Posted on | February 10, 2012 | 1 Comment
Wisteria, or fuji in Japanese, is a popular motif in Japanese art used to decorate a wide variety of art forms from pottery to paintings. Wisteria blooms during May and June and its strikingly beautiful blossoms have always been appreciated for their color and shape.
The practice of hanami (flower viewing) is many centuries old, dating back to the Nara Period (710–794) when plum blossoms (ume) were the first to be admired. Flower viewing parties were soon held for cherry blossoms as well. By the Heian Era (794–1192), wisteria viewing parties also became popular largely due to the fact that wisteria was the symbol of the ruling Fujiwara clan. Fujiwara no Shoshi (who became empress to Emperor Ichijo in 1000) was nicknamed “Fujitsubo” because of the wisteria in her courtyard. (Wisteria was frequently planted in the inner palace where the emperor’s consorts and ladies-in-waiting lived.) In The Tale of Genji, Genji’s first and lifelong love was named Fujitsubo by author Lady Murasaki, lady-in-waiting to the real Lady Fujitsubo.
A Kabuki dance called “Fuji Musume” (Wisteria Maiden) is thought to have originated from one of the famous art paintings sold at Otsu, a stop on the old Tokaido Road from Tokyo to Kyoto. When the dance begins, a young maiden wearing an ornate, long-sleeved kimono decorated with wisteria steps out of a painting and tries to attract the attention of a would-be lover. Her efforts, however, go unnoticed and in the last scene of the dance she returns heartbroken to her painting. The Wisteria Maiden holding a branch of wisteria blossoms often appears in paintings.
Historically, the sight of the purple wisteria has always comforted followers of Buddhism because it was believed that Amida Buddha would descend on a purple cloud to guide them to the Western Paradise. One sect of Buddhism uses wisteria on its crest.
Here in the West, one often sees wisteria trained to grow on a wall or arbor, but in Japan wisteria grows wild and can be seen twining up and around through trees in the mountains. Interestingly, the Japanese wisteria grows clockwise, while the Chinese wisteria grows counterclockwise.
Kameido Tenjin, a shrine in Tokyo made famous in a woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), remains to this day one of the loveliest places to view wisteria in bloom. Although hanami has became synonymous with cherry blossom viewing, wisteria, with its clouds of purple blossoms, still remains a sight to be admired and celebrated in art.