Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chrysanthemum Boy -chrysanthemum season has come

Interestingly, chrysanthemum dew has been considered to confer perpetual youth and longevity (and sometimes immortality) in Japan as well as in China. Paradoxically, a dewdrop itself has always been a metaphor for an ephemeral life: Life like a falling dewdrop.

The Chrysanthemum Boy(菊慈童 Kiku-jido in Japanese) you can see on the right is depicted on a maki-e tablet that I saw recently at Mitsui Memorial Museum. It was produced in the early Showa period (1926-1989) by Zohiko, one of the best lacquer ware producers in Japan. I thought it was a timely display because mums have begun to bloom here and there around my house and they are closely associated with autumn.

Chrysanthemum Boy 「菊慈童蒔絵額」

Maki-e tablet, produced by Zohiko
象彦(八代西村彦兵衛) 製・瀬川嘯流作 
early Showa period, Mitsui Memorial Museum

Mums have begun to bloom in my garden(left)

Mitsui Memorial Museum Special Exhibition (poster) 
Splendor of Kyo Maki-e (September 12-November 27, 2011)

The motif Chrysanthemum Boy has repeatedly appeared not only in literature and Noh plays but also in paintings and in reliefs in gold lacquer. 

 at Yasukuni Shrine

The story goes like this: Once upon a time in a very ancient Chinese court, there was a young man who was loved by an emperor of Zhou. When he fell out of favor, he was banished to a deep mountain where a clear stream flowed and valleys were covered with mum flowers.

700 years after his exile, several officers from the capital came to the mountain and discovered him. They were searching for the special water in that area which was rumored to contain an elixir of longevity and vitality.   They found him just as young as he was the day he left. Surprised and saddened at the fact that many centuries had passed and that he would never be able to return to the court, he told them that he had been drinking the water from the stream which contained the dew of chrysanthemum petals that ran down into it in the mornings. There are a couple of other versions of the story, though.

I love this painting by Hishida Shunso ( 菱田春草: 1874‐1911). In it, the boy stands alone with a white mum flower. Some people dislike the obscurity of the figure, however, I think the work represents well the the profoundness, remoteness and calmness of the mountain and the boy's sadness.

Chrysanthemum Boy(菊慈童)by Hishida Shunso, 1901 (right)

Chrysanthemum Boy (菊慈童), 1897 (left)
by Yokoyama Taikan(横山大観:1868-1958

 Parody of the Story of the Chrysanthemum Boy (菊慈童見立 Kikujidô-mitate)  ↑
by Suzuki Harunobu(鈴木春信), Edo period

Kiku-sui-mon (Chrysanthemum-Water emblem) 

These mums above are now flowering at Yasukuni Shrine near my office.

This tale reminds me of Bach flower remedies invented by Edward Bach, an English bacteriologist and homeopath who believed that dew found on flower petals contained the healing properties of that plant.  Isn't it lovely to imagine that the dewdrop on the petal flows into the chrysanthemum's heart and the world slips into another subtler dimension where the inner true nature of the chrysanthemum is hidden?

at Kameido-Tenmangu

As for Maki-e, you can see beautiful mum designs along with paulownia designs(Toyotomi's emblem) on Kodaiji-Maki-e lacquer ware(高台寺蒔絵.

The two works you see below were on display at an exhibition held at Suntory Museum of Art in Tokyo in 2010.

(left) 菊枝桐紋蒔絵提子, Momoyama period~Edo Period, Kodaiji-Temple(高台寺), Kyoto
(right) 秋草 蒔絵 徳利, Momoyama period ~Edo period, Kyoto National Museum

Chrysanthemum festivals are now being held in many places in Tokyo. I saw many children celebrating Shichi-Go-San (Seven-Five-Three) visiting Kameido Tanmangu Shrine with their parents and grandparents to wish for a long healthy life.

Though the Shichi-Go-San festival is held on November 15, very many children visit a shrine earlier than the festival day. Usually these children are dressed in traditional Japanese clothes -girls are dressed in kimono and boys are dressed in haori/hakama. They looked very happy while having their photos taken with mum flowers as a backdrop. And the little ones' smiles made me happy too.

Kiku(chrysanthemum) Bonsai (right)

deep into autumn- 
a butterfly sipping 
chrysanthemum dew  (Basho) *1

Related posts: 
1 Land of Chrysanthemums 2009 Yushima Tenmangu Chrysanthemum Festival  plus the history of chrysanthemums
2 Chrysanthemums in bloom & Japanese autumn sweets  2010 Kobe Chrysanthemum Festival


1*秋を経て蝶もなめるや菊の露 (芭蕉)

translated by David Barnhill 
from Bashō’s Haiku: Selected Poetry of Matsuo Basho (SUNY, 2004)

2 If you are interested in Maki-e lacquer ware, here are the youtube videos about it.


  You can see Kodaiji Makie movie on this website. Scroll to the bottom and you'll find it.


Suze said...

'Isn't it lovely to imagine that the dewdrop on the petal falls into the chrysanthemum's heart and the world slips into another subtler dimension where the inner truth of the chrysanthemum is hidden?'

Yes. It really is.

julie fedderson said...

This was fascinating--I love chrysanthemums because they are so hardy here in the midwest.

Giulia said...

I always learn so much here, thank you. I'll be going soon walk in a lovely public garden near here w/a small Japanese chrysanthemum exhibit. I wish it were more detailed but it's something at least. Beautiful post, Sapphire. xoxo

Britta said...

Dear Sapphire,
thank you for this beautiful post about Chrysanthemums! Saturday I saw some in front of a flowershop, yellows and magenta-pink ones in pots, and I couldn't decide which I loved more, so I left without buying. Now I learn that they bear the fountain of youth! (you hear eager footsteps, mine, running to that shop :-)
The lacquer ware is very impressive too - such a highly gifted artist! The story about the Chrysanthemum Boy: I don't know - it seems a long, long time to be alone...

Evelyne said...

Ici aussi c'est la saison des Chrysanthèmes...ces jolies fleurs vont fleurir les tombes.

DeeBee L. said...

Beautiful legends for the Chrysanthemum so dear to your culture with exquisite photos as usual!
I read however earlier today that the mums had been imported from China into Japan during the 8th century. Is this true?

☆sapphire said...


I believe every flower or plant has its inner truth hidden in it though sadly humans usually have not perceived it....


Welcome and thanks for your comment. I've heard that small mums are easier to grow.


Thanks! The exhibit near your house sounds lovely! I've heard that New York Botanical Garden holds an excellent chrysanthemum exhibition every year.


Oh I've not yet read your latest post. It is certainly about the fountain of youth. I'll read it in the evening when I come home. Yes. The lacquer ware from the 16-17th centuries are really beautiful; I suppose they are better than modern ones...


Merci de commenter. Toujours au Japon, les chrysanthèmes sont utilisées dans les funérailles. Mais nous les utilisons à bien des égards, en arrangement floral, des dessins pour des kimonos et des laques, et ainsi de suite ....


Yes. You are right. I've written about the history of chrysanthemums, including the 8th century, in a 2009 post.


Crysanthemum culture has flourished more richly in japan than in China: one of the reasons is probably because the chrysanthemum crest has been the emblem of the imperial household since olden days.

MariCari♥♥♥♥♥ said...

Preciosa entrada,... tengo entendido que la forma del crisantemo se debe a que es la flor con la que un padre tenía que mantener en vida a su hijo, y para ello fue rajando los pétalos para darle cada día uno... y así vivir más tiempo!! Bss

cosmos said...



Thank you for sharing a great post as usual, sapphire.

haricot said...

I can smell the fragrance of chrysanthemums from the screen of your post.I did not know the dew drop of mums refers such story.
Thank you for sharing it.

helen tilston said...

Hello Sapphire

I shall view chrysanthemum's with a new eye following this informative and interesting post. It is so timely as the flower is prolific presently
Thank you for visiting my blog and for your kind comments

Maggie Asfahani Hajj said...

Hello, Sapphire!

Please tell me how it is possible that so much beauty exists in one place, and how you are able to capture it so well? Thank you so much!

Delwyn said...

Hi Sapphire

I enjoyed your chrysanthemum post replete with story...

The purple mums look like fireworks. I have never seen those little frames holding the blooms before.

Linda Starr said...

That pink spider mum is wonderful and love the vase and bowl, I saw the biggest Paulownia tree in Washington state I never knew they could grow that large, of course with all that rain.

walk2write said...

I love the paradox of the dew's symbolism and the mum boy's longevity in the midst of his profound loneliness. Such a lovely post, Sapphire. I'm glad you take the time to share such wonderful stories.

☆sapphire said...


Thanks for your lovely comment. Chrysanthemums have always been considered to be noble flowers in the East.


ありがとうございます。菊慈童は太宰も小説に書いていますね。題名はちょっと違うけど。菊水紋ってあるでしょ? あれ、本当にきれいですね。菊ときれいな流れが描かれていて。高台寺蒔絵は日本で最高の部類かもしれませんね。豊臣の桐紋が少し哀れをそそります。


The aroma of mums is not as sweet as that of roses or fragrant olives but I love it because it is refreshing.


Thanks for your kind words!!


Thanks! Honestly speaking, this is an easy-going post because you can see mums at many places in Tokyo. The shrine nearby is a good place to take photos of them. There are lots and lots of mums in bloom now.


Welcome back and thanks! I suppose these frames were invented by Edo gardeners who were mum lovers. Many improvements were made to the flowers and more gorgeous types were born in Edo(Tokyo) during the Edo period.


Paulownia trees are native to Asia and long cultivated in Japan. We call Paulownia kiri. Paulownia wood is very light and fine-grained and is used for chests and boxes. I have a chest made of paulownia wood.


I totally agree with you. I also think that the parodox of the dew makes the tale attractive!

cosmos said...


Defer said...

First of all, I have to say how I really enjoy your new photo that decorates the top of your blog. Soul-rinsing! : ))

The Dewdrop metaphor I come across again and again. Thanks for bringing this to my attention about your culture. This metaphorical meaning transfer seems to be present in all cultures as regards dew. There are Gods and Goddesses of dew, I even found one in the Germanic tradition (her name is Gefion if I remember correctly).
The term "Dove" is also related to Dew, both etymologically deriving from Celtic 'dyfr', which means 'water' but also has transcendent meanings, such as 'cosmic portals' (hence the religious dove representing Spirit). This and other aspects makes obvious that the metaphorical transfer of meaning relating to this is to do with the luminescent aspect of the Otherworlds of our ancient myths. Hugely fascinating!

The Chrysanthemum dew representing an elixir of longevity probably relates to the myths of immortality. Flowers bend towards the light (photosynthesis), producing glucose and WATER (sweet dew) while transforming CO2 into Oxygen. Flowers are often in relation with life, such as the famous "Flower of Life" in relation with Buddha and Venus. As far as I can relate, the mythical boy in your article resembles the story of Victor in Jean Paul's Hesperus - which, not so surprisingly??!!, also is about a representation of Venus.

Those mums are beautiful!! : ))
As are your photos in general!


tina said...

The story of the mum boy was so wonderful. I love hearing about Japanese fables. The mums are supported by some neat forms and all look like works of art.

☆sapphire said...




As you say, there are numerous dewdrop metaphors in the world. My favorite is "Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.” (Tagore)
And thank you so much for telling me about Gefion, the etymology and Victor. I didn't know about them. I too think that the symbolism of the (white) dove which appears in several religious traditions(as far as I know) is really interesting. Hmmmm, cosmic portals.. How fascinating!!


I sometimes imagine that the mum boy eventually became a spirit of the chrysanthemum.

Anne said...

Thank you to share the story and your beautiful photos. Chrysanthemum season is very special and I like the colours and the shape of these flowers. There must be so many varieties!
The paintings make me feel the peaceful days of autumn when we can enjoy the softness of nature and memories, too.
Thank you again!

☆sapphire said...


Thanks for your lovely comment.
I'm afraid that I've posted about mums too often(every year), for I can see the flowers everywhere in my vicinity. Whenever I see them, they remind me of my Dad.

minstrel1209 said...

わたしの中では 少し耽美な妖精のイメージです。。^^* 菊枕とか 菊に纏わる言葉は どこか そんな雰囲気を含んでいるような気がします

きのう 久々森を歩いたら 小さな野菊たちが ほんとに小さなビーズのような露を湛えて いのちの煌きを感じました

effie... said...

Chrysanthemum Boy by Yokoyama Taikan is very beautiful and the tale that you shared with us so sensitive thank you Sapphire :-)

Sarah Laurence said...

Chrysanthemums always remind me of Japan. I love how you blend art, nature, photography and history in these most informative posts. It's now to cold for blooms in Maine so thanks for sharing yours.

☆sapphire said...




Thanks for your comment, effie. Chrysanthemum boy has been depicted by many artists in japan so far. I saw the Taikan's work three years ago and it was actually a large painting.


Thanks for reading this post, Sarah. I'm afraid you are fed up with my mum posts(grin). I saw your fabulous autumn leaves. They were so lovely. As it is very warm here, ours have not turned yet.

Gabi Greve said...

Thanks for the lovely collection of photos and lore . .
I shared it with our "Joys of Japan" on FB.
Join us, if you are there!!

I will no go on snooping in your wonderful BLOG!
Gabi from Okayama

stardust said...

I don’t remember how many times I sighed in amazement and contentment at this blog. And, there’s so much to learn from you, too, sapphire.

“Isn't it lovely to imagine that the dewdrop on the petal falls into the chrysanthemum's heart and the world slips into another subtler dimension where the inner truth of the chrysanthemum is hidden?”  

Yes, indeed! Talking of dewdrops, my grandmother used to write her wish on “tanzaku” with Indian ink made with the early morning dewdrops on the taro. I feel like that some mystical and wondrous power is contained in the dewdrops to make the wish come true.

ところで、最近、菊人形をどこにも見かけません。関東ではどうですか? 子供たちが小学生の時は秋の行楽と言えば、遊園地で菊人形(娘は怖がっていましたが)だったのですが。

Delwyn said...

Hi Sapphire
I was writing you a note to your email address that I had stored but it failed. Have you a new address?

snowwhite said...

What a great blog it is!! Chrysanthemum boy’s story is very interesting and mysterious. Sometimes I wonder why chrysanthemums are used as funeral flowers but not popular as celebration flowers. Mums are noble and classy. Many people love and grow mums in many styles.
As cosmos wrote about Kikusui-ro, its emblem is Chrysanthemum-Water. On the roof, they have the roof tile with this emblem just like 鬼瓦、demon roof tile, I don’t know whether to invite more customers or to drive away evil spirit. But, no wonder; now I believe the mysterious power of mums after I read your marvelous blog!
Best wishes,

Kittie Howard said...

Oh, Sapphire, but I so love your posts, how you weave history and today's beauty, how you touch the reader's soul. I've seen Chrysanthemum Boy on note cards but didn't know the legend. And what a pretty legend it is!

I've read that the ancient Egyptians had the cure for cancer, but, when Alexander burned the library, the cure went up in flames. All things in Nature balance. There could be a cure for something in those dew drops.

And thank you for your support. Tears fell when I saw my work on Kindle.

☆sapphire said...

Gabi Greve

Welcome and thank you so much for your kind words.


Thanks! Sorry for responding very late. I have been quite busy since Saturday when I came back home from Kobe. Your grandmother must have been a very elegant lady to "write her wish on “tanzaku” with Indian ink made with the early morning dewdrops"!!
Sadly, we no longer come across such a graceful manner nowadays.



Thank you!! According to you and Cosmos, the Kikusui-ro sounds GREAT! I saw the building once and wondered if it was an inn or a Ryoriya-san. If possible, I'd like to visit it to have lunch. I'd love to see the Oni-gawara there too!!

Thanks!! Oh I have not yet read your latest post. I'll read it later. I found Edward Bach flower remedies very intriguing. As I've always been a curious cat, I visited the Bach Center in Mount Vermon in England 15 years ago. I too think that "there could be a cure for something in those dew drops". Something energetic or vibrational nature of the flower might be hidden in the dew drops on some flowers.


Welcome and thanks for your comment. I have a small favor to ask of you. Please don't post a hyper link within your comment.

zoe said...

i loooooooooooove chrysanthemums, what a beautiful post! but i had never heard of bach's remedies, and i love your image of the dewdrop finding the heart of the flower and slipping the world into another, more subtle dimension...
thank you!!

☆sapphire said...


Thanks for reading this post. I'm glad to hear that you love mums. As for the Bach remedies, controversy exists as to whether the remedies really work. Today's products called Bach flower remedies are mass-produced ones which I'd think are different from Bach's original method where he actually used dew collected from the flowers of plants. Anyway, his idea on dew of flowers is very interesting.

Vesna said...

"Isn't it lovely to imagine that the dewdrop on the petal flows into the chrysanthemum's heart and the world slips into another subtler dimension where the inner true nature of the chrysanthemum is hidden?"
yes, it is really lovely. I found your post very uplifting and profound, thank you so much dear Sapphire for your beautiful storytelling.

☆sapphire said...


Thanks for reading this post and your comment!!
I sometimes wonder if we really know about for example, what the rose truly is or what the chrysanthemum is. Haven't we seen them through colored glasses called preconceptions or common sense?

GABRIELA said...

It is with great pleasure and satisfaction that I read THIS POSTING! Interesting things all over it: the story of the Chinese boy, the dewdrops turned into an elixir, the magnificent photos of chrysanthemums that make me definitely drunk with joy!
Well...I'm tempted at times to believe that the "inner truth of the chrysanthemum" might be related to death...and not to life.
But...they are my birthday flowers, as I am a child of November, and I cannot imagine to NOT have a vase full of the hardy colourful chrysanthemums on my table at this time of the year! I pass by the plots of gardens and small fields in my neighbourhood and I look at the bushes full of colours...almost everybody seems to have them, but nobody is taking them in and putting them in a bucket (at leat) to enjoy their amazing beauty! They simply shine!
YOU do love both arts and nature and it makes me happy to read and look at everything you post here, even though I may not write a comment every time.
Thanks for your visits and for your congratulations, appreciate them with all my heart!

☆sapphire said...


Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I have always believed that "inner truth of the chrysanthemum" and that of other flowers as well are related to higher and subtler realms(devic realms) that are invisible to humans but really exist. WB Yeats referred to it many times. And I would think your soul is immortal and death is just a transition.