Kiku: Understanding the Significance of the Chrysanthemum

White chrysanthemum

before that perfect flower

scissors hesitate. 

Buson 1716-1784

A few days ago, I found my way to another celebration and exhibit of chrysanthemums (kiku) at a shrine in Tokyo.  Taken at a superficial level it was proof to me that when the Japanese decide to explore the limits of anything, it usually goes way beyond what I’ve come to expect from the western world.  This world of chrysanthemums, displayed at the shrine, felt as chrysanthemummy as it could get in terms of extravagant blooms and displays.


Digging deeper, I listened to poet Jane Hirshfield speak about the deeper meanings chrysanthemums hold in Japanese culture.  They are long lasting autumn flowers, in contrast to the now-you-see-them, now-you-don’t ephemeral state of plum and cherry blossoms. They announce the arrival of spring, but we enjoy the luxury of looking forward, after their blossoms drop, to a long summer ahead.

 Chrysanthemums are an emblem of transience as well, but they tend to be long lasting, poignantly holding off the dead of winter.  Their explosion of beauty and their stillness serves in Buddhism as a reminder of a spotless open heart and an awakened mind.img_8563

Thank you, Jane for the poetic enlightenment!

It seems to me that many of the Japanese celebrations that include seasonal flowers, serve as a reminder of life’s duality between beauty/grief.  The beauty assuages the grief we all must feel at the transience of life, but it also serves to reinforce life’s brevity and compels us to notice what’s before us in the moment.

shrine entrance




The lanterns lit

The color of the yellow chrsanthemum



One Comment on “Kiku: Understanding the Significance of the Chrysanthemum

  1. Hi, Dianne. Leave it to you to share such a visual trip with us. Thank you. I have always liked mums, but these pictures lend elegance and versatility to the chrysanthemum repertoire that I did not know it had! xo. Thanks! And Happy New Year! April

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