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Time to enjoy the beauty of Japanese Camellia

Camellia, the Rose of Winter

The Winter Rose of Japan will be at its best soon. Locals are so used to this flower, Camellia, that they never pay attention to its beauty. Sometimes I even feel awkward when I stop and take a look at an exceptionally fine, large flower. If I’d like to take a picture of it, I wait until there is no one around. Naturally, my husband thinks I’m strange. For him it is just a part of landscape. Camellias are so integral to the culture of Japan that are no longer regarded as highly as, say, cherry blossoms.  I guess that the main reason Japanese people appreciate cherry blossoms and red maple leaves so much is that they are so transient. By the way, Chinese people use the Rose of Winter as a lucky symbol for New Year.


Tsubaki or sasanqua?

The glossy, dark green leaves attract attention and accentuate the bright (or sometimes subtle) tint of the blossoms. The leaves that reflect light like a mirror add a mysterious touch to the flower’s image. They often were described in the poetry.

There are so many different varieties of the Rose of Winter and they are all noteworthy! The three common Roses of winter are Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica), snow Camellia or yuki-tsubaki (Camellia japonica var. rusticana), and sazanka (Camellia sasanqua). How to differentiate them? Tsubaki is used in ikebana arrangements and is a more prestigious variety. It blooms from late winter through April , and drops off whole blossoms.CamelliaSazanka loses petals one by one, and blooms from late November through February.Camellia

Sen no Rikyu, a renowned tea master, especially favored wabisuke variety. However, he preferred buds to full blooms, and used them as cha-bana, or flowers for tea.CamelliaI especially like Otome-tsubaki, a cultivar of yuki-tsubaki.Camellia

Camellia in the history of Japan

Until the 14th century images of the flower were banned due to religious reasons. Then it became a popular motif for wood carvings decorating sutra boxes, panels of temple and shrine buildings, chests and plates.

Camellia was the favorite flower of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and his son, Tokugawa Hidetada. They collected rare varieties and had them planted in the garden of Edo Castle. Many elite samurai tried to copy them, thus starting the real craze in the middle of 17th century.

Article by Olga Kaneda

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