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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on May 29, 2019
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 102] May 29, 2019

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 102]
May 29, 2019
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Plants:
Longing colour: Safflower

:: 1. Seasonal Plants

Here is a Waka, Japanese traditional poem, written in Man'yoshu (the
oldest collection of poetry in 7c), No. 2624 in Vol.11.
"Kurenaino Kosomeno koromo irohukaku shimini shikabaka Wasure kanetsuru"
Interpretation: Just like a garment deeply dyed with Safflower crimson,
he must have soaked into my heart and I desperately cannot let him go.

Safflower has a similar appearance to a thistle and blooms between June
and July with flowers that gradually change colour from yellow to red.

As good quality oil containing Linoleic acid which reduces cholesterol
is extracted from its seeds, it is well known as a cooking oil today
in Japan. It used to be grown to take out dye components in the 6th
century during which Empress Suiko, the first female monarch of Japan,
lived. In the Heian period in 8-12c, it was widely grown from the Kanto
region to the Chugoku region (the centre of the westernmost of Honshu
island (largest mail island in Japan)). In the Edo period, high quality
safflower was an important source for feudal income.

Safflower was already cultivated in ancient Egypt and India. There are
a couple of theories of how it was brought into Japan such as Chinese
craftsman brought it via the Silk Road along with technical methods
for sewing and dyeing, or monks from Goguryeo in the Aska era in 6c
brought it.

The method of Safflower dying is similar to that of Japanese indigo
(AI) dying called "Kure nAI (呉藍 indigo from Wu in China)". Chapter 6
of The Tale of Genji is named "Suetsumuhana (末摘花)" which was an
archaic name of safflower. Those kanji, 末摘花, individually means,
"tip", "pick" and "flower", and shows the way that safflower is picked
from its tip.

Since the Meiji period (19c), safflower cultivation diminished in Japan
due to importing safflower from China and also the invention of artificial
dyes. However safflower had colourized Japanese people's lives as dye
for their clothes and has been used as a cosmetic from ancient times
to recent times. Water-soluble yellow and non-water-soluble deep red
can be extracted from it. The red colour is gained after repeatedly
soaking and drying to separate the yellow colour. After the whole
process, the deep red is called "Beni Mochi (紅餅)". The dye can hardly
impregnate into the fibre in clothes so lye or dried fruit of Japanese
apricot were used to adjust pH and it needed to be repeatedly dyed many
times to colour the cloth deeply. In the royal court, court nobles were
restricted that they had to wear a suitable coloured garment depending
on their ranks. The garment with safflower red was expensive because
of its difficulty of extraction and dyeing, therefore only high ranked
bureaucrats were allowed to put on whereas low ranked bureaucrats were
only be allowed to wear pale pink.

To make rouge, extracted red colour was applied in a tiny Japanese
sake cup or inside a shell then dried. To use it, a wet lipstick brush
was used to put the colour on the lips. High quality safflower extract
changes colour from red to deep shiny green like bamboo when it dries.
This rouge was named "Komachi Beni", originated from an unmatched
beautiful lady in the Edo period (9c) called "ONO no Komachi". Because
it was extremely expensive, only women who were born into a wealthy
family could afford it.

As dried safflower also promotes good blood circulation, it is used
as a herbal medicine called Koka (紅花) or as moxibustion. Women in
the olden days wore kimono underskirts because the cloth dyed with
safflower warmed their bodies and eased women's diseases or neuralgia.

Here is another Waka in Man'yoshu, No.2623 in Vol.11.
"Kurenaino Yashihono koromo Asana sana Narewa suredomo Iyamedurashimo"
Interpretation: Even though my kimono was repeatedly dyed in safflower
dye, I wear it everyday and is now getting worn out. However it fits
me well after all those days and it feels more and more precious to
wear it.

Poems about safflower often describe the feelings learned by the heart
deeply or the emotions we can't express openly. The description of the
difficulty of Safflower dying with repetition as well as its rarity
were the perfect way to explain their unforgettable feelings and longing
feeling over a long time. We can pick any colours and wear whatever we
want today. If you were in a situation in which you cannot get something
you want, how would you express such feeling?

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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