Needless to say, the rose is one of the most popular flowers in Japan as well as in many other countries. It is even considered as “Queen of Flowers”. If there were not the characteristic elegant scent and that William Shakespeare had used another flower for the dialogue between Romeo and Juliet, it would not have been quoted so frequently all over the world…
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
from ‘Romeo and Juliet’, by William Shakespeare
In Japan, we have flower viewing customs traditionally which started around 8th century, in Nara periodW, represented by the word ‘HanamiW’, which placed emphasis on either cherry blossom viewing or plum blossom viewing.
If you are interested to know more about our customs of Hanami, please refer to our past articles;
From this kind of circumstance, we can find many UkiyoeW with cherry blossoms drawn. But if we are to observe the Japanese contemporary culture, especially in printed pop culture, we see more roses frequently, which are hard to find in the arts before Meiji periodW.
So, when was the rose first recognized as the ‘Queen of Flowers’ in Japan?
History of Roses in Japan
Surprisingly, Japan has been known as a country where roses grow in wild. Three original varieties used for selective breeding, Rosa multifloraW, Rosa wichuraianaW, and Rosa rugosaW, are indigenous to Japan.
道の辺の 茨の末に延ほ豆の からまる君を離れか行かむ
Michi no he no, Umara no ure ni haho mame no, Karamaru kimi wo hakareka ikam.
by Hasetukabeno Tori
On the side of the road,
Where the vine of wild roses entwined unto the fruits of hog peanut,
Reminds me of you in sorrow,
Of my departure.
Translated by 2 Hours Drive From Tokyo
This poetry tells us the fact that the people in Japan 1,300 years ago could have been more romantic than we are now as wild roses growing were fully recognized.
As you see in photos of the Japanese origin roses, these are not the familiar images of the ‘roses’ that most people may have….
Early Edo Period Roses
The roses of the image which most people may have today was thought to have been brought into Japan in early Edo periodW when Hasekura TsunenagaW brought some back from Italy. He was a samuraiW and the retainer of Date MasamuneW who was the lord of SendaiW clan. His great work was a diplomatic mission to Vatican in Rome, visiting many ports in Europe, from 1613 to 1620.
In 1633, Tokugawa shogunateW banned traveling abroad as well as homecoming after more than 5 years of stay overseas under the SakokuW law which concluded that no Japanese traveled out of Japan ‘officially’ for about two centuries after him.
From this point of view, Hasekura Tsunenaga’s visit abroad was very meaningful to the Japanese history and culture. The roses which he brought back to Japan may have astonished the people in Japan. An artist painted those roses on a Zushi, a miniature shrine with doors used to store important Buddhist items as sutras or Buddhist statues. (** One of the famous Zushi should be the ‘Tamamushi ShrineW in Hōryū-jiW temple in Nara.)
This rose-painted Zushi is designated as one of the National Important Cultural Properties of Japan and now belongs to Entsu-in temple in Miyagi PrefectureW. If you ever have a chance to visit Miyagi, visiting this small temple with their beautiful garden is surely a worthwhile as well as looking at the Zusi with the ‘rose’.
- Entsu-in Official Site : http://www.entuuin.or.jp/index.html
Mid to End of Edo Period Roses
In Edo period when peace prevailed in people’s lives, many people had green fingers regardless of their social status. Among various flowers planted, there were Rosa chinensisW and Rosa banksiaeW, both of which are Chinese origin. But the peony was yet not to abdicate its throne in the garden for the rose as we see in some of the modern gardens in Japan today.
Roses from Meiji Period until Today
It was after the Meiji RestorationW when the new government imported the French origin rose, ‘La France’ developed in 1867. The rose was recognized as the first modern rose in Japan and fascinated the Japanese with its distinctive beauty and fragrance. The fascination made the Japanese to study for the production improvement and breeding was enhanced with the contribution from the nobles and the imperial families.
The fall of the rose production after Meiji periodW was seen only during the Word War II, when people had to concentrate on growing vegetables which people had to feed themselves on. However, when peace finally arrived after the war, the breeding of roses got active again which made the roses more and more popular. The feelings of the Japanese being hurt under their hard times in the war too must have craved the beauty of the roses, which increased the numbers of rose breeding.
The Changes in Beauty and Flower Symbols After Ukiyoe
The concept of ‘beauty’ in Edo period is quite well-known because of the worldwide popularity of UkiyoeW. The background of sense of beauty gradually changed after the Meiji Restoration when the Japanese were forced to be westernized to recover the loss of closing the country for two centries, not only in heavy industrialization but also with the customs and culture.
In Japan, we see many drawings of beautiful women and men with the background of flowers. Various flowers are used to decorate and highlight the hero or the heroine but cherry blossoms and roses are far and away the most used flowers. This typical expression method can be seen especially in MangaW or AnimeW today.
However, in Ukiyoe, we were unable to find a Bijin-gaW , the Ukiyoe portrait of beautiful women, with roses but Ukiyoe of roses drwan as still image. The flowers painted in Bijin-ga of beautiful women that we found were mainly with cherry blossoms, followed by some with peonies, wisteria and plum blossoms.
In Taisho periodW, when the movement of Taisho Democracy was active, the situation changed. In 1914, the first “pop song” sung by Sumako MatsuiW, one of the first actresses of Western realist theatre in late 19th to early 20th century in Japan, also famous for her cosmetic surgery nose, made great success. Her gramophone recordW sold more than 20,000 pieces! The song was called ‘The Song of Katyusha’, a song about a young lady named ‘Катюша’or ‘Екатерина (Yekaterina)’ as ‘Katyusha’ is a diminutive or pet name form of such Russian names. It was first sung in a stage of Tolstoy’s ‘Resurrection(novel)W’ being dramatized. This was the era when normal citizens also supported many new cultures from the west.
The new cultural flow from the west also influenced painters. In art, we can see certain changes in Japanese painters’ minds in their works. Among them, the two painters / illustrators, Yumeji TakehisaW (1884 – 1934), and Kasho Takabatake (1888 – 1966) leave their vivid works today.
The works of beautiful women that Yumeji Takehisa drew were known as ‘Yumeji’s Bijin-ga’ which gave him another name as ‘Modern UtamaroW’. If you look at his works of early stage, we could see that he still sticks to the traditional idea for women in former era, but as the time goes on, his idea changes, bringing out his practical new women appearance which is nothing but modernized.
Another illustrator, Kasho Takabatake, was also a very popular illustrator for magazines who was inspired by Art NouveauW, especially by Aubrey BeardsleyW, who was already famous with his illustration for ‘SalomeW’ of Oscar WildeW. His unique illustration of beautiful boys and girls gained so much of popularity like the artworks of Yumeji in the same era. Still, we can see clear differences between the two artists’ artworks among which one could be the usage of flowers with the characters. We found that there exists more illustrations of women drawn with roses in Takabatake’s works compared to Yumeji’s. Yumeji rather chose plum blossoms, to express women who looked weak and delicate.
If you are interested in looking at their arts, you could visit ‘Yaoi Museum & Takehisa Yumeji Museum‘ located in front of University of Tokyo by either taking Tokyo Metro, Nanboku Line, Todai-mae station or Chiyoda Line, Nezu station.
Back to the story….
In Showa periodW, the modernization and the westernization of the ‘sense of beauty’ was accelerated.
The illustrator who represents early Showa is Junichi Nakahara (1913-1983). He uses many kinds of flowers as motifs to brighten the beauty of women.
After him, Makoto Takahashi (1934 -) who was inspired by Nakahara followed. The places where they exhibited their skills were mainly books’ inserts and magazine, especially for girls, which is the typical characteristic of this era. Therefore, all kinds of girls were able to see their works and they must have puffed up their image by seeing their works.
In late 40s, the era of MangaW started with Osamu TezukaW (1928 – 1989) who was a Japanese cartoonist, animator, film producer, and the ‘the Father of Manga’. In one of his important works, ‘Ribon no Kishi (Princess KnightW)’ which appeared in the magazine from 1953 to 1968 for girls, had a great influence on future of ‘Shōjo mangaW(girls’ manga)’ as well as Makoto Takahashi. ‘Princess Knight’ is the story of a young Princess named Sapphire, in a medieval European country, who had to pretend to be a boy prince so that she could inherit the throne as women are not eligible to do so in the story. We see something common in between this story and the story of ‘The Rose of Versailles’ which appear in early 1970s.…
** For more information on ‘The Rose of Versailles’ please refer “Everything Started From The Most Famous Frenchman In Japan” in Saionji Net.
Up to this point, we would ‘personally’ like to conclude that the concept and the image of roses in Japan today were established by the illustrations and manga through this periodical flow, from Kasho Takabatake to ‘The Rose of Versailles’, which is somewhat different from those in Europe.
The Actual Roses Today
Keisei Rose Garden and Mr. Rose
Looking back to the recent history of roses as one of the icons to express beauty, we cannot ignore a man, Seizo SuzukiW, who was called ‘Mr. Rose’.
Seizo Suzuki was born in Tokyo in 1913. He studied horticulture at the Tokyo Metropolitan Engei High School Horticulture where his interest developed towards roses. After his graduation, he started a private rose garden, ‘Todoroki Rose Garden’ in Setagaya, TokyoW where one of his regular customers was Ichirō HatoyamaW, an important politician who became a Prime Minister in 1950s.
Surprisingly, in this rose garden, Shozo protected his collection of 300 rose varieties during World War II.
After the war, in order to recreate the towns and to develop the economy, most of the existing railroad companies at that time constructed facilities attached or near the station where people could gather for shopping or amusement so that frequency of use in trains would increase. Among those facilities, Keisei Electric Railway opened a rose garden, Keisei Rose Garden, in 1959 where Shozo was asked to spearhead the institute of rose breeding.
Besides having been rewarded several times in international contests for his new breed roses during his tenure, he continued to pour his efforts into promoting the culture of roses and to protect the rights of hybridizers in Japan before he passed away in 2000. His study on roses did not stay only on breeding but natural fragrance of roses which happened to develop into skin and haircare products of ‘Shiseido‘, the leading cosmetic company of Japan. His collaboration first started right after the war on the ‘First Rose Exhibition’ which took place in the gallery Shiseido owned. It was in 1984 that their collaboration on roses became the product line, ‘Rosarium / ばら園(Bara-en)’ which we recommend to those who love the smell of rose but don’t prefer strong fragrances of roses we come up in some European or American skincare products with rose fragrances.
Today, the whole site of Keisei Rose Garden covers an area of 30,000 square meters (32,800 square yards) with more than 7,000 roses of 1,000 varieties, from old roses to modern roses. Moreover, around 16,000 plants and flowers of 200 varieties are planted. The garden is beautifully decorated where you will have a splendid and gorgeous moment among roses in bloom, some may enjoy imagining yourself as if you are a princess or a Lady in modern Japanese Bijin-ga illustrations or Manga.
Facilities as flower shops where you could purchase rare original breed roses and cafe where you could enjoy rose tea and other rose related foods are there which should be enchanting for rose-lovers!
Don’t worry! Non-rose related food and beverages are also available for those who don’t want to eat roses.
How to access by cars :
Kashiwa IC of Joban Expressway or Chiba-North IC of Higashi Kanto Expressway and take National Road 16.
How to access by trains :
Yachiyo-midorigaoka Station of Toyo Rapid Railway
From the north exit, walk along the railroad tracks for about fifteen minutes.
Keisei Rose Garden
(KEISEI ROSE GARDEN)
Address : 755 Owada-shinden, Yachiyo-shi, Chiba Pref.
Tel : 047-459-0106 Website : http://www.keiseirose.co.jp/ (Japanese only) E-mail : Not avaliable Opening Hours : (December-April, July- September) 10:00 ~ 17:00
(May-June, October-November) 09:00 ~ 18:00
Closed : Open 365 days
(except for days of rough weather)
Entrance Fee : (May-June) 1,200 yen
(October-November) 1,000 yen
(Other months) 300 yen
Parking : 700 spaces