Wednesday 26 April 2017

Wisteria on the Vine

The light purple wisteria (fuji) flowering on a trellis
Fuji (wisteria) flowering on the vine
At this time of the year, with the temperatures climbing and the sun coming out, one of the most prominent sights in the neighbourhood are the fuji-dana (藤棚) or wisteria climbing vines (pictured right). Fuji means wisteria and tana/dana is a shelf or a rack but in this case means trellis. Many places hold fuji matsuri (festivals), often lit up at night, such as the one held at Kameido-ten Shrine in Tokyo. However, the largest wisteria tree in Japan, known as the "Great Fuji" is located in Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi, Japan. It is said to be some 150 years old and covers a trellis spanning over 1,000 square metres. This is by no means the oldest though: Buzoji temple in Chikushino, Fukuoka, has a pair of trees which are believed to be at least 700 to 800 years old - maybe more! Wisteria is typically in full bloom from late April to early May. As well as the most common light purple blooms - fuji-iro is lilac or lavender in Japanese - Ashikaga also showcases pale red, white, and yellow wisteria.

Aside from the flower name, the kanji for wisteria can be found in some of the most common family names in Japan, reflecting the fact that the Fujiwara clan was one of the most powerful families in ancient Japan. Aside from Hayafuji, Fujihara, Fujita, Fujii, and even just Fuji, surnames using the on-reading of or are extremely common: three of the top ten most popular surnames contain this kanji, namely Kato, Ito, and (the most popular) Sato. Other common names include Ando, Kondo, Eto, Endo, Kudo, Saito, Shindo, Sudo, and Nito. In sum, regardless of the season, "fuji" is found throughout the year all over Japan which makes it a particularly useful character for the Japan lover to learn!