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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on January 28, 2019
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 98] January 28, 2019

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 98]
January 28, 2019
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal plant
Lucky Charm and virtue: Sho-Chiku-Bai (Pine-Bamboo-Plum tree)

:: 1. Seasonal plant

【Seasonal plant】Lucky Charm and virtue: Sho-Chiku-Bai (Pine-Bamboo-
Plum tree)

Here is a Haiku written by a Japanese poet, KIJO Murakami, in 19c.
“Zansetsuya Gogoto huku Matsuno kaze”
Interpretation: The wind with howls blows violently against the pine
tree. It seems like that the mountains with the remaining snow
anticipate the arrivals of spring.

Sho-Chiku-Bai is a symbol of good luck which is a combination of
pine, bamboo and plum tree. In Japan, it is often used as to rank
something. Those three plants were called“Sai kan san yu (歳寒三友)
”by artists of literati painting (The Southern School of Chinese
painting) in China and were a popular subject for the paintings. Pine
and bamboo remain green even in the harsh winters and the plum tree
blooms beautifully before other plants do, waiting for the arrival of
spring.Such manner of these plants was recognised as the ideal
aspects among those artists as “清廉潔白 (unsullied integrity)”and
“節操 (constancy)”, and this “Sai kan san yu”was brought into
Japan and spread as “Sho-Chiku-Bai”.

Pine has been used as “Kadomatsu (Gate pine, a traditional
decorationplaced in front of homes)” during the New Year
celebrations since the Heian period (8c) and it gradually became an
auspicious item. Bamboo was added to the decoration in the Muromachi
period (14c) followed by the plum tree in the Edo period (17c). Pine
represents long life and prosperity of family fortunes, bamboo
represents prosperity of descendants and the plum tree represents the
virtue of their monarch.

Although the same combination of those plants, it has the meaning of
high virtue in morale and mind in China, it is regarded as auspicious
item in Japan. The reason why caused the difference is that pine does
the lead in Japan but plum tree has been valued the most out of these
three in China.

In the middle of the Tang dynasty (7c) in China, it was remarked that
plum tree's characteristic of blooming in cold weather and blooming
first seemed to be telling other plants that spring had arrived. It
was even more evaluated high in the Song dynasty (11c) by poets who
lived during the era in which China was invaded by other countries.
The dignified figure of a plum tree standing fearless even in the
frost or snow was compared to those people’s spirit, not giving in
enemies. And also it became the most sung about plant in Song poetry
out of any other plants.

On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, the pine tree started to be
used as a decoration for New Year during the Heian period to welcome
god and drive away evil spirits. And then, Sho-Chiku-Bai was
introduced and bamboo and plum trees joined “Kadomatsu” as well. It
was taken into people's lives as a symbol of good luck during the
celebrations in Japan.

When Japanese people rank something, they sometimes use“Sho-chiku
-Bai”as premium, special and standard grade. The order of the grades
is simply the historical order they were introduced into Japan as a
symbol of auspiciousness. It is often used in Sushi restaurants and
eel restaurants too. Rather than using the direct rankings like
premium, special and standard grade, they feel that it is a virtue to
use an indirect method for ordering. Don't you think this approach is
very much Japanese?

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