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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on September 16, 2016
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 71] September 16, 2016

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 71]
September 16, 2016
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Plant:
The plant brings good luck: Balloon flower

:: 1. Seasonal Plant

Here is a Tanka, composed by Ki no Tomonori, complied in Kokinshu.
"Aki chikou Nowa narinikeri Shiratsuyuno Okeru kusabamo Iro
Interpretation: Autumn is coming closer in the field. The plants
(balloon flowers) glitter with white dew every morning while their
colour gradually fades.

When the noisy cicada's chirp comes to the end in late September, the
colour of plants in towns or mountains changes from summery green to
autumn's yellow. One of the "seven flowers of autumn", balloon flower,
blooms from June in fact and finishes its long blooming period in

The balloon flower has grown wild since long time ago. In the Era of
Manyo (8c), "朝顔 Asagao (which means Morning glory now)" is
apparently referred to balloon flower. Although people in the Heian
period (8-12c) used the same kanji characters "桔梗" (pronounced
"kikyo" today) as now, it was pronounced "kichikau". In the tanka in
the opening paragraph, "Kichikau no hana (flower of the balloon
flower)" was hidden in the first two phrases "Aki chikau Nowa (ha)
narinikeri Shiratsuyuno". This clever wordplay is hard for us to
understand nowadays.

Balloon flower is written as 桔梗. The right side of the kanji
characters are 吉 and 更. As those combined kanji means better luck,
the balloon flower was esteemed as a plant bringing better luck by
samurai warriors. The Balloon flowers pattern was used as a family
crest as well. One of the famous balloon flower family crests was that
of the Akechi family, which Akechi Mitsuhide belonged to. (He was one
of the important ministers of Oda Nobunaga, very powerful warlord. But
Akechi is well-known because he betrayed his master Oda just before
the unification of the whole country.) The Akechi family was derived
from the Toki family in Mino (present by the southern area of Gifu
prefecture, Central Japan). It is apparently common that the families
related to the Toki family wear a balloon flower crest. An alternate
name for Kikyo (balloon flower) is "Okatotoki (God's plant growing on
hill)". The name of the place, Toki was named by the flower and it
also became a family name. The record book of family crests called
"Kenmonsho Kamon", compiled in the 15 century, shows a balloon flower
crest worn by the Toki family. It annotated that the vanguard army put
balloon flower into their armour and defeated the enemy well. The
balloon flower was not only a family crest but it also gave the
warriors courage to fight with bravery.

Because of its symmetric floral shape and clear colour, the balloon
flower has been adored as an ornamental flower. It also has been used
as herbal medicine since its root can be used for cough relief, and
used as analgesic or antipyretic. Because of this reason, or due to
land development, the wild balloon flower used to be seen in any field
in Japan is now specified as an endangered species from its rapid

"Asagaowa asatsuyu Oite Sakuto iedo Yukagenikoso Sakimasarikeri"
(Manyo shu No.2101 in Vol.10)

Interpretation: It is said that asagao (balloon flower) blooms with
the morning dew but it is rather beautiful blooming in the evening.

The balloon flower blooming beautifully and solemnly in the morning
and the evening gave the Mino warriors courage in the battlefield. It
probably reminded them of the views of their hometown which was what
they wanted to protect. Does the balloon flower remind people of
something in your country?

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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