One of the many traits of the refinement
which characterises all classes of Japanese is their
passion for flowers, which the singularly rich and
varied nature of the flora of the country, aided by
the magnificent climate, enables them to cultivate
with great success.
Every Japanese has some knowledge
of the art of gardening; and, however humble a house
may be, it generally has a potted flower or dwarf
tree about it: or, in the absence of that, a flowering
branch of peach or cherry, placed in water.
Regular professors teach the art of
dwarfing, training, and grafting trees and plants,
and of laying out miniature landscapes, into which
artificial mountains and valleys are introduced, and
very frequently lakes, studded with lilliputian fern-covered
islands, around which gold and silver fish may be
seen darting about; or, if the sun is hot, taking
refuge under curious Japanese bridges, or the broad
leaves of the lotus, which usually cover a portion
of the surface the only thing out of proportion,
probably, in the details of the miniature landscape.
The sitting-apartments in Japanese
houses are generally situated at the sides or back;
and either open upon flower-beds, grounds of the above
description, or some kind of enclosure, shaded by peach
or pear-trees, trained trellis-fashion overhead; or
by cedars, with one solitary bough twisting fantastically
over the ground, showing, in its unnatural contortions,
the skill of the artist, the other branches having
been lopped off, or stunted, to facilitate the growth
and training of this one.
Gardens for the sale of dwarf trees
and flowers are also very common. Some are perfect
bijoux. As a rule the varied collections
of flowers, planted in coloured china pots, are arranged,
with very agreeable effect, in tiers of shelves round
the sides, and on stands about the gardens.
Many of the dwarf trees, especially
the maples, have great variety of foliage, the result
of constant grafting. To such an extent is this
practised, that it is rare to find pure botanical specimens
in a Japanese garden. Plants are sometimes cultivated
for their berries as well as for their variegated
foliage. One very beautiful specimen, producing
at the same time bright scarlet and yellow berries,
is believed by many to have been obtained from cuttings
of an exquisite shrub, which is said to be the principal
ornament of the regions of the ‘Kamis,’
or Japanese heaven.
Even the fern family undergoes a strange
metamorphosis at the hands of Japanese gardeners.
Some of the fronds are artificially variegated; and
others, on reaching maturity, have a curious crumpled
appearance. Again, the roots of certain small
species are frequently twisted into curious devices,
and hung up in grottoes, or shady corners. The
effect of these, when the roots are partly concealed
by the fresh young fronds, is very pretty.
Nearly every fortnight a fresh flower
comes into season, and is in great demand for the
time; heavy prices being readily paid for fine specimens.
The poorer classes commonly buy flowers
from men who gain their livelihood by hawking them
about the streets. They buy them not only to
gratify their tastes, but as offerings to their Lares
and Penates patron ‘Kamis;’
or to decorate the tombs of departed relatives a
religious ceremony which is strictly observed.
Flower-shows are often held in the
large towns, and are much frequented by the people.
The illustration represents a chrysanthemum
show. These flowers are much esteemed by the
Japanese, who pay more attention to size and brilliancy
of colour than to perfume. The stone in the centre
is called a ‘skakeshe.’ On it, poetry
in praise of flowers is inscribed. This is a
custom of very ancient origin, and poetical inscriptions
on stones and rocks are to be often seen in public
places. The piece of ornamental stonework is
an ‘ishedoro,’ or ‘stone lamp,’
which is very common in gardens, and is much prized
on account of the historical associations connected
The Japanese have many floral compliments.
A very pretty one is intimated by a present of seeds
(especially if presented to a foreigner returning
to his own country), the purport being ’Plant
these seeds about your home, and, when you see them
growing, think of me.’
As an instance of the influence which
flowers have upon the Japanese character, the word
‘hanna,’ or flower, is commonly used as
a term of endearment: it is usually applied by
parents to a favourite daughter, or by a lover to
his mistress; it is also used to distinguish the bride
and the bridegroom, as ‘hanna-yomie,’ ‘hanna-moko.’
Floral love-tokens (although they only consist of
a single sprig) are as much prized among the Japanese
as among ourselves; and are, no doubt, sometimes
in their fading,”
as the Japanese are not only poetical,
but much given to sentimental reflections.