紫陽花 (ajisai), hydrangea, is the deciduous shrub up to five feet high with ball-shaped clusters of bluish flowers in June and July. It has become a common ornamental throughout the world.
In Japan both 額紫陽花(gaku ajisai), H. macrophylla and 沢紫陽花(sawa ajisai), H. serrata in particular have been cultivated for so many centuries that they have become part of the culture.
References to 紫陽花 (ajisai) can be found in 万葉集 (the Manyoshu), an 8th century anthology of poetry, and 紅額紫陽花(beni gaku ajisai) is identifiable in an ikebana flower arranging document from 室町時代 (the Muromachi period) (1333-1568).
However, during this period under the rule of the Samurai 紫陽花 (ajisai) became unpopular, because its changeable flowers were looked upon as a symbol of moral infidelity, while あやめ.(ayame), ‘sweet flag’, or ‘calami’, was very popular because it was regarded as a symbol of the Samurai’s bravery because of its sharp sword-like leaves.
As a result, in the former part of 江戸時代 (the Edo period)(1600-1868), few haiku poets took up 紫陽花 (ajisai) in their haiku.
Matsuo Basho(1644-1694) wrote only two haiku in which 紫陽花 (ajisai) was taken up.
He wrote one of them at 深川(Fukagawa) in 1694:
ajisai ya yabu wo koniwa no betsu zashiki
in grove, being little garden,
the detached room
Basho was invited to a farewell linked verse party for him before he returned to his hometown of 伊賀上野(Iga Ueno) before he left for his last journey. His host and disciple 子珊(Shisan) held this party at the detached room of his house, where a thicket with hydrangea was used as a rustic garden for the hut.
Basho offered this verse above mentioned as 発句(hokku), an opening and greeting poem, for his host when asked about the style of 軽み(karumi), lightness.
The other haiku of Basho’s is this, but nobody knows when it was written.:
ajisai ya katabira doki no usu asagi
in hemp kimono
帷子(katabira) in this haiku is a hemp kimono for summer wear, whose color is pale blue like that of hydrangea.
In the latter part of 江戸時代 (the Edo period)(1600-1868), the popularity of hydrangea gradually revived, and they were planted in the gardens of the temples that use 甘茶 (ama cha) ,hydrangea tea, to celebrate the birthday of Buddha on April 8th.
During the ceremony a small statue of the Buddha is anointed with sweet-tasting甘茶(ama-cha) ,hydrangea tea, to celebrate the sweet rain that fell on the day that the Buddha was born.
Now 紫陽花 (ajisai) has become such a common ornamental in gardens or parks as well as in temple gardens or yards. In addition, in literary works of Japanese short poetry it has also come to be taken up as one of the most popular flowers in Japan.
In July, 2004, my haiku appeared in the Asahi Haikuist Network by David McMurray, who has been teaching me how to compose haiku through “Haiku in English” , “International Haiku Correspondence with David McMurray” by the Asahi Culture Center.
bloom and Buddha
calm in the rain
David McMurray noted in his column as follows:
Green and the color blue, whose hue is that of the clear sky, shade most of the haiku submitted during this cloudy season of monsoon rains. Green is a pleasantly alluring color that poets use to symbolize growth. And even more artistically, some poets blend the blues of fireflies and hydrangea with the blues of melancholy. Fireflies evoke feelings of loneliness while the image of hydrangea in the rain is a symbol of sadness.
Another haiku of mine appeared in that column.
in a field of life
― Hidenori Hiruta