The Iris as a Japanese Motif

Posted on | June 4, 2010 | 1 Comment

The iris has captivated the hearts of the Japanese since ancient times. Kakitsubata, a native species of iris, became especially popular from a story in the tenth century, “Tales of Ise.” An aristocratic poet, weary of the fashionable life in Kyoto, set out on a long journey. Arriving at Yatsuhashi (meaning “eight bridges”), he saw irises in full bloom in a marsh crisscrossed with the eight bridges that gave the area its name. The sight filled him with such longing for his wife in far away Kyoto that he wrote a verse for her, beginning each line with a syllable from the flower’s name, ka-ki-tsu-ba-ta. Ever since, kakitsubata and zigzag wooden bridges have been linked as a motif in art, literature, and gardening.

The iris is also known as hanashoubu, hana meaning “flower” and shoubu, a play on words that can mean “martial spirit” or  “victory or defeat” as in a match or a showdown. Designs of hanashoubu and dragonflies were often stamped into tanned deerskin and worn into battle to protect a warrior.

It was once believed that the iris gave protection from the evil spirits that were abroad on the fifth day of the fifth month. Traditionally, young boys would bathe with the iris’s sword-like leaves on this day. The iris also symbolizes the warrior spirit and is displayed, along with koinobori (flying koi banners), on May 5th, Children’s Day (once known as Boys’ Day or Tango no Sekku).

Serene scenes such as these bring good feng shui to one’s home and may be found in my

Etsy Japanesque Accents Store .


One Response to “The Iris as a Japanese Motif”

  1. Alex
    May 18th, 2016 @ 10:58 am

    Interesting information!

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