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A Sip Of Matcha

Published: Monday October 13, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday October 15, 2014 MYT 12:50:39 PM

Colours of the chrysanthemum

Floral appeal: A chrysanthemum exhibition at Sankeien Garden in Yokohama, Japan. (Inset) Edible chrysanthemum.

Floral appeal: A chrysanthemum exhibition at Sankeien Garden in Yokohama, Japan. (Inset) Edible chrysanthemum.

The chrysanthemum has a special place in Japan and different colours carry specific messages.

Rika, my Japanese friend, once regaled me with a faux pas committed by her American boyfriend Jim. He had presented Rika with a big bouquet of mixed-coloured chrysanthemums when he invited her for dinner at his house to celebrate her birthday.

Some flowers have meanings. Kiku (chrysanthemum) is a symbol of imperial honour whereas white kiku represents truth. Kiku is a highly revered flower.

In fact, the Japanese Imperial Throne is referred to as the Chrysanthemum Throne. Being a celebrated flower in autumn, a National Chrysanthemum Day (a.k.a Festival Of Happiness) is observed. In October and November, spectacular chrysanthemum exhibitions are held at renowned gardens, temples and shrines throughout Japan. Paradoxically, kiku is associated with grief and death.

Perhaps Jim had seen the exquisite display of kiku and was impressed. Perhaps he wanted something different from roses for Rika’s birthday.

After dinner, he held the chrysanthemums right under Rika’s nose. “Smell them. Sweet-smelling, right?”

Poor Rika did not know whether to laugh or get upset. Not wanting to spoil the occasion, she merely nodded her head.

When Rika brought the bouquet home, her mother was surprised. She asked Rika: “Why did you buy so many chrysanthemums? Visiting our ancestor’s grave tomorrow?”

When Rika related Jim’s gaffe to her mother, she was appalled.

Since I had drunk chrysanthemum tea and a Japanese friend had served me pickled kiku petals before, I first thought that most chrysanthemums were edible. I would have made a blunder and eaten ornamental kiku, had I not seen the cultivated edible species sold in plastic packs at grocery stores and supermarkets.

Four years ago, my son had a cello recital. His schoolmates turned up to give him moral support. The girls handed Ken several bouquets after his performance.

One nosegay was from three teenage sisters of American and Japanese parentage. They had just settled down in Japan after living in the United States.

After I took the bouquets home, I unwrapped each one. As I unwrapped the one from the three siblings, I was dumbfounded to see a combination of chrysanthemums and other flowers. What? They had bought flowers meant for display on the ancestral altar at home and on tombs! These flowers are usually pre-packed in transparent plastic wrappings and the seller would wrap them again in white paper for customers after they paid up.

Ken saw the flowers and noticed my stunned expression.

“Mum, never mind the blooper. It’s a waste to dispose them. After all, it’s the thought that matters. Anyway, put them in a vase but keep them out of sight if a visitor happens to drop by our place,” he said.

“Hey, how did you know it was a faux pas?” I asked.

“Mum, don’t you buy such flowers whenever we visit grandpa’s grave? The sisters probably have not visited any graves in Japan.”

Ready-packed flowers meant for offerings at graves are generally sold in flower shops, supermarkets and convenience stores.

Edible chrysanthemum.
Edible chrysanthemum

When presenting flowers to the sick, there are taboos involved. Flowers are a customary gift for such occasions, except in hospitals that discourage them out of concern for patients who are allergic to pollen.

One must bear in mind certain etiquette when bringing flowers for the sick. It is inappropriate to give chrysanthemums, flowers with vivid colours or a strong fragrance, large bouquets that take up space and potted plants.

Chrysanthemums are considered a bad omen for patients. Potted plants are definitely a no-no because of the superstition that the patient’s illness would be rooted deeper.

Foreigners might sometimes be excused for such faux pas.

>Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, resides in Japan.

Tags / Keywords: flowers, sarah mori, japan

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