Momiji (紅葉) and Kaede (楓) Japanese Maple

009Name: Momiji (紅葉) and Kaede (楓) Japanese maple

Seasonal Association: Autumn

When To Wear It: May – September

Auspicious: no

A Note on Names and Seasonality: The difference between momiji and kaede is not clear.  A popular myth that perpetuates on English language websites is that kaede are green and are appropriate for spring, and that momiji are other colors and are appropriate for autumn.  I admit, I believed it too for a while.  However, many Japanese people who grew up speaking the language and immersed in the culture have told me that both kaede and momiji are autumn motifs regardless of color.  Both words evoke the feeling of autumn to a Japanese speaker, the same way that a crocus or daffodil would evoke the feeling of spring to somebody raised in Western culture.  I have asked multiple people in Japan including my kitsuke teachers, wasai teacher, sado teachers, and regular people who have not learned any of the traditional arts.  All of them agree that both kaede and momiji are appropriate motifs for autumn, and the difference between them is negligible.

History:

Kaede was the original name for the Japanese maple tree. Momiji was traditionally used to refer to all autumn foliage, not just maple leaves. Eventually, due to the popularity of the maple leaf as the iconic autumn leaf, momiji came to refer to only maple trees while koyo (こうよう- same kanji as momiji but a different reading) nowadays refers to all autumn foliage.

Momiji-gari (autumn leaf viewing) is a popular activity for many people and is a popular motif for kimono.

Identification:

Kaede and momiji can be identified by their distinctive maple shape. The leaf has seven sharply pointed lobes with clear veins running along each lobe. The length of the lobes are not uniform, with four or five lobes being longer than the others. They can be shown as individual leaves or attached to branches.

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classic examples of kaede/momiji in a variety of colours.

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Hagi (萩) bush clover

Typical hagi with three leaves in a cluster.

Typical hagi with three leaves in a cluster.

Name: Hagi (萩) bush clover

Seasonal Association: Autumn

When To Wear It: August to mid-October

Auspicious: no

 

 

History:

Historically, hagi seeds were ground and mixed with rice while hagi leaves were used as a tea substitute, although both these practices have fallen out of favour now. Hagi is a member of aki no nanakusa (the seven flowers or grasses of autumn). It’s not known who originally grouped these plants together as a representation of autumn, but their presence in even the oldest of Japanese poetry speaks to their timelessness as an autumn motif. Hagi is the most famous member of aki no nanakusa, possibly because it was prominently featured in a scene from The Tale of Genji.  Finally, the association between hagi and autumn is so strong, that the kanji for hagi even includes the kanji for autumn (秋-aki).

Aki no nanakusa (秋の七草):

The seven flowers or grasses of autumn. It’s unknown who first put together this group of plants as a representation of autumn, but it is a classic theme of even the oldest Japanese poetry.

It includes…
hagi (bush clover)
susuki (pampas grass)
kuzu (arrowroot)
nadeshiko (dianthus, pink, or wild carnation)
ominaeshi (valerian or maiden flower)
fujibakama (mistflower)
kikyo (Chinese bellflower) NB: occasionally, asagao (morning glory) is substituted for kikyo.

For more information on aki no nanakusa, check out http://www.urasenke.org/flowers/autumn.php

Identification:

Hagi is shown as an oval leaf with a single vein running down the middle. The leaves have very smooth edges and there are always three leaves per cluster.

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Three classic examples of hagi.

Kiku (菊) Chrysanthemum

Name: kiku (菊) Chrysanthemum

Seasonal Association: Autumn

When To Wear It: All Year

Auspicious: Yes

History:

Kiku was introduced from China during the Nara period. They typically bloom in late summer and will last until the first snowfall. Because of their hardiness and medicinal properties, kiku are often associated with longevity. Perhaps because of this, the kiku was adopted by the Japanese imperial family as its crest and the official flower of Japan. The Japanese emperor is said to sit on the chrysanthemum throne and it is the longest uninterrupted line of monarchs in the world making the long-lived kiku a very appropriate symbol.

The crest of the imperial family shows a kiku with 16 petals in the front and 16 almost completely hidden petals in the back. Only the emperor can use the 16 petaled kiku, so kiku found on kimono, official documents, Japanese passports, and the 50 yen coin will all have a different number of petals.

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forgive my poor photography skills.

Traditionally, kiku are celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth month (according to the old Japanese calendar) during the Choyo Festival, but this tradition has fallen out of favor in modern times. The Choyo Festival was traditionally the signal to change from unlined hitoe kimono to lined awase kimono.

Identification:  There are four distinct types of kiku found on kimono.

1: Kiku 菊(Chrysanthemum)

The standard kiku has tightly packed petals that are either round or elongated, but are always smooth around the edge. Kiku with round petals tend to have more than one layer. Kiku with elongated petals tend to have only one layer of petals.

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Kiku with elongated petals.  The first example has a double layer of  petals while the second example only has a single layer.

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Kiku with more rounded petals and many layers.

2: Nejigiku 捻じ菊(Twisted chrysanthemum)

This flower resembles a regular kiku with elongated petals, but the petals are twisted around the center.

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please note, the flower with five petals is not a kiku but an ume (plum blossom). 

3: Koringiku/manjugiku* 万寿菊 (Steamed bun chrysanthemum)

This is a very stylistic depiction. It was first created by the artist Korin Ogata, and took its name from him, but it also resembles a manju (steamed bun) and was given this colloquial name as well. This kiku is very round and has no defined petals.

*manjugiku also means marigold in Japanese.

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4: Ragiku 乱菊 (Spider chrysanthemum)

This kiku has clusters of long, narrow petals with a distinctive upwards curl at the end of the petal.

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My First Kimono

I got my first kimono in Kyoto during a trip in 2006. Here it is.

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I had come to Japan as a tourist, and I knew nothing about kimono except for (a) I thought they were beautiful, and (b) I wanted one as a souvenir.  I had no idea what to look for except what was aesthetically pleasing to me.  I walked into a used kimono store and was looking around for The Perfect Kimono.  At the time, I thought it would be the only kimono I would ever own, and I didn’t want to regret my decision.  I picked this one because it has all my favourite colours in it, purple, pink, and blue.  I remember the shopkeeper telling me it was a very formal kimono (he probably told me it was a furisode, but I spoke no Japanese at the time and I couldn’t remember the word.)

Then, I wanted to get an obi to go with it.  Again, not knowing anything about kimono, I asked the shopkeeper what she would recommend.  She brought out a pink hanhaba obi.  She told me it would be easier for me, as a foreigner, to tie it.  At the time, I accepted it.  Now, I cringe at the thought.  After living in Japan for several years and studying kimono for two, I know what a faux-pas that is.

I also didn’t get any undergarments.  No nagajuban, no datejime, no koshihimo.  Just a karihimo that the shopkeeper threw in.  I thought I was set and ready to wear my kimono.  But I also realized that I needed footwear.  I spotted a pair of geta at the local market (again, I knew nothing) that had straps that matched the pink in the kimono.  I got them, but I’m proud to say that I never wore them.  Not because  I learned better, but because I realized that they were too small for me.

So to summarize, my first ever kimono outfit consisted of one furisode, one karihimo, one hanhaba obi, and one pair of geta.  Sigh.

Everyone starts somewhere.  This is where I started.  I’m going to go hide in a hole now and burn any pictures I have of me wearing that embarrassing combination.

Welcome

Welcome everyone to my blog.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’m going to enjoy writing it.  I currently live on the island of Shikoku in Japan and I have been studying kitsuke and kimono for two years so far.  I find it fascinating and I hope I can share some of my enthusiasm with you.  My aim is to post at least once a week about something kimono related.  It might be information on types of kimono, motifs, seasonality, fabrics, kimono-related trips that I go on, or anything else that I can tie in.  I hope you enjoy it!