Saturday, 14 January 2012

May: Rice Shoot Planting Month

The name of the month refers to the time when Rice seedlings are transplanted. When cultivating Rice, the seeds are sown in a small field in the spring. When the seedlings have sprouted they are transferred to a flooded field where they will grow until they are harvested. The flooded fields not only provide water for the Rice but also control weeds and rats that can damage the young crops.   

May is represented by the ‘Ayame’ (Iris blossom). The Ayame represents virility and is often displayed on Boys’ Day (5 May). The five point card depicts the ‘Ayame’ alongside a bridge. This is a reference to a chapter from ‘The Tale of Ise’, a collection of poems from tenth century Japan. ‘The Tale of Ise’ is a very well known piece of Japanese literature.

The story is about a member of the Imperial Court in Kyoto who was assigned to a new post far to the East. He left his family behind in the Capital as he travelled on his long journey. Along the way, he and his companions lost their way.  They came to a place called ‘Yatsuhashi’ or ‘eight bridges’. This was a swampy area where a large river split into eight smaller rivers. Each of the rivers was crossed by a bridge. The whole area was filled with blooming Irises.  The court official was feeling rather sad, was lost and missed his wife. The men stopped to rest and the court official wrote the following poem:

kitsutsu narenishi
tsuma shi areba
harubaru kinuru
tabi wo shi zo omou


I have a beloved wife
Familiar as the skirt
Of a well-worn robe
And so this distant journeying
Fills my heart with grief

At first glance, the poem seems to have nothing to do with Irises. However, the poem is an acrostic. The first letters of the Japanese poem spell out ‘ka-ki-tsu-ba-ta’ which is the Japanese name for the species of iris that filled the marshes.
The story had special significance to the lords of Edo Japan. At the time, the Tokugawa Shogun came up with a way to keep any rivals from starting a rebellion from their home provinces. He required every lord to spend part of the year in the Capital Edo (Tokyo), and part in their home province. When the lords returned home, their families were kept as hostages in Edo—a guarantee that they would stay loyal while away. Also, the additional expense of maintaining two households and travelling back and forth prevented any rivals to the Shogun from getting to be too powerful.

1 comment:

  1. Design notes: The heavy use of blue represents both water and the sky.