Now Sakura (cherry blossom) is well-known as a representative of Japanese spring. Then which plant best represents Japanese summer? When I envision a nostalgic summer scene, two plants immediately come to mind: asagao (morning glory) and hoozuki (Chinese lantern plant). They bring up the image of summer vacation, festivals and the Bon season. While sakura trees are on the street, making a part of the landscape, these plants are usually enjoyed at home – in flower pots to decorate the space under the eaves of houses.
Morning glory is a typical plant used as an educational material in the subject called living environmental studies for children in lower grades in elementary schools. Usually, they take care of their own pots from seeding, watering to gathering the seeds with writing observation diaries. Asagao is adopted in schools not only because it’s easy to grow but also it will bring lots of awareness to children such as the importance of taking care of plants and scientific wonders. It’s no exaggeration to say that this kawaii flower cultivates our basic gardening skills.
Growing asagao, however, is not only a childish hobby. Recently it gets attention as one of the popular spiecies for green curtain, but this flower has been popular since a long time ago. At first, it was imported to Japan more than 1,000 years ago as a medicinal plant with a laxative effect. In the edo period, asagao, especially mutant ones became very popular among common people. Even today, plant lovers enjoy mutant morning glories, calling them henka-asagao (henka means ‘change’).
I got some henka-asagao seeds this year, so will post the outcome on this blog once it successfully blooms 🙂
Hoozuki had been used as a medicinal plant in the old times as well. It became also popular in the edo period and both asagao and hoozuki were sold by plant peddlers. While it was used for various purposes like a tranquilizer among common people, it is said that yuujo (courtesan or professional prostitute) used hoozuki when they wanted to have an abortion. Aso, this plant has been used to decorate Buddhist altars at home as it looks like lanterns guiding the spirits.
Summer Festivals Featuring Asagao and Hoozuki
Today, in many parts of Japan, asagao markets and hoozuki markets take place, announcing the arrival of summer. One of the most famous ones are Iriya Asagao Festival in Kishibojin Temple (also called Kishimojin Temple),Tokyo and Hoozuki Ichi in Sensoji Temple, Tokyo. Those who visited Japan in the old times, like Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold, Robert Fortune and Vittorio Arminjon, were fascinated by the Japanese gardening culture in which even poor people enjoyed growing plants making the best of the limited space and resources. These festivals can be a great chance to get a glimpse of the traditional Japanese gardening culture which is still alive.
Date: July 9 and 10, 2014
Venue: Sensoji Temple
Address: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Access: 5 min walk from Asakusa St. (Tokyo Metro)
Date: July 6-8, 2014
Venue: Iriya Kishibojin Temple
Address: 1-12-16 Shitaya, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Access: 1 min walk from Iriya St. (Tokyo Metro), 3 min walk from Uguisudani St. (JR)
(photo courtesy of http://sozai-free.com/)