Japan may look like a country, but it’s really just one big flower show. Flower festival after flower festival – you can plan your year around them. Cherry blossoms may be the main act, but this place is nuts for flowers of any kind.
Fortunately, I am also a bit of a flower nut – it’s an accepted fact between Ian and I that he has fewer photos of my face than of me crouching in front of a pretty bloom.
When the trees were painted over in luscious green a few months ago, and the tall grassy weeds had taken back the bare ground of empty lots, the warm weather brought a cascade of flowers. The trickle of blossoms starts back in January, of course, with the darling, dark pink plum blossoms and sunshine yellow canola.
(It’s actually field mustard, not canola, but I’m a farmer’s daughter, OK?)
The cherry blossoms follow but they’re just the beginning; peak flower season starts as soon as they’re gone.
Each month there is something new – wisteria presented in tunnels of cascading purple, mounds of pink and white azaleas on every roadside, fuschia pink moss phlox at the base of Mt. Fuji, half a million baby blue nemophila rolling over hills, artfully arranged tulips and daffodils, tiny peach-coloured poppies scattered among the weeds, an iris garden created by Emperor Meiji for his wife, piles of hydrangeas at smaller shrines, fields of sunflowers and red poppies … Hokkaido in the summer has a literal rainbow field, planted with lavender and various other flowers in stripes of colour.
Did I mention Japan loves flowers?
There are events and calendars for when each flower will start blooming and fields planted months in advance so that when the time comes visitors can stroll through perfectly cultivated blossoms. People (myself not excluded) travel just to see these displays.
What is this obsession with flowers, and perfectly displayed ones at that?
There’s probably a few cultural elements at play. A more formalised society, the appreciation of order and tidiness that is a part of that. A sense of the importance of beauty in everyday life, which is seen in the way people present themselves and their homes as much as in the fact that it’s as easy to find a florist as a ramen shop in many neighbourhoods.
I’d also venture that people are a little more connected to the seasons here. Fresh produce in the shops follows the seasons more closely, giving you a sense of the wax and wane. Each season has its shun, or seasonal ingredients, which are heralded in supermarkets and restaurants with special menus and displays – piles of peaches and grapes and cherries in the fruit section in summer, tiny whitebait topping bento boxes in late spring, persimmons everywhere in autumn and mandarins everywhere in winter. There is this day called uchi no hi (day of the ox) every summer, on which people eat grilled eel on rice, believing it gives you energy in the summer heat. The one exception I can think of is hothouse-grown strawberries in winter. At that time of year, cream-covered shortcakes piled with glorious red berries are everywhere; there’s a cake shop near my station that sells only these cakes for a few months.
And even if all of this doesn’t keep the seasons in mind as you go about your daily life, at the least it provides an extra layer of enjoyment. I’m always being greeted with a new flower or fruit or meal particular to that season or month or day. And it means that even in busy Tokyo, there’s always an opportunity to stop, slow down and smell the roses – literal or otherwise.