Monday, May 16, 2011

Wisteria and the ancient Fujiwara Clan

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.

The Fujiwara Clan was very politically powerful from 8th to 12th century both in the capital and in provinces.  They dominated Japanese court governemnt by intermarrying their daughters into imperial family.  Under then Japanese custom, the future emperor was brought up in his grandfather’s mansion. Grandfather was in charge of the future emperor’s upbringing and became a chief adviser to the emperor when he grew up.

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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  1. The wild wisterias in the photos are so gorgeous! I wish I could see them in perseon at this time of the year there. I was very surprised to find that the wisterias at Kasuga Taisha have a variety of colors! Every one of them is very pretty. Thank you stardust, for sharing them.


  2. Wisteria to mój ulubiony krzew Czekam na zakwitnięcie mojej już 5 lat i tym roku też nie zakwitnie, bo uszkodziły go przymrozki wiosenne. Napatrzyłam sie u Ciebie i dziękuję. Pozdrawiam

  3. History can be so murky at times and it is doubtful that myth has not intruded on the stories we pass on to future generations. Nonetheless, there is usually a great deal of truth threaded into the tales as well. The wisteria is a wonderful bloom for the imagination. I once had a beautiful large one growing in my backyard. But I feared its potential to poison my pets, despite how beautifully it climbed. It seems there are positive mixed with negative aspects to much about history and life. Your wonderful photos are on the positive side. Thanks for sharing your great part of the world. :)

  4. The wonderful smell, came up here!
    Thank you,my beloved friend, for the tour, for the poem and so interesting story.
    Japan has a very old history and is worthy of admiration!
    Many greetings and kisses

  5. 800 years old? Magnificent - like a wise wizard with blossoms of wisdom... Spectacularly beautiful photos.

  6. Your mosaic of the many colors of the Wisteria is fabulous! It's hard to imagine wild Wisteria growing so profusely on those ancient vines.

  7. These are simply exquisitely beautiful images of the wild Wisteria! The temples and natural scenes of Nara make the images glow! I have been to Nara twice and would return again in a heart-beat! What a lovely lovely part of our world!

  8. wow this is the second post of this place it must be a very popular garden in japan. the blooming trees are great.

  9. Beautiful!! Our daughter has a lovely wisteria in her garden in Oregon -- it grows very well there in that mild climate. We are in Florida now and don't see it (too hot here). Thank you for sharing your lovely world -- and beautiful garden; I also appreciated the information you gave us along with the beautiful pictures.

  10. I love wisteria! Such a beautiful plant. Your photos are gorgeous - I can almost smell the fragrance in the air! Great post!
    Have a nice week ahead:)

  11. I, too, love wisteria and your photos are superb as always! What a delightful post for this spring day! Hope you have a wonderful week! Enjoy!


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  13. Stunning flowers!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  14. おはようございます。Stardust.
    がそれほど好きではありませんでした。垂れ下がってて、色が地味だし。でも最近はしとやかに見えて、それで華やかで、いいなあと思うのです。不思議ですね、きれいな花でも好みが変わります。Thank you for sharing!

  15. Thank you, sapphire, for the educational comment.

    貴重なご意見ありがとうございます。古典は得意ではなく、好きな歌や文章があるだけですから勉強になります。 私もほかの歌の 「・・・・・朝日ににほふ山桜花」 では、サファイアさんと同じく「照り映える」 「美しい色で輝く」 と、とらえているのですが、この歌になると原文の「薫」の字から、「色、香とも美しく」と理解していました。 参考にしたサイト(自分では信用度を吟味したつもりですが)をポストに追加し、原文の英語訳も少し変えました。 ご覧ください。 古典は、英語訳、そのもとになる解釈は難しいですが、こういう解釈は成り立たないかという推論を大胆にも披露してしまいました。

  16. Extremely beautiful photos! I never thought of Wisteria as possibly growing in the wild. The Honey Locust is in bloom here now and it's white blooms remind me of Wisteria.

  17. Beautiful photos. I am enjoying learning more about Japanese history. I love the hanging wisteria.

  18. the wisteria blooms are absolutely beautiful! the tangled wisteria vines are amazing. i enjoyed your post very much.

  19. こちらこそありがとうございます。メンテナンス以来コメント機能が思わしくなく、尻切れとんぼになっていますね(恥) 「にほふ」の入ったこの歌は、定説以外にそうした解釈もあったんですね。古文の教科書や奈良県や奈良県立万葉学館などは、「青丹も美しい奈良の都は、咲きさかる花のかがやくように、今盛りである」としていますが、伊藤博先生の「萬葉集釈注」は自由な解釈で有名ですね。私は個人的にとてもよい解釈だと思います。stardustさんの英訳も見事。 宣長の歌は、stardustさんが仰るとおりだと思います。それ以外の解釈を本で見たことはありませんし(ネットは知りませんが)、教科書もそうなっていましたね。山桜はだいたい匂いませんし。伊藤博先生のは新鮮でした。勉強になりました。

  20. Beautifully done. Not easy to photograph flowering trees clearly.

  21. Beautiful place.
    There is similar place like this in Kanto area.
    "Ushijima no Fuji 牛島の藤"

    I remembered that I went there.

  22. Once again, your post had me wishing I'm back in Japan again! The flowers are just beautiful!

    Inside Cambodia

  23. The wisteria is beautiful--love the soft lavender color and the masses of flowers. You live in such a beautiful country. Mickie :)

  24. Gorgeous flowers. Love their colors.

  25. Just Amazing photos! Lovely trees! I'm sorry that we don't have them here in Norway...


  26. the wisteria blooms are absolutely beautiful!! gorgeous flowers, amazing colors, you live in the middle of a fairy tale!!! thanks for sharing. xo

  27. I loved reading the history and seeing the beautiful wisteria vines and amazing colors of purple! I have never seen that particular vine. I am sure the climate has everything to do with it's growth. Thank you for your vists and I love coming to your wonderful beautiful posts! It makes me smile!

  28. Hello, stardust
    Amazing photos, extraordinary nature! Thank you for the wonderful pictures.Good job. See you soon.

  29. What you write is fascinating, and your photos make wonderful illustrations.

    Thanks for your visit and kind comment

  30. The drops are seen like the rainy fairy.
    A good season has came.

    Thank you.

  31. Thank you very much for visiting my site and leaving a friendly comment.

    This post is fascinating; there is so much I don't know about Japan and Japanese culture. The Wisteria blossoms are truly spectacular.

  32. It must be very comfortable at all being there. I like the color purple in the flowers, and your photos are very amazing.
    Japan had plenty of interest. ^^/

  33. 「にほふ」論 面白かったです。その時代背景、言葉の持つ意味の変遷を知るのは楽しいですね。私も時々「百人一首」でなじみのある歌や日本の古い唱歌の意味を改めて知って、新鮮に驚かされることも多いです。なんでも奥は深いですね。

  34. Oh, how lovely ! Your mosaic of the many colors of the Wisteria is very fabulous !
    Wisteria is really incredibly beautiful, but unfortunately won't grow in my area.

  35. It’s always a pleasure
    to see such a Wonderful Work
    good creations

  36. Hello Yoko!
    Me too don't understand English very well, so I use the translator.
    Beautiful garden, thanks for these wonderful pictures!

    I think my blog has been a problem with Blogger, recently disappeared and then reappeared many readers.
    I am happy to find you among my readers, thank you for your visit!
    Hello, Barbara


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