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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on November 30, 2013
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition: November 2013, Issue 7

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 7]
November 30, 2013
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Flower:
Camellia sasanqua: somewhat different from Camellia japonica

:: 1. Seasonal Flower

Camellia sasanqua: somewhat different from Camellia japonica

Sparrows are flying between branches of sasanquas in the sunshine
of Indian summer. The petals of the flowers are dropping.
(Masaoka Shiki)

From early October to early February, it is difficult to find
blooming flowers, but Camellia sasanqua, which is a species of
camellia native to Japan, bursts open during that cold season.
In spite of its popularity today, sasanqua had not been described
in any Japanese classical poems except one in the Edo period. In
modern times and later, the flower has become subjects of tanka,
Japanese poem of thirty-one syllables.

Being the same family, both japonica and sasanqua have similar
appearance. You can tell them apart by the way of its flowers
falling. When it comes, japonica's whole bud falls at once, which
reminds some people of beheading and gives them good reasons to
hate the flower. On the other hand, each of sasanqua's petals
flutters down softly one by one. Even though they are so alike and
hard to tell the differences, there are some ways to discern. For
example, sasanqua opens its flowers widely and almost flat, while
the flowers of japonica shape up like a conic lampshade. Another
way of distinguishing is to observe their stamina; japonica has
monadelphous stamens and they fuse into a single, compound column
shaped structure, on the other hand, sasanqua's stamens are spread.

Sasanqua is written in Japanese Kanji as "山茶花." In China, the
word of these three characters actually means a different flower:
Reticulata. The word was introduced into Japan in ancient times,
and somehow people used it for sasanqua. Another interesting story
about sasanqua is its pronunciation. "山茶花" should be read aloud
"Sansaka" under the rule of kanji pronunciation, but somehow people
come to call it "sazanka," which is easier to pronounce for
Japanese people.

The sasanqua that we see in shops is an ornamental breed. The
original breed of sasanqua grows wildly only in a small part of
Honshu, the southwest of Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa Island. One
of the reasons why sasanquas were not described in the ancient
Japanese poem so much is that its natural habitat is far from the
ancient Japanese capitals, which means the upper range of society
who read poems hardly had a chance to see the flowers. Even if such
noble people caught sight of sasanquas, they must have mistaken it
for japonicas. Either way, sasaquas had slim chance of being in
their poems. Sasanqua is quite mysterious in many ways after all.

Translation: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Naotake Kakehi

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