Google+ Rurousha 流浪者: In praise of wisteria and older men

Friday, 27 April 2012

In praise of wisteria and older men

"There is much to be said for cherry blossoms, but they seem so flighty. They are so quick to run off and leave you. And then just when your regrets are the strongest the wisteria comes into bloom, and it blooms on into the summer. There is nothing quite like it. Even the color is somehow companionable and inviting."

The speaker is Tō no Chūjō, friend and rival – both in love and politics – of Genji, the main character in
The Tale of Genji.

The paragraph ends with these words: "He was still a very handsome man. His smile said a great deal." I fell in love with Tō no Chūjō when I read this: an older man, still handsome, who has a charming smile and prefers steadfast companionship rather than a thousand flighty flirtations. (It should be added that this ideal probably applies to his mistresses rather than to himself. This is, after all, The Tale of Genji we're talking about. Let's not get too starry-eyed.)

However, this post is not about the charms of older men, much as I believe a man's best years are his forties and fifties. It's about wisteria, called fuji () in Japanese. Its Afrikaans name is bloureën, blue rain. Isn't that a perfect description?

Wisteria at Hisaizu Jinja. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Wisteria is native to China, Korea, Japan and the eastern United States. The Japanese species is called Wisteria floribunda, and as Wikipedia says, it's "perhaps the most spectacular of the Wisteria family. It sports the longest flower racemes of any wisteria; they can reach nearly half a meter in length … in early to mid-spring." The flowers range from white to blue to violet, and they have a lovely sweet scent.

I'm not going to give you a long history lesson. Suffice it to say that a clan called Fujiwara (藤原, wisteria field) dominated politics in Kyoto in the Heian period. Their influence undoubtedly helped to entrench wisteria's popularity amongst the aristocracy.

Sei Shōnagon, author of The Pillow Book, which was written around 1000, included wisteria in her "list of splendid things". Here we go: "Chinese brocade, a sword with a decorated scabbard, the grain of the wood in a Buddhist statue, long flowering branches of beautifully coloured wisteria entwined about a pine tree."

More wisteria trivia: It's believed that wisteria loves sake! If a wisteria has flowered well during spring, its owner pours sake over its roots with wishes for good blooms in the next season.

Wisteria will be in full bloom in the next two weeks, so here's my recommendations for wisteria spots in Tokyo. There are many other places, but I haven't been there myself yet.

Hisaizu Jinja (久伊豆神社) in Koshigaya, Saitama, houses a 200-year-old wisteria. A rice farmer planted the wisteria at the shrine in 1837. It was his way to express his gratitude to Hirata Atsutane, a nationally famous scholar of classical literature who shared his knowledge with rural farmers on his frequent visits to the shrine. The wisteria still thrives. Today it spreads its branches over a trellis measuring 20 m by 30 m. (I've included an access map at the end of this post.)

Hisaizu Jinja

The magnificent wisteria trellis at Hisaizu Jinja

One of the best places in Tokyo for viewing wisteria is Kameido Tenjin (亀戸天神), a shrine that's been immortalized in many woodblock prints of its famous, steeply arched taikobashi or drum bridges. The bridges are beautiful, but not as enchanting as the wisteria. The flowers hang from trellises suspended over green ponds, and their smell is intoxicating. (The wisteria; the ponds smell, well, pondish.) The shrine has a wisteria festival in late April and early May. Unfortunately. I add "unfortunately" because festival implies food stalls. These stalls line the paths around the ponds, which makes it very difficult to get good photos of the bridges, their reflections and the flowers. Bah humbug! Who needs food? According to this site, full bloom should be early May.

Wisteria at Kameido Tenjin

Kameido Tenjin

Kyū Shiba Rikyū Onshi Teien (旧芝離宮恩賜庭園) next to Hamamatsuchō Station also has a lovely wisteria trellis with easy access.

The most beautiful wisteria is probably the one in Ashikaga in Tochigi, but it's a bit too far for me. 


So many flowers! Right now it's also the best time for azaleas and peonies, so thank heavens it's almost Golden Week. Just keep your fingers crossed that we'll have nice weather!

The trunk of the wisteria at Hisaizu Jinja. It looks like an animal in a cage ...

Drum bridge at Kameido Tenjin

Genji, wisteria and Kameido Tenjin, all together! This woodblock print by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864) shows Genji during a visit to the famous shrine.

Wisteria next to a canal in Kōtō-ku

View Larger Map

47 comments:

  1. I love all the colours in your pics.

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    1. I love the colours of Japan's summer flowers: wisteria, hydrangea, iris. I don't know how to describe that shade that's halfway between blue, purple and pink. I just know it's irresistible. :)

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  2. You know...when I first saw wisteria I was astounded. When I smelled it...I fell in love! The way it flows down a trellis or drapes wild and free from the trees on the mountainside is absolutely magical! I'm trying to figure out where I could plant some here in my little yard.

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    1. I've seen mountainsides in Niigata covered in wild wisteria. Breathtaking. As for that fragrance, it's so gorgeous that I don't even care when my hayfeverish nose starts twitching! ^^

      Where to plant it? Everywhere! :) You will post photos, won't you?

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  3. How beautiful. Kameido is nostalgic because I used to ride on Sobu line every day for going to school. When I was a child, I wasn't interested in such places.However, now I would like to visit these places again. :)

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    1. You really should visit your old neighbourhoods again! Lots of festivals in summer, and lots of beautiful walks next to the rivers and canals. Come! The shitamachi's waiting for you! ^^

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  4. That's a great think about Japan, after the plum and cherry blossoms the beauty continues with the wisteria :)

    Japan Australia

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    1. It's getting better and better! I haven't even said anything about hydrangea yet! ;)

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  5. Wisteria is such a beautiful plant~ I rarely read about wisteria for most of the ppl (I know visited Japan) only talk about cherry blossom. Is it less famous then?

    And it comes after sakura flowers bid goodbye? I just love all those pictures you posted in this entry. I'm stunned :O

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    1. Oh, yes, everything is less famous than the cherry blossoms, yet Japan has such a wealth of floral beauty. I'll do my best to prove that with more photos! We'll now have a quick succession of azalea, peony, wisteria, hydrangea, roses, iris, lily, morning glory, lotus. Happiness. ^^

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    2. Most people talk about cherry blossoms most because that's the season they visited Japan - and that's the season tour companies go all berserk promoting their travel deals? No?

      Out of my 8 visits, I only managed to see the cherry blossoms twice. ;p

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    3. I wouldn't be surprised if cherry blossoms featured prominently in advertising campaigns aimed at foreign tourists.

      My favourite months in Japan are May/June (early summer, beautiful flowers, fresh green leaves, many festivals, rainy season) and October/November (autumn). ^^

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    4. May/June? Rainy season? I prefer April a little more because the temperature is perfect. Although feels like the rainy season started a month or more early. Not that it really matters as I'm from the land of rain anyways. :)

      BTW, the hydrangeas are supposedly blooming early already, or pretty soon. Going to Kamakura to check the area out over Golden Week. Heard the hydrangeas are pretty famous there.

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    5. It's because I'm from a dry country that I love rainy season! :)

      Hydrangeas are blooming already?! Phew. Usually they're at their best in June.

      You're a brave man if you're willing to face the holiday hordes in Kamakura. So you've got Hase-dera and Meigetsu-in on your hydrangea list? Hase-dera's current flower walk is here. ^^

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    6. I just heard about the hydrangeas. Not sure to be honest. That link to Hasedera doesn't show too much in terms of hydrangeas...

      As for the crowds, I've been there once during Silver Week. Got crushed into the Enoden and that was terrible. Don't mind the city area too much as it is a bit more open. Besides, no other time I can go to be honest.

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    7. I don't think you'll see hydrangeas until June, but Hase-dera is worth a visit anyway, if only to meet a really cute version of the god of travellers! ^^ I wrote about it here.

      If you're in the mood for flowers and crushed ribs (am I beginning to sound like a tour guide?), you could go to the peony garden at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū. Peonies are at their best right now.

      Golden Week is a great time to go walkabout, but unfortunately two trillion or thereabouts other people in Japan have exactly the same opinion. Sigh.

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  6. Thank you for this post. The writing, Genji quote, photos, and video are beautiful (that is some park in Ashikaga!). I am really fond of wisteria.

    I was pleased to read about the mature Tō no Chūjō, but as an old fart myself I have to say that a time comes when the expected reaction to us can best be described by a single quote in a book you indirectly linked to in a previous post. The title is appropriate for today’s wisteria. The title—“White and Purple” by Sata Ineko. The quote: “Pew! Can’t you move over there!”

    Much like this mash-up I can feel as though I am part of Hiroshi Yoshida’s 1927 modern woodblock print of Kameido.

    Wisteria can be beautiful even with short racemes depending on the “trellis.”

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    1. Wisteria deserves more praise than it gets, but it's perhaps too subtle for today's jaded palate.

      Old farts are instructed to move. Nobody pays any attention whatsoever to old biddies. That might explain why old women learn to spit. :D Incidentally, thanks for the link to that story!

      It looks as if Kameido's drum bridges weren't painted red in earlier years. Wonder when/why that changed.

      That "trellis" made me smile. Progress: traditional make-up with modern nail art. ^^

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  7. I love wisteria. It reminds me of home, Hiro has the kanji in his name, blue-purple is my favourite colour, it has wonderful shade.

    For some reason I always miss seeing wisteria here. I think it coincides with a busy time of the year ... I've almost never seen them in bloom here....Every year I think I should go to Kameido and then I don't....
    There's one at Koishikawa Korakuen - but I've never seen it in bloom. I really should get my act together... thanks for the inspiration. Though if the rain stops this weekend, I think we're going to Fukushima.

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    1. Your Hiro has a great name! :)

      It is a busy time; at least, it is at university. Golden Week will be my best flower hunting opportunity. The other great wisteria spot is Jindai Botanical Garden in Chōfu. I haven't been there yet, but I hope I'll get a chance next week.

      Koishikawa's wisteria is relatively small and if memory serves correctly (which it fails to do with increasing frequency!), you can't walk underneath the trellis.

      Fukushima? Volunteering?

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    2. Ah, Jindaiji Botanical Gardens. That would place you in range of Taizansô at ICU. I once walked to ICU from Jindaiji along the Nogawa River but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a long walk. There are castle ruins, said to date from 1537, in the wetlands annex area of the garden (earth embankments as I recall). I don’t know if they have hegisoba but the Jindai-ji area has been famous for soba for centuries.

      Jindai-ji Temple is the second oldest in the Kantô region—founded in 733. “The legend goes that there was once a wealthy man in this area. He had a daughter who fell in love with a traveller of unknown origin named Fukuman. Her father, furious at this development, confined his daughter to an island on a large lake. Craving to see his sweetheart, Fukuman prayed to Jinja Daiô 深沙大王 (a guardian god of water in esoteric Buddhism) as he stood by the lake. In response to his prayers an enormous turtle emerged from under the water and took him to the island. The miracle moved the father to give his blessing. A baby boy born to them became St. Manku, who founded Jindai-ji in 733 in the Hosso sect of Buddhism. St. Manku also founded Gion-ji.

      “The young man’s name, Fukuman, suggests that he was an immigrant from either the Korean peninsula or southern China. The story might represent integration of an indigenous tribe and foreign newcomers.”—From Sumiko Enbutsu’s Water Walks in the Suburbs of Tokyo.

      Keeping with the water and wisteria theme: there is a hot sprig (typo) in the area too. Japanese site here.

      Speaking of interlopers, the Kokubunji Escarpment (a typo here as well—Nakajima produced Hayabusa fighters, not Zeroes) was the home of a number of Jômon villages. Since Jômon people lived in this area five times longer than any Japanese presence an argument could be made to counter something my landlady once said. She said that Japan was for Japanese and that I should go home. Well, there are Jômon spirits that whisper throughout the area that this island is for Jômon people and that all Japanese people should leave and go home. Just sayin’...

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    3. Ooo. Lots of interesting links, and thanks a quazillion times for that excerpt from Water Walks. I can't find that book anywhere; not on Amazon, not in Jinbōcho. You're providing exceptionally welcome assistance! ^^

      What, pray tell, Sir, is your definition of a long walk? I can happily keep going for several hours, but then I'd like a hot sprig where there is very many nature.

      PS: If we should all go home, I'm afraid you're all - and I do mean all - going to have to come with me to Africa. :D

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    4. It looks from Google Maps walking directions, here, that it would only take an hour from Jindai-ji Temple to the ICU folk-art museum (Hachiro Yuasa Memorial Museum) and Taizansô. There is a scenic short cut at the intersection of Hitomi Kaidô and Tôhachi Dôro just across from the gas station. You can see the back entrance here (if it is still there). The pedestrian gate is to the left. Going straight once inside should lead you to Taizansô (according to this map).

      The mark Ⓑ on the walking map is Yukari Hot Spring.

      Yes, Africa. Where else could I hear a live version of Shosholoza? Maybe we can talk the Jômon ghosts into joining us. Somehow I just know they would love the music.

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    5. Thanks for that map! It's made me realize that Jindai-ji is in the middle of nowhere, i.e. not within ten minutes of any station. I might as well do a decent job and go for a proper walk.

      One hour? That's a long walk? My dear Sir, I feel obliged to challenge you to a duel to restore my honour. An hour is but a trifle, a warming-up exercise for a nomad who's roamed the ringing plains of windy Troy. Err, I mean, Africa

      OK, you bring the Jōmon ghosts and I'll bring Eve and we'll have an indaba. ^^

      PS: Shosholoza isn't Shosholoza unless it includes rugby images. Try this. All it lacks to make it absolutely perfect is a vuvuzela. :D

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  8. Jindai is lovely, I've only been there in the autumn though. Looking forward to a wisteria report from there.

    I guess we are mostly in Akita for Golden Week... a second hanami season... which is probably the real reason why it is never on my radar in Tokyo.

    Not volunteering, just trying to support the economy. We stayed at a minshuku - Asahi-ya? in Kaneyama machi a couple of years ago and the local govt. did a mass mail out of people who were on the guest registers. Asahi ya was booked out (left it till today to try) so we might go to the coast side instead - somewhere near Iwaki perhaps. On the Joban do the area around Iwaki is quite pretty and I've been wanting to go for ages. Since the unis have taken to cancelling long weekends, it will be one of the few long weekends we both have this year.
    I am sure you are right about Korakuen. I have a vague memory that Mito has an impressive Fuji, but I might be confusing it with Tochigi, or plums...

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    1. You like Jindai? Aha. If you like it, chances are 99% I will, too.

      It's good to hear that the minshuku is booked out: if the area gets support from tourists, it will recover so much sooner. Nagatachō doesn't seem to be much help.

      Mito? Ibaraki? Apparently Kasama Inari Jinja has a 400-year-old wisteria. Thus speaketh Google. :)

      Travel safely, enjoy the north, take lots of photos!

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    2. And who could doubt google!

      I'm sure it's be on your itinerary but make sure you pop into Jindai ji. There's also an onsen in the area that I was reading about recently - it's a feng shui onsen.... if you're into such things.

      Have the camera battery charged, now must remember to take it!

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    3. I've been ogling the weather prediction for Golden Week. Overcast overcast overcast. Dreadful photo weather. Ah well. "Let us rise up and be thankful ... " ;)

      PS: I love that quote on your blog.

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  9. Very beautiful wisteria series! How about Ushijima no Huji.
    http://www.ushijimanofuji.co.jp/ 牛島の藤

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    1. That's another breathtaking tree! I didn't know about it, but I can always trust the Flower Expert to tell me about the best flower spots! Thanks, Minor! ^^

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  10. oh and I guess fuji would have to be the most common kanji in a family name, between the Satos, the Saitos, the Andos, the Endos, the Katos, the Kondos, the Fujimuras, Fujiis, Fujitas, Fujisawas, Fujiokas, Fujimotos.

    The Fujiwara must have been an inspiring bunch!

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    1. Crikey. Fertile bunch. Or perhaps simply talented in wiping out other bunches. :D

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  11. I love wisteria! It makes me sneeze like crazy, but I'm always prepared to ignore that just to take deep breaths of its scent. And it's so pretty!

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    1. My nose gets very unhappy under a wisteria, but he'll just have to endure the ordeal. I ain't moving nowhere. :D

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  12. I'm going to have to read the Tale of Genji again. I don't remember much other than how pervy Genji was. So many wisteria facts! I'd heard of the Fuji Maiden dance, and that's about it...

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    1. Genji was a spoilt brat! The Pillow Book makes me smile - I love those lists! - but Genji makes me roll my eyes.

      PS: I read the Seidensticker translation, but I suspect the latest translation by Royall Tyler (2001) might be worth a try. Anyway. Do you know about this site?

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    2. Wait, are you telling me that I can read The Tale of Genji in a modern Japanese translation for free? \(@0@)/ I'd heard about the Japanese text initiative (I think I came across the site once when looking for reading materials) but I never ended up using it. Thanks for the proper introduction!

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    3. どういたしまして! Let's just say it's my way of saying thanks for your new language blog, which I really enjoy reading! ^^

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  13. I agree with you "I believe a man's best years are his forties and fifties". I think not only men but women also. Aging is not always negative. Like mature wind is more appreciated, aging adds different charms to people. 福山雅治、吉川 晃司 they are in their forties and look better than their ealy days.
    Rurousha, Fujiwara clan has their origin in Nara. So, there are a lot of wisteria flowers in Nara.
    I am amazed with your photos!! How beautiful!!

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    1. I firmly believe my best decade will be my 90s! :D

      You've mentioned two excellent examples of older イケメン! How about 真田広之? :)

      I didn't know the Fujiwaras originated in Nara. So ... will you take lots of beautiful photos and tell us their story?

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    2. I should say: Will you take lots of beautiful photos and tell us their story? Please? よろしくお願いします! ^^

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    3. Oh, you said it!! 90s and 100s will be the best for me too!
      More mature wine is, more appreciated it is. But fresh sake is loved the best in Japan. There is a kind of the fad among male singers or actors or so on to have much younger wife. Something to do with preference of fresh sake or mature wine??

      Oh, I fogot 真田広之!!

      はーい! まかせといて! ^^

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    4. 100s? We'll be two little old ladies shuffling along with our 歩行器 and cameras, still discussing sexy men! Though maybe it will be sexy YOUNGER men by then. (^0^)

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  14. Fantastic photos. I love wisteria - I've been trying to grow it in my back yard for a year now. D'you think scottish wisteria would like white wine instead of sake??

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    1. Och, nae, ye cannae dae 'at. Ye cannae gie it bucky! Scottish wisteria would surely prefer tae bevvy a bit ay whiskey! :D

      PS: If I were you, I'd share a wee dram with the wisteria.

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  15. I can stay underneath that and stare at the beautiful wisteria all day long
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-q8gUyy0uYZA/T5nqXqoeUjI/AAAAAAAAEs0/kklMYlINkDQ/s1600/fuji+081.JPG
    This is so gorgeous!

    Reminds me of somewhere in Provence I visited which had something similar.

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    1. Oh, yes, very easy to lie there in a trance all day!

      I was hoping to get more flower-hunting opportunities in Golden Week, but it looks as if we're going to have non-stop rain. Ah well. I'm sure I can find a book/blog or two to read! ;)

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