Japanese motifs & symbols: plants & flowers
Images used to decorate Japanese artefacts are often wonderfully simple and effective communicators of meaning. The images are usually not meant to be realistic, and may not even be in lifelike colours: flowers may be reduced to bare essentials, maybe as little as five petal shapes joined to a central circle.
Click on the image for a larger version:
Ivory painted comb with gold lacquer, Japan
1800 - 1880
Ivory painted with gold lacquer and pigments
Museum no. 92-1888
Semi-circular comb in ivory with bamboo and bird decoration in gilt with red pigment, red teeth. Bamboo signifies long life, friendship, peace and harmony.
Sake pot, Japan
Earthenware with overglaze enamels
Museum no. 603-1877
Sake pot; made of earthenware with overglaze enamels; decorated with chrysanthemums in blue with leaves and tendrills in white; on lid -square spiral pattern around edge and spherical handle in blue with painted white spiral; long spout. The chrysanthemum is an autumn flower that blooms over an extended period. It signifies longevity, strength, courage and dignity.
Noren (door hanging)
c.1900 - 1925
Museum no. FE.50-1982
Noren (door hanging) in blue cotton with large cream circle surrounding a cream lotus blossom, Japanese script on bottom left. The lotus flower plays a central part of Buddhist philosophy - spiritual flowering and unfolding. The stem is the world axis which supports the flower of the lotus throne, the spiritual centre. The lotus also signifies time, the unseen all-devouring, the unfolding of all existence; peace, harmony, union, life, immortality and meditation.
Hanging (detail) - Irises by a River
Museum no. T.161-1969
Detail of a hanging depicting irises by a river, black & white flowers with brown and grey spindly leaves, on a brown ground with stylised ripples in blue to represent a river. Irises denote strength, vitality, boldness, power and eloquence.
Saucer with peony design, Japan
1700 - 1720
Porcelain with Imari style decoration in underglaze blue & overglaze, enamels & gilt
A pale blue saucer, decorated in blue and red enamel & gilt with pairs of quails in petal shaped compartments separated by sprays of flowers. The middle of the saucer has a spary of peony within a blue & gilt band of Japanese cloud pattern and the rim is decorated with a band of blue & gilt diaper. The peony, known as the 'flower of twenty days' because of its short blooming season, was particularly favoured by the nobility as it was considered a symbol of prosperity, happiness, love and affection.
The Shubi Pine on the Asaka River, Utagawa Hiroshige
The Shubi pine tree on the Asakusa river
(Print from the series 'Eight Views of Plants and Trees at Famous Places in the Eastern Capital')
Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797 - 1858);
Colour print from woodblocks.
The pine is a hardy and long-lived tree that can survive the most adverse of weather conditions and grow in the poorest of soil. It is associated with eternal life, tranquility, faithfulness and integrity.
Box with lid, Fujita Kyohei
Box with lid 'Kohakubai - Red & White Plum Blossoms'
Fujita Kyohei (b.1921)
Purple glass with silver & gold leaf with splashes of red & white glass
Museum no. FE.6A-1989
Plum blossoms are the earliest blossom to flower, often appearing before the winter snows have melted. Plum blossoms signify age and youth, as the delicate petals appear on the most gnarled and elderly of trees.
Cloisonné vase, Japan
Copper, covered with coloured enamels (cloisonne technique), with 'shakudo' rim and base
Museum no. 265-1903
Tall vase of copper covered with coloured enamels with a shakudo rim and base and a depiction of a wisteria. As wisteria clings and climbs, it has come to signify love and affection.
Fan print, Utagawa Hiroshige
Fan print -Cherry Blossoms on the Shinjuku Embankment at Yotsuya
(From a series of views of famous places)
Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797 - 1858)
c.1840 - 1845.
Colour print from woodblocks.
Museum no. E.2926-1913
Fan print showing 'Cherry Blossoms on the Shinjuku Embankment at Yotsuya, from an untitled series of views of famous places by Hiroshige. The cherry blossom is the national flower of Japan symbolizing loyalty and filial love. The brief life and beauty of the cherry blossom are also associated with the samurai, who spends his life preparing for the battle which will end in honourable death.