Monday, October 4, 2010


This post is in celebration of cherry blossom (桜 'sakura') time in my backyard. Unfortunately my one tree was damaged when it was young and  has never grown more than a few feet high so even though it produces these gorgeous blossoms it's hardly big enough to sit under for the 'hanami' cherry blossom viewing picnics I'd been planning! I was going to dig it out this year and plant a new one and I'd actually got to the point of putting the spade in the soil but its blossoms are so beautiful I just couldn't bring myself to do it....

I thought in honour of its brief flowering I'd show you some kimono fabric cherry blossom designs but realised when I went through the fabrics in the shop and in my collection that I have surprisingly few.  Perhaps because we associate it as the national symbol of Japan we expect to find it more often on kimono  but I come across a lot more plums, chrysanthemums, peonies and other flowers (that I often can't identify). It turned out that the ones that I liked best are these two very simple old red and white designs. This first one is  simply printed on very old cotton lining. I sometimes come across these very humble fragments that have a wonderful warm character and make you wonder about the life they've had.
The second one is from a piece of old wool 'mosu' (Japanese muslin) which has probably been part of a juban undergarment. I love the realism of the freshly opened leaves which make this design a little more lively than the standard petal motif in the first picture.

The cherry blossom as a symbol has a long and complex history from sacred associations with rice in the ancient myth-histories through to being mobilised as motivation for kamikaze pilots. Cherry trees famously blossom gloriously and briefly and so are commonly seen to represent the beauty, fragility and impermanence of life, and in this sense it is also associated with the bushido spirit of the samurai.  It has an even longer history before that as a symbol of youth, love and courtship. ( For a detailed history of the symbolism of the cherry blossom I recommend the relevant chapters in Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney's Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms and Nationalism; The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History)

I've noticed that customers often confuse cherry blossoms with  'ume' plum designs so I thought I'd post some plum blossoms for comparison. The convention is for the cherry blossom to have longer single notched petals while the plum blossoms (below) are always rounder without notches.

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