Monday, 12 June 2017

Hydrangeas and Bathing Buddha

For the Japanese, the coming of the rainy season, detailed in the last post, means the flowering of beautiful hydrangeas. Hydrangeas are called ajisai in Japanese, written in katakana, hiragana, and sometimes kanji (紫陽花). The three kanji together (they are not divisable by sound) mean purple, sun, and flower, which is rather odd given there is not so much sun in the rainy season and also that they come in various colours! Hydrangeas are native to south and east Asia with Japan, China, and Korea boasting the greatest species diversity. It is said that soil acidity (aluminium ions) affects the colour of the flowers - here, blue, purple, and pink seem most common - but the fact that a single shrub can have various colours casts doubt on this theory. One of the most famous hydrangea festivals in Tokyo, boasting 150 varieties and 10,000 plants, is at Toshima Park, only 20 minutes from Shunjuku Station; other festivals are listed here. For more beautiful pictures of hydrangeas see here.

The leaves of mountain hydrangeas (yama-ajisai), which contain a natural sweetener, are used in Japan to make a sweet herbal tea called ama-cha (甘茶). Ama-cha is not widely drunk but has special meaning in Buddhism where it is poured over a statue of Buddha (and drunk by participants) to celebrate his birthday, thought to be April 8th (the 8th day of the fourth month in the old luni-solar calendar). This is known as kan-butsu-e (灌仏会) or the Buddha pouring/bathing ceremony. See here for a short video.