June, 2014

This page is written monthly
by Harumi Okochi.
Sometimes Harumi's friends join.
We'd be happy if you look at
previous issues.


Blue Iris

Now that I'm free to be myself, who am I?

Can't fly, can't run, and see how slowly I walk.

Well, I think, I can read books.

"What's that you're doing?"
the green-headed fly shouts as it buzzes past.

I close the book.

Well, I can write down words, like these, softly.

"What's that you're doing?" whispers the wind, pausing
in a heap just outside the window.

Give me a little time, I say back to its staring, silver face.
It doesn't happen all of a sudden, you know.

"Doesn't it?" says the wind, and breaks open, releasing
distillation of blue iris.

And my heart panics not to be, as I long to be,
the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

Mary Oliver "Blue Iris"

Iris Note

Iris, the Goddess of Rainbow

Hi, there!
June is the month I like best, maybe because I was born in June.
And because in June, hydrangea, magnolia, and iris ... many other big and small flowers bloom.

Today, I will write about what Iris means to Japanese mind.
Even if a flower is biologically same in different countries, the meaning of it is not always same. It has a back-ground, literally, or historically.
"Iris" in Western world is sometimes the Goddess of Rainbow, I heard. The image is a young beautiful girl from Greek myth.
But in Japan, iris shows different faces.
So please enjoy and understand "Iris in Japan".

Folding screen by Ogata Korin(1658-1716)
(One of the pair)
The district Higo in Edo Period (now Kumamoto prefecture in Kyushu) developed and kept strictly the secrets of Camellia, Iris, Chrysanthemum, Morning glory, Peony, and Sazanqua Camellia. They were cold Higo Six Flowers.
Higo Shobu(Iris) is a huge flower with gorgeous petals.
   It is very confusing, but the name Shobu is used for a different species.
This Shobu of left photo, sometimes called Ayame, is believed to be able to purify evil things.
To separate from this one of sober flower, the gorgeous Shobu (photo above)is called Hana Shobu=Flower shobu.
Comparing the photos of the left and above, we know these two flowers are completely different. Only the name is same. Leaves are similar, long, straight, sword-shaped leaves.
 On May the 5th, (Tango-no-Sekku), this type of Shobu is put on the roof in order to protect the household from evil things.
Shobu is sometimes put in the hot water of bath, to protect the body from disease.
This Shobu has some medical effect.
The left flower is called Ayame, and what is more confusing even for Japanese people, the Chinese characters of Ayame is the same as Shobu. Flowers are similar to Hana-Shobu, too.
And again, even more confusing, another species called Kakitsubata is almost same as Shobu or Ayame .So, when two things are almost equal and cannot be said which is the better, we say, "we do not know which is Ayame and which is Kakitsubata".
The famous painting by Okada Saburosuke(1869-1939)
The title is "Ayame no Koromo" (Iris Kimono)
This painting was once published as a postal stamp, and made Okada even more famous all over Japan.
Okada was born in our Prefecture, Saga.
There are many famous Iris gardens in Japan.
That means iris has been deeply loved by Japanese people.
The right photo is the Iris Garden of Dazaifu Shrine in Fukuoka Prefecture in May. Iris blooms in May-June.
Iris flowers are often used as motif of Japanese confectionary.

Iris is also a motif for poems.
"Tanka", short poems of 31 syllables, often sing about Iris.
"Iris flower, I shall dye the cloth purple with your petals, and shall let my love wear it"
"Haiku", another style of short poem with 17 syllables, also attaches to iris.
"Iris petals,
Hanging down
so calmly"
                 Yatsuhashi Bridge and Kakitsubata Flowers

Very famous book "Ise Monogatari" tells about Ariwara no Narihira, a great poet in 9th century
Narihira was passing the place called Yatsuhashi Bridge one day in his long journey.
Looking at the Kakitsubata flowers, Narihira made a poem, each line starting with one letter of Ka Ki Tsu Ba Ta, thinking of his wife and his home.

Well, I hope you are not too confused.
Shobu, Hana-Shobu, Ayame, Kakitsubata!!!
Which one do you like best?
You can say, in this situation, "Well, I don't know which is Ayame and which is Kakitsubata!"
This is the right answer in Japanese culture.

A Japanese proverb, "Shobu on the 6th, Chrysanthemum on the 10th" is like "Out of date, out of price". Shobu flower must be decorated on May the 5th, that is Tango-no-Sekku, or Boys' Day.
On September 9th, Choyo-no-Sekku, chrysanthemum is much used. So, if one day late, there is no need for shobu nor chrysanthemum!

The code for Iris is "message, good news, affection, etc."
Iris, the Goddess of Rainbow was the messenger of Hera.
I hope you will receive a happy message from Iris flowers this month.

Thank you very much for joining me.
I hope you will visit us again next month.

 Mail to Harumi Okochi