Read CHAPTER XII - Love of flowers of Sketches of Japanese Manners and Customs, free online book, by J. M. W. Silver, on

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 with it.

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

“Treasured in their fading,”

as the Japanese are not only poetical, but much given to sentimental reflections.