Probably you have noticed, that some colorful azaleas, such as pink and white, bloom beautifully on sidewalks in late spring in Japan. They become more visible as summer sets in and are a common sight. It is really nice that we can enjoy pink flowers on the street even after cherry blossoms wither away, isn't it? Here are some things to know about azaleas in Japan.
It Has a Long History
So why are there so many azaleas planted in Japan? Are they planted to for a picturesque view for our us in spring? In fact, the culture of enjoying "tsutsuji" (azaleas) is very old in Japan and traditional too. Since the ancient times, people have been writing about lovely azaleas in Tanka (short poems). Cultivation of azaleas became very popular escpecially in the Edo period, and many kinds of azaleas were created at that time. Most azaleas what we see today in parks and on sidewalks were created more than 300 years ago: deep pink azaleas '本霧島' (Honkirishima), purple ones '大紫' (Omurasaki) and white ones '琉球' (Ryukyu). In the 19th century, these kinds of azaleas were exported to North American and European countries. Now, azaleas are designated as the official flower in many municipalities in Japan.
Pink Azaleas (本霧島)
Photo: faungg's photos on Flickr
Purple Azaleas (大紫)
Photo: massa 我嫌日的冬 on Flickr
White Azaleas (琉球)
Photo: petrOlly on Flickr
OK, there is a long history of azaleas. But why is it so popular as a gardening plant now? Some reasons are:
- Azaleas are good at purifying the polluted air.
- They can survive in harsh environments in high-temperatures and dry weather.
- It is very easy to take care of them as they start to grow up by themselves.
Not only because they are pretty but also for the above reasons, you often see them along the streets.
You Can Eat Them
Azaleas are one of those ordinary flowers that were easily found during my daily life. When I was in kindergarden, I played with azaleas much. I and my friends picked up an azalea, and got rid of its stamens and pistils from it. Then, we put the remaining part or the calyx into our mouth, to get a taste of the sweet nectar. I am nostalgic, what a wonderful feeling it was! However, some kinds of azaleas are poisonous. I still remember that my mom asked me not to eat them. However, regardless of her advice, I did and enjoyed it as most other people did. In the future, probably I will say the same thing to my children as my mom said to me!
Azalea Festivals in Japan
As I mentioned earlier, azaleas are a part of everyday surroundings since late spring and early summer. However, there are some special ways to enjoy azaleas in a premium style. In Nezu, which is close to the Ueno area in Tokyo, Nezu Shrine offers an Azalea Festival in May and early June. There, you can enjoy many different varieties of azaleas that bloom beautifully throughout the season. Nezu Station was crowded when I visited the Azalea Festival at Nezu Shrine. Many people had gathered in the small shrine that quickly turned crowded and noisy. However, what surprised me most were the colorful azaleas. The collaboration of traditional architecture and beautiful azaleas was a wonderful sight.
So, these are some tips to enjoy azaleas in Japan. After you have come to know about their background, azaleas look even more beautiful, don't you think?