It’s hard to live in Japan without eventually knowing something about Kiku Matsuri (the Japanese Chrysanthemum Flower Festival). All over the place you will see stalls of amazing flowers and wonder what they are in aid of.
The kiku (きく)flower was brought to Japan from China, and during the last few hundred years it has been gradually improved upon by dedicated gardeners. The flower became very popular, particularly with the Japanese royal family who made the chrysanthemum part of their family crest. You can see this design decorating doors of temples. Seeing the golden emblem reminds me of the Chinese film Curse of the Golden Flower in which the Empress embroiders golden chrysanthemums onto thousands of silk scarves as gifts for the soldiers who, along with her son, lead a vicious rebellion against her evil husband. (It’s a brilliant film – I highly recommend it!)
The Kiku Matsuri usually happens around mid-November. There lots of different varieties of the Kiku, and for the competition each different type must be grown in a strict, specific way. The most popular type of Kiku is the “atsumono” type, which has a single flower crowning each stem.
This is produced by removing all other buds as it grows so that one stem may produce just one flower. For the competition, the “atsumono” type is displayed as a trio, with each flower at exactly the same height as the others. At the base, it sometimes looks like the three stems have come from one origin, but actually the three stems have grown separately and then later been tied together for a more appealing base. The head of the flower is fairly large, spanning up to 20cm across. The three flowers act as a balance to each other, and according to the Chinese belief, each flower has a different meaning – earth, heaven and human. All the elements are considered to be important and must be equal in height.
I met a volunteer who was watching over the flowers at one display centre who told me much information about them. He said that for the “atsumono kiku”, entries must be between 100 and 120 cm tall. At 71 years old, the lovely gentleman told me that he now devotes much of his time to growing kiku – but it’s not easy. He said that raising a “kiku” from seed is more difficult than raising children! He said that when a child is hungry, they can ask for food or ask for water. But with a flower, they cannot tell you what they need, so you have to guess.
My favourite variety of “kiku” is the “Kudamono Kiku”, which is sometimes known as the ‘spider chrysanthemum’. The petals are long and thin, with shorter petals and the top that increase in length as they get nearer the stem. Smaller than the “atsumono” variety, they span only 15cm across. I also liked the multi-coloured flowers which had different colours bleeding into each other.
The cascading style “kiku” were also stunning, particularly the “kengaizukuri”, which means ‘overhanging cliff form’. There are also many examples of the bonsai style, which were very cute in their miniature size and all the evident hard work put into them. Another example of natural beauty, shown in it’s best light here in Japan.