Today we hear from Will Sutton who explores the significance of flowers in Japanese culture.
One thing that I have noticed on just about every one of our trips is the significance of flowers. There have been three particular flowers that have popped up consistently; the lotus, hydrangea and chrysanthemum.
The lotus has ties to Buddhism in that it is the namesake of the Lotus Sutra, a Buddhist scripture teaching of emptiness on ones way to enlightenment. I had the great pleasure of seeing the great Buddha statue in Nara and he is seated around lotus petals. The Japanese particularly love that the lotus blooms from dirty water into something beautiful and the transformation is seen as a form of enlightenment. The lotus also has the ability to look beautiful even as it is dying which is a form of mono-no-aware, a Japanese term meaning beauty is found in dying things.
Hydrangeas have the unique ability to go through seven different transformations before they reach their final color and usually bloom from June to late July. The Japanese love hydrangeas for their ability to have such a long blooming period because of their interest in suggestion, meaning their ability to visualize what the flower will look like next during its blooming phases or even just as the buds begin to show.
Lastly, chrysanthemums are the imperial symbol of Japan and have represented the family of the emperor beginning in the Nara period from 710 to 793. The chrysanthemum is also seen as a symbol of rejuvenation and longevity.
One of the most fascinating features of all these flowers is that they represent the changing of seasons, (the lotus and hydrangea are summer and the chrysanthemum is fall), which the Japanese hold dear and leads to their love of both perishability and wabi-sabi, a term meaning rustic and withered elegance. In essence, the Japanese appreciate beauty in flowers at the beginning and end of their lives often more than when they are at full bloom.