There is aged wisteria (estimated to be 800-year-old) in front of the sanctuary of Kasuga Grand Shrine. It is called 砂ずりの藤 (Sand Brushing Wisteria) as their clusters hang down so long that they brush the sand below. Unfortunately, this year's wisteria didn't grow so long.
Wisteria is the symbol and the crest of Kasuga Grand Shrine and Kofuku-ji Temple. This shrine was originally founded as a family shrine of the Fujiwara Clan. As the name "Fuji-wara" means "wisteria-grove", the area in and around the shrine is abundant with wisteria both cultivated and in the wild. The cultivated are usually supported by trellis and are trimmed to keep good shape.
In Kasuga Shinen Botanical Gardens, there is a wisteria garden with 200 wisteria vines of 20 varieties.
splash of wisteria color in the foliage
I prefer wild wisteria which grow on long vines, sometimes climbing high up into the trees where its flowers hang. When you see petals of mauve colors on the ground but don't see any blossoms around, then look up and you'll find wisteria blossoms high above.
tangled wisteria vines
The mountain behind the shrine is abundant with wild wisteria.
At the beginning of Nara period, both the mother and the wife of Emperor Shomu were from Fujiwara family. Their family temple, Kofuku-ji Temple, and family shrine, Kasuga Shrine, stood on the hills looking down on imperial palace. There were struggles for power between the Fujiwara family and other powerful families tied up with disaffected members of the imperial family. Some studies say that Heijyo-kyo was founded for the sake of the Fujiwara Clan. (Foresight only Japanese)
あをによし 寧楽の京師は 咲く花の にほふがごとく 今盛りなり
(Heijyo-kyo is now flourishing like the luster of flowers in colors and fragrance.)
This is a well-known tanka poem from Manyoshu Anthology about ancient capital of Nara, Heijyo-kyo. The poet compared flourishing capital to the lustre of flowers in bloom. Many people have cherry blossoms as “flowers” in their mind, and actually any flower is possible in our free interpretation. Did the authour have special flower in his mind? If so, what flower? “Hana/flower” came to mean “cherry blossoms” in Heian period (to be more accurate, between Manyoshu Anthology and Kokin Wakashu/Heian Waka Imperial Anthology) later than Nara period. Prior to that, “hana” meant “ume blossoms.” Ume blossoms waft subtle fragrance while wisteria fragrance is distinctive. Which would be suitable for the flower in the poem?
This poem was composed when the author, 小野老朝臣 Ono-no Oyu Asomi, was transferred to Dazaifu (west end) far from capital. The capital must have been in the mood of celebration since the first baby boy was born to Emperor Shomu. Suppose the flower he had in mind was wisteria which could be associated with the Fujiwara Clan, I wonder whether the authour poured out his genuine nostalgia toward the prosperous capital or he subtly implied rather ironic remark against the Fujiwaras' prosperity and controlling imperial throne.
(Reference: this site)
There's lots of mysteries and wonders in ancient history and it is interesting to think about with imagination and reasoning. I question if the mainstream interpretation is always right. No matter what authour had in his mind, however, the poem depicts glorious, majestic Heijyo-kyo at its height. At the end of the Silk Road, our ancestors created the base of this nation vigorously learning from foreign countries while fostering Japanese originality, and Fujiwara Clan did take an important role. We still can appreciate that legacy.
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