Ayame/Shoubu (菖蒲) Iris


This is only one example of the multiple species of ayame that grow in Japan.

This is only one example of the multiple species of ayame that grow in Japan.

Ayame (菖蒲) Siberian Iris/Sweet Grass (Iris sanguinea)
Shoubu/Hanshoubu (菖蒲 / 花菖蒲) Japanese Iris (Iris ensata)
Kakitsubata (杜若) Rabbit Ear Iris (Iris laevigata)

Seasonal Association: Summer

The three types of iris usually referred to as Japanese iris bloom from early May to late June. This caused some ambiguity to Heian era poets. Should the iris be considered a spring flower or a summer flower? According to Haruo Shirane in Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, different sources originally placed it in different seasons. Shirane states that colour combinations for the juni hitoe that were indicative of the iris placed the kakitsubata in summer, however waka poets used the flower as a spring motif. A defining moment came when the influential editors of anthology Horikawa hyakushu decided to place kakistubata in spring, and hanashoubu and ayame in the summer due to their prominence in the Tango festival (held on the fifth day of the fifth month). This distinction had a lasting effect on poetry anthologies with seasonal themes, however the poets themselves continued to treat the iris as a summer motif, and by the Muromachi period, its identity had firmly returned to summer (pg 52-53).

In addition to this, the classic Japanese calendar, puts the blooming of the iris firmly into the summer months. Before the Meiji Era, Japan used a different calendar (a luni-solar calendar). According to the modern solar calendar, the traditional four seasons are as follows.

Spring: February 4-May 4 (first, second, and third months)
Summer: May 5-August 6 (fourth, fifth, and sixth months)
Autumn: August 7-November 6 (seventh, eighth, and ninth months)
Winter: November 7-February 4 (tenth, eleventh, and twelfth months)

Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons – Haruo Shirane

This traditional seasonality, which rules all seasonal kimono motifs, would place the blooming of the iris firmly in the summer season.

A final note on seasonality, I have many pieces in my collection (see below) that are awase (lined) and not designed for summer. So what does this mean? For me, it means don’t rely on the iris to tell you what season a certain piece should be worn in. Also consider if the piece is awase (lined) or hitoe (unlined) or ro (gauze) and any other motifs present on the piece. The combination of all these elements will tell you when to wear your kimono or obi.

When To Wear It: April – June

Auspicious: no


Traditionally, the iris is linked to Boy’s Day (now Children’s Day, celebrated on May 5th) because the leaves resemble swords and the name shoubu is a homonym for militarism. Iris can often be found on boy’s kimono. Kakitsubata was made famous by its appearance in The Tales of Ise, a Heian era poetry anthology. It is also the prefectural flower of Aichi prefecture.


The most distinguishing feature of the iris is the three petals that grow downwards. These petals can be smooth or jagged, but the all have a distinct vein running down the center. Iris also have a clump of smaller petals that grow upwards. Finally, iris have long, thin leaves that usually accompany the blossom.

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Nadeshiko (撫子) Pinks

Name: Nadeshiko (撫子) Pinks (A.K.A. Dianthus or Wild Carnation)

Seasonal Association: Summer, Autumn

When To Wear It: April-October

Auspicious: no


The nadeshiko has always had a strong association with women and love. The phonemes that make up the word (nade=stroked/petted and ko=child) indicate a strong personification of this flower.  In fact, waka poets saw the nadeshiko as a personification of a girl who has been raised by a man.  The nadeshiko’s association with women is still just as strong today. In the modern world, the term yamato nadeshiko is used to describe the ideal Japanese woman, the characteristics of which can be found here.  In addition, the name of The Japan National Woman’s Soccer Team, one of the darlings of Japanese sporting world, is Nadeshiko.

During the Heian period, nadeshiko would be a name applied to a juuni-hitoe that was appropriate for summer. The specific colors of this gown vary with different sources, but maroon, crimson, scarlet, pink, and lavender are all colors that are associated with it.

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 


Nadeshiko is another flower with five petals (see below). The petals of the nadeshiko are ragged at the edges.

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Botan (牡丹) Peony

001Name: Botan (牡丹) Peony

Seasonal Association: Spring or Summer

When To Wear It: October-April

Auspicious: yes


Peonies were originally introduced to Japan from China during the Nara period, however it didn’t enter the poetic canon of flowers until the Edo period. Botan are also known as the king of flowers, and they are considered an appropriate floral offering for the Buddha. Classically, botan is associated with summer (especially early summer) as that is when the flowers bloom naturally. However, during the Edo period, cultivators created different breeds of peonies that bloom in winter, spring, and autumn as well.


Botan can often be confused with the tsubakiBotan blossoms are much larger and fuller than tsubaki blossoms, and they usually have more petals than tsubaki. These petals are often depicted in multiple layers and they have ragged edges while tsubaki petals are usually depicted as smooth and in a single layer. Finally, botan leaves are depicted with three distinct lobes while tsubaki leaves do not have lobes.

While these are general rules to distinguish between botan and tsubaki, highly stylized versions or unusual artistic interpretations can muddle this distinction.




More botan


How many botan do we need?!

Ahhhhh! They're everywhere! (no seriously. They're a very popular motif! They're everywhere!)

Ahhhhh! They’re everywhere! (no seriously. They’re a very popular motif! They’re everywhere!)

The picture below IS NOT a botan, but a tsubaki (camelia).  You can see the differences between the two flowers clearly, especially with the number of petals and the smoothness of the petal edges.

A close up of more realistically depicted tsubaki.

A close up of more realistically depicted tsubaki.