TOKYO – When Americans think of flowers and Japan, we think of cherry blossoms. But to the Japanese, there’s a flower for every time of year, and right now, it’s the chrysanthemum, celebrated in festivals, shows and home displays.
Like the cherry blossom, the chrysanthemum, called “kiku” in Japanese, symbolizes the season, but more than that, it’s a symbol of the country itself. The monarchy is referred to as the Chrysanthemum Throne and the imperial crest is a stylized mum blossom. That seal is embossed on Japanese passports. The flower is also a common motif in art, and it’s seen in everyday life depicted on the 50-yen coin.
Originally introduced from China, this flower came with a legend about longevity, the story of a town whose residents all lived to more than 100 years old, where the water came from a mountain spring surrounded by chrysanthemums. Through selective breeding, the original simple flower was developed into many forms that most Americans wouldn’t recognize as a chrysanthemum, such as a type with long, thin, spidery petals, and another that’s said to look like a paintbrush.