Biking up the Kanda river to Kichijoji, I was surprised to see hundreds of yellow irises blooming in the river bed. I wish there was more access to the water, but seeing these bright flowers draws my attention to what else might be living and growing in the river.
I have found this wonderful short-cut between Yoyogi and Omotesando on bike. It passes a lot of houses with gardens. On my way to a meeting, I had a nice long chat with a small office owner who was tending a beautiful clematis vine. And then I saw this house with irises outside. If you ignore that you are in the center of Tokyo, it seems like a simple country house, no?
Encouraged by my host Suzuki Makoto sensei at Tokyo University of Agriculture, I recently visited the Edo Gardening Flowers exhibit being held at the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art until November 26,2009. The exhibit has spectacular colorful wood block prints showing flowers and plants in a variety of urban settings including kimonos, at festivals, commercials nurseries, educational materials, Kabuki actors, and Noh dramas.
The exhibit theme is that the Edo period experienced a “gardening culture” in which a passion for gardens and flowers permeated all social classes, including court nobles, shoguns, feudal lords and the common people. According to the catalogue, “the Japanese people’s passion to flowers surprised the American botanist Robert Fortune as seen in his diary upon his visit to Japan in the late Edo period.”
An interesting comparison is also made between between the widespread practice of Edo gardening and also the interest of common people in wood block prints. It is wonderful to see the use of flowers and plants in both high culture realms and in depictions of everyday life during the Edo period.
Two of my favorite prints are collections of plants used by children to learn the names of flowers. The one below, from the back cover of the exhibit catalog, has the names in hiragana. The exhibit also includes Edo era ceramic plant pots.
Some more images after the jump, and also a list of plants seen in the wood block prints.