There is nothing you can’t say with flowers. That’s the wisdom that apparently created the most famous floral slogan: “Say it with flowers”. Many of you missed out on a trip to Japan this spring and coming summer, and the days spent at home have not always been kind. So, let’s try to re-create that journey to Japan through the country’s best-known flowers. If we examine the natural bouquet of the land, what will it tell us?
Nemophila: My Blue-Eyed Girl
Technically, nemophila is an herb. It’s a gorgeous yet simple flower with blue petals around a pure white heart. Commonly known as baby blue eyes, nemophila is easy to grow even for botanical beginners. It can be cultivated in various conditions – in pots, hanging baskets, or an open field. It spreads quickly and has become a staple in flower beds of public facilities.
Probably the most famous spot in Japan for this flower, which blooms between March and May, is the state-run Hitachi Seaside Park in Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture. Nemophila does not demand a complicated analysis. It just wants to see your smile.
Shibazakura: Say Goodbye, Say Hello
As its direct translation indicates, the “field cherry blossom,” or shibazakura, is a pale pink and pastel colored flower that blooms from mid-April to late May. Its petals are reminiscent of sakura (cherry blossom), though it also comes in different shades of pink, white and light purple. Shibazakura grows thickly, forming a floral carpet such as in this beautiful areal shot. In English, it is also known as phlox moss or pink moss.
The most abundant displays of shibazakura are around Lake Motosu, near the base of Mt. Fuji. When the flowers are in bloom, the locals host the Fuji Shibazakura Festival, inviting all comers to enjoy six varieties of shibazakura, which span more than 2.4 hectares.
Shibazakura blooms during the time of school graduation and entrance ceremonies in some parts of Japan. As such, it is sometimes used as isle decoration for these events. Let’s say goodbye to the past and hello to a brighter future with shibazakura!
Tsutsuji: Sugar and spice, all things nice?
The red upper petals of azalea, tsutsuji in Japanese, are marked with little spots. These are known as honey marks to guide bumble bees to the sweet nectar inside the flower’s gland.
Many older Japanese say that as kids they’d twist off the flower and suck on its sweet nectar as a kind of candy. Few knew that the ubiquitous flower that beautifies many a city roadside and garden also has varieties with a toxic “nectar.” The things we do as kids….
While we don’t recommend that you literally taste the sweetness of tsutsuji, do feast your eyes on the flowers when they are in bloom during May. For a great view, it’s worth taking the ropeway on Mt. Katsuragi, located at the border of Nara Prefecture and Osaka Prefecture, from early to middle of May.
Ayame: Refined Distinction
Ayame is a distinctive flower, graceful in appearance, yet delicate in details. The flower’s purple hue gives it a noble, traditional air. Its mixture of thin, hanging and upright petals conveys the sense of refined composition.
Ayame is one of three varieties of the Japanese Iris. Unlike its cousins hanashobu and kakitsubata, ayame grows wild and only on dry land. At its center there is a net or mesh pattern not seen in other Japanese iris varieties. Yet, such differences are very slight and hard to spot. That’s why when faced with a tricky call between several good options, Japanese might say: “It’s either ayame or kakitsubata.”
To see if you can spot the difference, head to the Suigo Itako Iris Festival, held in Suigo area, Ibaraki Prefecture. Although this year’s edition has been cancelled, the festival is usually held every year from late May.
Lavender: the Scent of Relief and Rejuvenation
Ask anyone in Japan on a hot, humid summer’s day where they would rather be and most often than not they will say Hokkaido, the northern island. Unlike most of mainland Japan, Hokkaido escapes the heat and humidity, makings its summers pleasant and refreshing. No flower is more synonymous with summer in Hokkaido than lavender.
Oil from lavender is a popular ingredient in perfume and its dry flowers often get mixed in herbal tea or potpourri. The best time and place to see this aromatic flower, which so hates heat and humidity, might be from around late July until mid-August in the Nakafurano area, central Hokkaido. Mid-summer is also a great time in Hokkaido to enjoy colorful fields of poppies and gypsophila.
About the author
Yzman is the pen name of a British writer, who has lived in Japan for long enough to know better, but too long to remember what this refers to. He bows when talking on the phone, makes peace signs in photos, and talks about himself in the third person.