We have entered the micro-season of “The First Camellia Blossoms”. This is the first micro-season of the mini-season of First Winter. The micro-seasons within First Winter are:
- The First Camellia Blossoms (Nov. 8- Nov 12)
- The Earth First Freezes (Nov. 13 – Nov 17)
- The Daffodil Flowers (Nov 18 – Nov 22)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
As a way to celebrate this season, we will learn about the camellia flower and its symbolism. Then we will read camellia-themed haiku from Issa, Basho, Buson, and Shiki.
The Camellia Flower
The Camellia is an evergreen shrub or bush that is native to eastern and southern Asia. The camellia is a member of the larger Theaceae family of plants, which is also known as the “tea family”(2). There are more than 220 different species of camellia and about 3,000 different hybrids.(1)
The camellia plant can grow up to 66 feet (20 m) tall.(1) The leaves of the plant have serrated edges and are usually glossy. The flowers are usually large with 5 to 9 petals. The colors of the flowers range from white to red. There is also a yellow-flowered camellia, or golden camellia, which is very unique because it only grows in parts of southern China and Vietnam.(3)
Uses Of The Camellia Flower
Camellia japonica is one of the most popular species of camellia. Its seeds can be pressed to make camellia oil and it can it is used to prepare traditional anti-inflammatory medicines.
Camellia sinensis is used to produce a variety of teas. White tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong, and black tea can all be produced from variants of Camellia sinensis. The different colors of the teas are dependent on the variation in the oxidation of the tea leaves during preparation.(4)
Camellia oleifer is used to create sweet-tasting cooking oil.(1) Other species of camellia are also used to produce cooking oils, but Camellia oleifer is the most common.
The Symbolism of the Camellia
Depending on your location, the symbolism of the camellia flower varies.
Alicia Joy writes in Culture Trip that the camellia “were very popular with nobles during the Edo Period. Among warriors and samurai, the red camellia symbolized a noble death. Otherwise, the red camellia means love. However, they don’t make good presents for people who are sick or injured because of the way the flowers “behead” themselves when they die.”(5)
The florists at FTD.com further explain that camellia flowers may also symbolize affection or admiration depending on their color. They suggest that you to give white camellias to those that you adore. Give pink camellias, which symbolize a longing for someone, are given to someone who is missed. While the red camellias, which symbolize love in multiple cultures, should be given to someone that you would like to express your desire and passion for.(6)
Interestingly, the World Kigo Database puts the camellia, or Tsubaki as it is called in Japan, as a spring kigo. Dr. Greve explains that Camellia japonicas actually bloom in early spring. However, the “sazanka”, or Camellia sasanquain, blooms in the fall. Camellia Sasanqua, more commonly known as the Mountian Tea Plant, only grows in the western parts of Japan.
With the seasonal variations of the camellia in mind, let’s read some haiku!
Camellias in winter
without seeing sunlight the winter camellia blooms (translated by David Lanoue)
winter camellia I wish I could offer it to the sooty Buddha (retrieved from World Kigo Database)
A camellia flower seen through the trees — the hunter’s moon (translated by Allan Persinger)
The Hunter’s Moon is the full moon that follows the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the September Equinox.
Camellias in Spring
opposing leaves the flowers of the camellia are indifferent (translated by Jane Reichhold)
come closer to look at the vase of plum and camellia (translated by Jane Reichhold)
Unfolding at the hand of the glass polisher: a camellia! (retrieved from Mcfadden’s “Yosa Buson: Haiku Master”)
Falling in the dark deep down into the old well a camellia (retrieved from “Haiku of Yosa Buson” TAO)
Someone dropped Or dropped by itself on the street The flower of camellia. (retrieved from Masterpiece of Japanese Culture)
A Haiku Invitation
This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references camellias. Bonus points if you can place your haiku in winter!
Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!
- “Camellia”; Wikipedia
- “Theaceae”; Wikipedia
- “Yellow Camellia Species”; International Camellia Society
- “Camellia sinensis”; Wikipedia
- Alicia Joy; Hanakotoba: The Secret Meanings Behind 9 Flowers in Japan; CultureTrip
- FTD.Com; Camellia Meaning and Symbolism
- “Camellia-tsubaki”; World Kigo Database
Issa’s haiku were retrieved from the World Kigo Database. Basho’s haiku were retrieved from “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” editor: Gábor Terebess. Buson’s haiku were retrieved from “Haiku of Yosa Buson” collected by Terebess Asia Online (TAO), and Edward McFadden’s article “Yosa Buson: Haiku Master” which is published in the Kyoto Journal. Shiki’s haiku was retrieved from Masterpiece of Japanese Culture.