Saturday, 14 January 2012

April: Deutzia Flower Month

The name for April, ‘Uzuki’, refers to the deutzia flower or ‘Unohana’, a flowering shrub. This is a popular flower in Japan that signals the beginning of summer.

April is represented by the ‘Fuji’ (Wisteria) blossom. In April and May, purple Fuji blossoms hang from boughs in many gardens. The Cuckoo and Wisteria are often shown together as symbols of late spring and the beginning of summer. The cuckoo usually calls in the dark of summer nights. The call of the cuckoo is said to sound like someone calling, ‘return home’.  The Japanese Cuckoo, or ‘Hototogisu’, is often shown flying across the face of the moon. This image signifies honour and advancement in status and refers to the story of the samurai Yorimasa. The story is told in the Tale of Heike about the battles between two warring clans at the end of the twelfth century.  The Heike Emperor was plagued every night by a flying monster. After several nights of failed attempts to banish the monster, someone suggested that the samurai Yorimasa ‘is a man who could subdue a monster’.

Yorimasa was a distinguished samurai who had served with bravery and success in many battles but had not gained the recognition or honours that he deserved. Yorimasa was already in his mid forties and had semi-retired to be a Buddhist monk when the monster appeared. He was not interested in fighting any flying monsters but he could not refuse an Imperial order. Yorimasa stood bravely in the Imperial courtyard waiting for the monster with his bow and arrows. He armed himself with only two arrows. One for the monster and in case he missed the monster, one for the man who nominated him for the job. Fortunately, Yorimasa shot the monster out of the sky with one arrow. After the monster died, the Emperor rewarded Yorimasa with a special sword. As he was being awarded, a cuckoo flew overhead calling in the night. Yorimasa then recited the following poem:

na o mo kumoi ni
aguru ka na

yumihari tsuki no
iru ni makasete


The cuckoo's name soars,
its cadence resounding
in the realm of the clouds

It was merely drawn forth
by the sinking crescent moon

The first verse speaks of how he finally returned from retirement and achieved the great name and honour he deserved in the Imperial Palace or ‘Realm of the clouds’. The second verse acknowledges that his greatness is only due to his service to the Emperor, symbolised by the moon. The second verse can also be read to mean, ‘The shot from my drawn bow was in the hands of fate’ and that modesty is very important.

1 comment:

  1. Design notes: Dark blues and purples are used here to represent night time. The multi-coloured ribbon is there both for aesthetic reasons (red contrasted better than silver) and to differentiate the ribbon from the 3 red poetry ribbons.