Japan’s national flower is the chrysanthemum, known in Japanese as kiku. The chrysanthemum has a long history and deep cultural significance in Japan.
When was the chrysanthemum adopted as Japan’s national flower?
The chrysanthemum was officially adopted as the national flower of Japan in 1870. However, the flower has been culturally significant and closely associated with the Japanese monarchy since even earlier.
In the 8th century AD, the chrysanthemum was introduced to Japan from China. It quickly became a popular ornamental flower and was even featured on the Imperial Seal of Japan as early as the 12th century. By the Edo Period (1603-1868), the chrysanthemum crest was used extensively by the Imperial family.
So while the chrysanthemum was officially declared the national flower in 1870, its status as a culturally significant flower closely tied to Japanese royalty was established centuries earlier. The 1870 designation simply made its status as the national flower official.
Why was the chrysanthemum chosen as Japan’s national flower?
There are a few key reasons why the chrysanthemum was selected to be Japan’s national flower:
- It has a long history in Japan dating back to the 8th century AD when it was introduced from China.
- It has been used as a crest by the Japanese Imperial family since the 12th century and became extensively associated with the monarchy during the Edo Period.
- It is native to East Asia so it is a flower that originated in the region.
- It blooms in autumn, coinciding with seasonal festivals.
- In Japanese culture, it symbolizes longevity, rejuvenation, and nobility.
The chrysanthemum stood out as a flower that was distinctly tied to Japanese culture, history, and royalty. Adopting it as the official national flower reinforced its status as a culturally significant bloom in Japan.
What are some of the cultural associations and symbolism of the chrysanthemum in Japan?
Beyond being the national flower, the chrysanthemum holds deeper meaning in Japanese culture. Some of the key symbolic associations include:
- Longevity – The chrysanthemum blooms in autumn and can endure cool weather, so it symbolizes a long life.
- Rejuvenation – Mums are sometimes used in Japan for medicinal purposes and seen as promoting wellbeing, so they also represent rejuvenation.
- Nobility – The association with the Imperial family gives the flower a noble status.
- Seasonal change – Chrysanthemums bloom in autumn and are used in seasonal flower displays and festivals.
- Solar symbol – The orderly unfolding of the chrysanthemum’s petals evokes the sun’s rays.
Beyond these symbolic meanings, the chrysanthemum is also emblematic of Japanese aesthetic ideals. Traits such as orderly growth, contrasting colors, and bold shapes are valued in Japanese flower arranging. The mum exemplifies these prized aesthetic qualities.
What are some famous cultural uses and appearances of chrysanthemums in Japan?
Some of the most famous appearances and uses of chrysanthemums in Japanese culture include:
- Imperial Seal of Japan – The Imperial chrysanthemum crest appears on the seal. It dates back to the late 7th century AD.
- Order of the Chrysanthemum – This is Japan’s highest award given for distinguished achievements and service. The Imperial chrysanthemum crest appears on the medal.
- Japan National Football Team crest – A football-shaped chrysanthemum flower appears on the crest.
- Chrysanthemum Day Festival – Called the Festival of Happiness, this celebration occurs on September 9 in Japan with chrysanthemum flower displays and exhibitions.
- Yasukuni Shrine – Chrysanthemums are used to decorate this important Japanese shrine that honors those who died fighting for Japan.
- The Emperor’s Throne – The Imperial throne called Takamikura is decorated with a chrysanthemum crest.
- Imperial Palace Moat – The moat surrounding the Imperial Palace in Tokyo is planted with hundreds of chrysanthemums.
- Chrysanthemum flower shows – Cities across Japan host chrysanthemum shows, with Pingxiang City hosting one of the biggest.
As Japan’s national flower, the chrysanthemum appears extensively in cultural sites, events, decorations, and art during the fall season and all year round. It is a distinctive symbol of both the Japanese monarchy and Japanese culture as a whole.
What role did the chrysanthemum play in the Imperial family?
The chrysanthemum has been closely associated with Japan’s Imperial family for over a millennium. Some of the key connections include:
- The Imperial chrysanthemum crest or seal has been used by the monarchy since the late 7th century AD.
- In the Edo Period, the royals grew magnificent chrysanthemums at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.
- The Emperor’s throne is called Takamikura (High Chrysanthemum Seat) and features the Imperial chrysanthemum crest.
- Chrysanthemum motifs and emblems feature heavily in the design of Imperial palaces and estates.
- During the start of the Meiji Period, the Emperor formally adopted the Imperial Seal of Japan which features a 16-petal chrysanthemum.
- The current Emperor’s era name is called Reiwa which translates to “auspicious harmony” and includes the kanji (Chinese character) for chrysanthemum.
So for at least 1400 years, the chrysanthemum has been part of the regalia, ceremony, and decoration of the Imperial throne. It is a distinctive symbol of Japan’s monarchy.
In what ways does the chrysanthemum appear in classical and modern Japanese art?
The chrysanthemum has been a popular subject in Japanese art for centuries. Some of the common ways it appears include:
- Imperial crests – Chrysanthemum motifs feature heavily on the official Imperial crest.
- Ceramics – Vases, plates, bowls, and pots decorated with chrysanthemums have been popular since the Nara Period (710 – 794 AD).
- Textiles – Kimono, clothing, and hanging scrolls bearing chrysanthemum designs.
- Kiku-mon – A style of Japanese porcelain featuring chrysanthemum designs and principles.
- Woodblock prints – Edo Period prints by famous artists like Hokusai depicted chrysanthemums.
- Paintings – Nara e-maki scrolls, folding screens, and Japanese paintings highlight chrysanthemums.
In modern times, you see chrysanthemum designs in everything from logos, posters, anime, manga, and consumer products. The flower retains an iconic status in Japanese visual culture.
What are some common chrysanthemum varieties grown in Japan?
Japan has cultivated hundreds of striking chrysanthemum varieties over the centuries. Some of the major types include:
- Ogiku – Large, single-bloom chrysanthemums with yellow rays and yellow centers.
- Kikuka – Miniature yellow and white varieties.
- Shungiku – Edible chrysanthemum greens used in Japanese cuisine.
- Kazoku – Buddhist temple chrysanthemums featuring clusters of small yellow blooms.
- Kikan – Literally “noble viewing” mums with large, spectacular blossoms.
- Chuju – Chrysanthemums featuring curved or dangling petals.
- Amagiku – Wild varieties of white and pale yellow chrysanthemum.
New varieties are still being produced today by Japanese horticulturalists. The diversity of forms, sizes, colors, and blooms is remarkable.
Where are some notable places to view chrysanthemums in Japan?
Some top destinations for viewing spectacular chrysanthemum displays include:
- The Imperial Palace in Tokyo – Over 200 potted chrysanthemums decorate the moat and grounds during November.
- Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo – Special chrysanthemum exhibits with thousands of flowers are on display in early November.
- Meiji Shrine in Tokyo – Chrysanthemum cultivation demonstrations are held in early November.
- Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo – Chrysanthemum shows occur during November.
- Hibiya Park in Tokyo – Large chrysanthemum displays around Festival Hall in November.
- Sensoji Temple in Asakusa – The temple hosts a chrysanthemum fair every November.
- Tokyo Dome – This stadium and entertainment center holds Chrysanthemum Festivals in the autumn.
- Nara Park – When the autumn leaves change, rows of chrysanthemums make for beautiful viewing.
- Kurume Matsuri in Kyushu – This festival includes contests for growing massive chrysanthemum blooms.
Some of the best times to view chrysanthemums at festivals and shows are during October and November across the cities of Japan.
How are chrysanthemums used in traditional Japanese flower arranging?
Chrysanthemums play an integral role in traditional Japanese flower arranging disciplines like Ikebana and Chabana. Some key ways they are used include:
- Flower heads are strategically placed to create striking focal points.
- Different colored varieties are combined to contrast and complement each other.
- Bushes and sprays of small chrysanthemum blooms fill areas and accent larger blooms.
- Stems are placed at symbolic angles to suggest growth and movement.
- Textured “wild” blooms and greens add natural flair.
- Arrangements may accentuate the chrysanthemum’s association with the sun and light.
- Simple vases and containers allow the drama of the mums to take center stage.
While not the only flower used in these ancient art forms, the varieties and visual power of chrysanthemums lend them an important role in Japanese flower design principles. Their beauty and symbolism shine through.
What role do chrysanthemums play in Japanese festivals?
Chrysanthemums feature prominently in many Japanese cultural and seasonal festivals. For example:
- Chrysanthemum Day (September 9th) celebrates longevity and nobility with chrysanthemum shows and exhibits.
- Coronation Day (October 22) honors former Japanese kings with chrysanthemum offerings.
- Labor Thanksgiving Day (November 23) includes chrysanthemums as a symbol of the season and harvests.
- Flower Festivals celebrate the beauty of nature and often showcase chrysanthemums.
- Chrysanthemums decorate festival floats during processions and parades.
- Flower shows are timed for autumn blooming varieties like chrysanthemums.
As both a beloved flower and cultural symbol, the chrysanthemum plays an important part in Japanese festive traditions. The seasonality and positive meanings associated with mums make them a natural component of celebrations.
What are some common chrysanthemum motifs in Japanese art and design?
Some classic chrysanthemum designs and motifs that frequently appear in Japanese art forms include:
- The Imperial Crest – A stylized image of a chrysanthemum with 16 tips representing the rays of the sun.
- Chrysanthemum scrolls – Elongated arrangements of multiple chrysanthemum blooms.
- Single blooms – Large, prominent, individual chrysanthemum heads.
- Repeating patterns – Small chrysanthemum images repeating to create backgrounds.
- Bordering – Chrysanthemums framing the edges of paintings, prints, and lacquerware.
- Textile designs – Kimono, obi, and robes accented with chrysanthemum motifs.
- Seasonal motifs – Chrysanthemums combined with autumn maple leaves.
These classic designs and compositions allow the chrysanthemum to stand out as a symbol while integrating it into diverse Japanese art forms and media.
How is the chrysanthemum represented in Japanese literature?
The chrysanthemum is evoked in many famous works of Japanese poetry and literature, often representing beauty, transience, and the Imperial dynasty. Examples include:
- The Manyoshu – This poetry collection includes references to chrysanthemums representing autumn.
- The Tale of Genji – Lady Murasaki compares Genji to an “imperial chrysanthemum”.
- The Pillow Book – Sei Shonagon describes imperial banquet scenes decorated with chrysanthemums.
- Haiku – Many haiku poems composed by Basho, Buson, Issa and others featured the chrysanthemum.
- The Mikado – In Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, the Mikado is referred to as the “chrysanthemum”.
These literary references cement the chrysanthemum as a symbol of both Japanese culture and the enduring Imperial dynasty spanning centuries. It conveys cultural concepts like mono no aware – a wistful awareness of life’s transience.
In conclusion, the chrysanthemum holds deep symbolic resonance in Japan as the national flower closely tied to Japanese culture, history, art, and the monarchy. It has been an esteemed cultural emblem for over 1400 years and continues to be celebrated in festivals, arrangments, motifs, literature, and horticulture today. The orderly, bold beauty of the chrysanthemum evokes core Japanese aesthetic principles as well as profound concepts like the ephemeral nature of life.