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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on November 01, 2013
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition: October 2013, Issue 4

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 4]
October 31, 2013
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Flower: Why does the Japanese imperial family use
chrysanthemum for the family crest?
2. News from JTCO

:: 1. Seasonal Flower

Why does the Japanese imperial family use chrysanthemum for the
family crest?

Here is a “Tanka,” a 31-syllabel Japanese poem, sung by Emperor
Go-Toba in A.D. 998 and recorded in “Go-Toba ingyoshu.”

“Omoide yo Magaki no Kiku mo Oriori ha Utsuroihateshi Aki no
Chigiri o”

Interpretation: “Please remember the blooming mums in the garden,
even if the vow between us has faded away.”

What we call “chrysanthemums” today is not originated in Japan.
This plant came to Japan from China. There were some indigenous
kinds of chrysanthemums in ancient Japan, but there is no word
refers to them in the Japan’s oldest anthology “Manyoshu,”
which means ancient Japanese called them by a completely different

Most Japanese people recall their nation’s Imperial family when
they see an emblem of chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemum, however, was not
the crest of the Imperial family from the beginning because the plant
did not exist in ancient Japan. The person who started to use
chrysanthemum as the crest was Emperor Go-Toba, whose life was from
the end of the Heian period to the beginning of Kamakura period
(1180-1239). Because he loved chrysanthemums so much, he put emblems
of the flower on his belongings, which were inherited for
generations ever since.

As mentioned at the beginning, Emperor Go-Toba wrote many poems
about chrysanthemums. In most of his poems, he described the flowers
as the symbol of transitions. Ki-no-Tsurayuki, a popular poet in the
beginning of Heian period, also found similarity between the
ever-changing human life and colours of the flower that change as
time goes by. People in the old days must be impressed by the
transitions of the petal’s colors, which corresponds to the idea
of “Mono-no-aware,” pathos of things.

The design of chrysanthemum flowers was officially announced as the
Imperial Seal in 1869. All imperial families use chrysanthemum as
their seals, however, designs used in branches of the imperial
family are different from each other. The lineal emperor family uses
a 16-petal chrysanthemum, while designs of other branches vary in
the number of petals or in the directions of the flowers. Because
the 16-petal chrysanthemum design is inscribed on the front cover of
the Japanese passport, Japanese people are familiar with the seal.

Even though most foreigners visualize Cherry blossoms when they are
asked about the national flower of Japan, chrysanthemums are also
popular and widely accepted as the national symbol. Yet, here is a
piece of advice. White chrysanthemums are used at Japanese funerals
and people put them into a coffin as floral tribute for the
deceased. It is obviously not a good idea to give white
chrysanthemums as a happy present for your Japanese friend!

Translation: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Naotake Kakehi

:: 2. News from JTCO

New Articles Uploaded!

Kirin Shishimai: Kylin Lion Dance
Kylin Lion, with a corn on the head, dances under the leading of
Shojou ( A performer wearing a red-painted mask). This dance is very
mysterious and unique so that it is hard to find any other similar

Read full article

Translation: Chan Yitin

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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