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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

58th Chrysanthemum Festival

Hey - guess what - I’m early with something. So make your travel plans accordingly.

Beginning November 1-23, 2017 at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Sengan-en in Kagoshima, Japan, the  58th Chrysanthemum Festival will take place! I've been to that site, though unfortunately not for the festival... I should have planned accordingly!

The festival will feature over 15,000 chrysanthemums on display at one of Japan's most famous gardens, with impressive display pieces, mannequins wearing flower kimono, and carefully manicured bonsai.

Located in Kagoshima opposite the very active Sakurajima volcano, Sengan-en is one of Japan's most famous gardens. Home of the powerful Shimadzu clan for over 350 years, the 12-acre gardens are known for the use of borrowed scenery - incorporating the amazing view of the smoldering Sakurajima into the foreground of the garden.

In order for the chrysanthemums to bloom at the same time, dedicated gardeners will spend weeks wiring each bud closed to prevent them blooming too early in a process called osae. The process must be repeated several times before the flowers are ready to bloom.

I know - flower bondage! It fits in perfectly with the world of Japanese horticulture re: bonsai trees, in which farmers bend copper wires around branches to create what they perceive to be the perfect natural form.

Which it isn’t… forgive my pessimism. I’ve done tree bondage amongst other forms of the sport, and while I thought it was kindda cool to create nature in my own image, that’s too much like one is pretending to be a god… which I admit is fun, but geez. I’ve always felt bonsai looks beautiful, but ultimately sterile.

Now… if I hadn’t found out about this osae, bloom bondage, I might have been simply amazed at the floral display… I’m sure I will be, but it takes away some of the spontaneity of nature. This, for me, is one of those rare cases where it is too much information. Sorry.

Anyhow, this year's theme is 150 years since the Meiji Restoration, and a central display piece featuring the visionary leader Shimadzu Nariakira (surname first) meeting with the last samurai Saigo Takamori (surname first)will be one of the major attractions of the festival. Saigo was the inspiration for the Tom Cruise film "The Last Samurai”, which was actually a pretty decent film even though he’s not lip-synching Bob Segar in that one. 

Local enthusiasts will bring their best chrysanthemum bonsai for a competition, and the fascinating "tairin-giku" where hundreds of flowers are grown from a single stalk will be on display.

It isn't all peace and quiet however, because on November 19, a taiko drumming performance from the Noda-go Shimadzu Taiko will echo around the gardens. Mmmm, love me some taiko.

On the same day there is also a matchlock rifle display from the Hioki Teppo-tai. Contrary to the popular image, samurai were actually very fond of guns, and the Shimadzu clan was one of the first to put them into action.

To close the festival a traditional Japanese kyudo (archery) competition will be held on November 26, 2017 called Kusajishi-shiki in which archers shoot at a target in the shape of a deer.

The archers are divided into two teams, red and white. The deer has 24 areas marked with white circles which the archers aim for. If the shot is deemed to have struck badly or missed a vital area a discussion with a judge takes place to decide whether a point should be awarded or not.

The Chrysanthemum Festival is one of the most popular events at Sengan-en, and is the only chance to see the delicate flowers against the backdrop of an imposing active volcano.
This is Mt. Sakurajima, in a photo from my personal collection (which I purchased) of the volcano erupting back in the mid-1930s. Strangely, when I visited the area in 1992, it was ominously smoke-free - a rarity. Figures...

Andrew Joseph


  1. Dig those Crysanthemam kimonos - do you have to carry a flowerpot around with you?

    1. Bwa-ha-ha-ha! Do you want to know how they water the plants? Dig your awesome internet handle, BarmyTiger.