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Chrysanthemum the Imperial Blossom by Efrot Weiss – Cultural Insights


Chrysanthemum the Imperial BlossomThe ephemeral cherry blossoms of spring may draw the crowds in Japan, but it’s the chrysanthemum that boasts imperial lineage. This post was written by my good friend Efrot Weiss, who is a long-term resident of Japan, and intercultural trainer and coach. Hope you Learn, Laugh & Live! 

Chrysanthemum the Imperial Blossom

While the cherry blossom is the flower that most people associate with Japan, the chrysanthemum, or kiku, is more intrinsically linked to the country’s culture and history.

The flower’s imperial connection is a long one. The 16-petal variety, evoking the rays of the sun, was incorporated into the imperial crest by Emperor Gotoba (11801239). In 1926, the chrysanthemum seal was officially recognized, and the chrysanthemum throne is the termChrysanthemum the Imperial Blossom1
used to refer to the institution of the monarchy.


Elsewhere, the chrysanthemum appears on Japanese passports, the ¥50 coin and at Shinto shrines.
It resonates with the Japanese creation myth in which the birth of the nation is attributed to Amaterasu, the sun goddess.Chrysanthemum the Imperial Blossom2


Traditionally celebrated on September 9 (the particularly auspicious ninth day of the ninth month in the Chinese lunar calendar), the Chrysanthemum Festival is the last of Japan’s five annual festivals, which includes Boys’ Day in May and Tanabata in July. The festivals were linked to the agricultural cycle, with the Chrysanthemum Festival occurring during the harvest period.


While few people observe the September occasion nowadays, chrysanthemum festivals abound during this season, including at Kameido Tenjin Shrine in Koto Ward (October 20–November 23), Hino’s Takahata Fudo Temple (October 26–November 17), Hibiya Park (November 1–23) and Chrysanthemum the Imperial Blossom3Yushima Tenmangu Shrine in Bunkyo Ward (November 1–23).

The cultivation and display of chrysanthemums is considered an art, and traditional displays often feature stunning examples of the flower, such as a single stem supporting an umbrella-like arrangement or a cascade of smaller flowers.

First introduced from China in the 8th century for its medicinal Chrysanthemum the Imperial Blossomqualities, the chrysanthemum’s root was boiled, its petals eaten and leaves brewed. Adding chrysanthemums to sake was believed to ward off evil spirits as well as ensure eternal youth and longevity. Even today, the health benefits of chrysanthemum tea, for example, are well documented.

Influenced by Chinese custom, the Heian court (794–1185) took to Chrysanthemum the Imperial Blossomdrinking chrysanthemum wine and using chrysanthemum dew as a kind of body lotion. All of this is recounted in The Pillow Book, a collection of observations by the court lady Sei Shonagon.

In the Edo era, the custom of creating life-size chrysanthemum dolls was started, while the flower’s importance was reinforced during the Meiji period when elaborate annual chrysanthemum exhibits were held and the emperor hosted a chrysanthemum-viewing party.

First published in the  October 2013 issue of Tokyo American Club’s monthly magazine, iNTOUCH.

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Chrysanthemum the Imperial Blossom

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