Wide Awake In Japan
23. 紅花栄: "The Safflower Blooms"
Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing
初夏 Shoka: "Early Summer"
Season No. 8: 小満, Shouman:
Shouman: the time of year when farmers can hope to see kernals forming in the "ears" of cereal crops such as wheat and barley. This sign allows them to heave a small sigh of relief, hence the term "shou-man," or "small satisfaction."
Climate No. 23: 紅花栄
"The Safflower Blooms"
(May 26 -May 30)
"Eye brow brushes
Come to mind
Safflower blossoms." -Matsuo Basho
Back in Alaska, I once ordered a packet of safflower seeds from a California-based seed company and tried planting them, completely disregarding the kind of soil or climate they would need. I didn't see any sprouts for the entire season and figured they were duds. But the following summer, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw in my greenhouse a full-grown safflower right there in the dirt below the shelf where I had originally planted the seeds! Despite all odds, one grew for me! Talk about a survivor!
Safflower (Jpn: 紅花 beninbana, Carthamus tinctorius), has played an important role in Japan's art culture for centuries. Their densely-colored spiky flower heads of happy, reddish-orange and mustard yellow petals produce a fine crimson oil known as "Kyo-beni," which was once employed to color the lips of geishas. According to history, the deep red dye paste "kurenai" made from safflower was once so coveted by Japan's elite that it was said to be more precious than gold!
In greater demand today as a source of oil than a clothing dye, safflower cultivation still continues along the gentle, sloping mountainsides of Yamagata Prefecture. Set in rural Yamagata, the delightlfully realistic 1991 Ghibli animated film "Omohide Poroporo" (Eng: "Only Yesterday") features the story of a young Tokyoite woman who takes a summer off to pick safflower blossoms in the tempermental rains of early summer. The process of harvesting and processing safflower pulp is gorgeously illustrated in painstaking detail, giving the viewer a real sense of appreciation for all the hard work involved.
The safflower seems particularly significant as a recurring theme in the movie, plain in appearance yet precious for its potential -symbolic of both the pain and beauty of life.
May I be as cheerful as the safflower in my own rainy seasons!