The kanji for “hagi”(Japanese clover) is made up of the character for autumn under an element meaning grass crown. I have already found a hagi bush with several purple flowers growing over a fence in my neighborhood. White gardenia flowers are still in bloom next to it. Why is the hagi in such a hurry? Maybe its flowers are an advance team sent as a reconnaissance mission to find out this year’s weather.
“Kikyo,” or balloon flowers, which are also generally recognized as autumn flowers, were also swaying in a park. What’s the rush? I did some research and found that the type I had seen was an early-blooming variety. It comes to bloom during the rainy season and is sometimes called “samidare-kikyo,” which literally means early-summer-rain kikyo. The light purple flowers look cool and help us to momentarily forget about intense heat.
I am growing “yugao” (moonflowers) in a pot at home this summer. Some readers may remember that last summer I mistook “yorugao” (Ipomoea alba) for yugao in this column and had to apologize. Yorugao (night face), which belongs to the morning glory family, is commonly known as yugao (literally, evening face). In fact, the two are quite different plants. To atone for my mistake, I planted the seeds of the real yugao, a member of the gourd family.
One evening in late June, I found the plant had white flowers. They kept blooming night after night. Now they have wilted and are bearing a number of small fruits. When they become big and heavy, they can be used to make “kanpyo” dried gourd shavings.
Another Yugao, one of the heroines in the 11th century novel “The Tale of Genji,” composed this well-known verse: “I think I need not ask whose face it is, so bright, this evening face, in the shining dew.” (From a tranlation published by UNESCO.) After a tryst with Hikaru Genji, Yugao dies. Her evanescence seems to fit well with the white yugao flowers, although perhaps less with the plant’s heavy fruits.
Morning glories have begun to follow the yugao into bloom. As we prepare to ride out the intense heat of summer, waiting for the autumn winds to begin to blow and for the hagi to sway, can we restore our energy by looking at morning glories shining with morning dew?
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 26
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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