Tokyo hosts several Chrysanthemum exhibitions at this time of year, when the shortening days see these late flowers burst into glory before the onslaught of winter. Long considered the emblem of Japan and the 16-petal variety the official crest of the Emperor and the Chrysanthemum Throne, these ‘golden flowers’ symbolise longevity and eternal youth, dignity and nobility, and to the Japanese are deeply evocative of their cultural history – kiku feature in artwork of all kinds and their cultivation and display is also seen as an artform in itself. The blooms were imported from China in the 8th century as a medicine rather than a decoration, the root boiled and taken as medicine, petals eaten and the leaves brewed into a drink – even today chrysanthemum tea is said to cure flu and a petal in a glass of wine brings you a long and happy life – but the yellow daisy flowers were reminiscent of the rays of the sun and captured the imagination of the Japanese who have cultivated many varieties over the centuries so that nowadays there are flamboyant pompoms, anemone, feathery and quill-like blooms in a range of colours.
There are superb exhibitions throughout November in Tokyo, and they display chrysanthemums in specific traditional styles. One of the most dramatic is the dome or umbrella-like display of flowers on one stem called ozukuri or thousand blossom, which takes a whole year to prune and train into shape. Also popular is the single giant bloom called ogiku, balanced on a tall stem and usually displayed in rows of white, pink or yellow flowers that are said to resemble a horse’s bridle during imperial ceremonies. And trained on net frames to look like they are tumbling picturesquely over a cliff like a waterfall are the thousands of small flowers forming sweeping cascades, known as kengai. Dolls or large figures made from chrysanthemums are popular.
The largest exhibition is at Hibiya Park, formerly a military parade ground, where over 2000 displays of chrysanthemums delight locals and visitors alike. Hibiya Park is near Ginza and the imperial palace, a couple of minutes’ walk from Kasumigaseki or Hibiya Stations. Another famous one is at Shinjuku Gyoen Garden and you can also see displays at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, at Meiji Shrine, Yasukuni Shrine and Kameido Tenjin Shrine.
If you would like to visit a chrysanthemum festival or two whilst you are in Tokyo and explore other sights of the city, ReadyClickAndGo.com can arrange a English-speaking local guide to take you on a private day tour using Tokyo’s excellent public transport network. Prices are from £39 per guide per person for a half-day private tour. Visit www.ReadyClickAndGo.com or email info@ReadyClickAndGo.com