Rudolf and his lover Berta, who, by the banks of the Danube River, discover a small flower. Rudolf attempts to pick the flower for Berta, but he slips and is swept away by the river’s strong currents. Determined, he tells her, “Vergiss-mein-nicht!” (“Forget me not!”) before succumbing to the water and drowning. Left behind, Berta places the flower on Rudolf’s grave, naming it after his final words. This tale of tragic love spread worldwide, and the flower’s name, “Vergiss-mein-nicht,” was translated into various languages. In Japan, in 1905 (Meiji 38), the botanist Takiya Kawakami named it “Wasurenagusa” (勿忘草) as the meaning of “勿 (must not) 忘 (forget) 草 (grass)”.  The English name is also literally forget-me-not, and it has become an unforgettable word even in high school English.


高らかに 門出を祝う ラッパ水仙 Trumpet daffodils / Loudly celebrating / The new beginnings

When we hear April, many people might envision events like ‘entrance ceremonies,’ ‘starting a new job,’ or ‘beginning at a new workplace.’ In Japanese schools and companies, the system of starting afresh in April, known as the ‘new fiscal year,’ has become established. Initially, during the Meiji government, the fiscal year started in July, but due to a deadlock in the military budget for the 1885 fiscal year, it was shifted to April starting from 1886 to reconcile accounts, thus marking the beginning of the current fiscal year or the ‘new year.’ Schools, initially starting in September to align with Western standards, also adjusted to synchronize with the new fiscal year.
Internationally, while many European countries primarily align their fiscal years with the calendar year from January to December, countries like the United States and the United Kingdom have fiscal years running from April to March, and others like Australia and New Zealand have fiscal years running from July to June. Schools, unlike in Japan, often start their academic years in September to August without aligning with the fiscal year. April serves as the main month for symbolizing spring in Japan with events like cherry blossoms and flower-viewing, and even daffodils seem to have shifted from Japanese daffodils to trumpet daffodils as the main focus.


桃の花 節句の時より 艶やかに The peach blossoms / Are blooming more beautifully / Than Hina festival time

Plum, peach, and cherry blossoms have long been cherished as representative flowers of spring. All of them belong to the Rosaceae family, making it difficult to distinguish between them solely by their flowers. The timing of each blossom’s blooming period has become less predictable due to regional and varietal differences, as well as recent climate changes. However, the typical blooming order is plum, peach, and cherry blossoms.
Plum blossoms, often referred to as “early spring flowers,” bloom from January to April, while peaches, familiar during Girls’ Day celebrations, bloom from March to April. Cherry blossoms, on the other hand, generally bloom from mid-March to early May. Particularly, peach blossoms are essential during the March 3rd “Peach Festival” and are often thought to bloom considerably earlier than cherry blossoms. However, the peaches seen during this festival are a variety called “Yaguchi,” specifically bred for cut flowers. The traditional peach blossoms actually bloom around the same time as cherry blossoms. This is because March 3rd, the date of the Peach Festival, is based on the lunar calendar, which roughly aligns with April 3rd in the Gregorian calendar. Some cherry blossoms, like Kawazu cherry blossoms, overlap with plum blossoms, adding to the mix of blooming times.
Peach trees have both ornamental and fruit-bearing varieties. The peach blossoms used for the Peach Festival are ornamental and not suitable for consumption. The fruit-bearing peach blossoms also bloom during the same period but are pruned to leave only two flowers per branch to ensure fruit production. By doing so, they produce fine peaches from June to July.


この気温 咲くに咲けない 桜かな In this cold weather / Cherry blossoms cannot bloom / Even if they want to

On Saturday, March 23rd, the Kochi Local Meteorological Observatory announced the blooming of cherry blossoms. This marks the first cherry blossom announcement of the year for Somei Yoshino variety nationwide, making it the No.1 declaration in the country. However, this year’s cherry blossoms started blooming from Sukumo in Kochi Prefecture on March 12th and also bloomed in Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture, on the 16th. Since each prefecture’s blooming date is based on the standard trees designated by local observatories, it may differ from the actual blooming. Last year, cherry blossoms were observed blooming in 34 observatories by March 23rd, and this year, it seems to be later than last year in various places. The blooming forecast on the 13th of last week indicated that Tokyo would be the earliest in the country, around the 20th, but there has been a return of cold until around the 22nd, delaying the cherry blossoms by four days from the previous forecast to the 24th. Forecasts in various regions have also been adjusted to be about 2-3 days later. Although the forecast for Osaka’s blooming remains the same on the 25th, the atmosphere seems likely to bloom as early as tomorrow, as seen in the photo taken in Kaizuka City, southern Osaka.


静謐(せいひつ)も 今年最後の 椿かな Stillness too / The last camellia of the year / I bask in that atmosphere

The coldness of late seems to delay the cherry blossoms’ blooming. In the quiet room, the last camellias of the year bid farewell to fireplace season. In the tea ceremony, the year is divided broadly into two seasons: the summer ‘wind season’ from May to October and the winter ‘fireplace season’ from November to April of the following year. Not only do camellias come in different colors such as white, red, and pink, but there are also varieties with various names such as “Wabisuke”, “Hatsuarashi”, “Shiratama”, and “Akebono”. It is said that there are over 2,200 species. Many were cultivated specifically for the tea ceremony. Both the camellias on the ground and those displayed in the rooms have a captivating beauty when fully bloomed. However, the camellias in the tea room and here displayed here exude a serene beauty. It feels as if one can hear the sound of camellias unfolding from buds to blossoms, and the sound of them falling along with the buds when fully bloomed. The transition from winter to spring is indeed a shift from stillness to motion. The transition from camellias to cherry blossoms evokes the essence of transience and the cycle of life.