Human Flower Project

Japan’s Chrysanthemum Wizards

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)‘s marvelous Plants & Japan explores his country’s many strong floral traditions. The site includes biographies of early horticulturists, essays on the history of bonsai, an anthology of favorite flowers, and more, all of it illustrated.

Although Westerners hear a lot about cherry blossoms in the spring, this essay suggests that Japan’s fall chrysanthemum fairs will not be outdone. Thank you, Masashi, for your sensitivity, research, and photographs. We are grateful to post your work here.


By Masashi Yamaguchi

Kiku (chrysanthemum), Dendranthema grandiflorum, is not indigenous to Japan but was originally imported as medicine or as a gardening plant from China. It is said that Kiku came to Japan in the Nara period (710-793), after which the royalty of the Heian period (794-1191) came to love the flower because they believed it had the power to lengthen people’s lives. After the Kamakura period (1192-1333), Kiku became the emblem of the Japanese royal family.

Kiku cultivation was at its height in the Edo period (1603- 1867). Various cultivars were introduced at that time and became popular as potted plants.

People bred the following cultivar strains:

ATSUMONO: big flower with thick petals

KUDAMONO: big flower with tube-like thin petals

ICHIMONJI: 14-16 broad petals per flower

SAGAGIKU: erect tube-like petals, bred in Saga of Kyoto Prefecture


Ichimonji and Kudamono trained in the “horse bridle” style

Photo: Shinjuku Gyoen Garden

Chrysanthemum nurseries made topiaries in the shapes of phoenixes and peacocks to attract customers and grafted branches of various chrysanthemum cultivars onto a single plant, so that one plant would bloom with more than 100 different flowers.

The Japanese royal family first held chrysanthemum exhibitions at its Imperial Court in Akasaka. There the imperial gardeners developed magnificent techniques for displaying and enjoying chrysanthemum flowers. Here are some of their spectacular design styles:

SANBON JITATE : three flowers per plant in a pot, the flowers referred to as TEN (= heaven), CHI (earth) and JIN (human). The balance of the three flowers is important. This display style is influenced by Chinese philosophy.

DARUMA ZUKURI: A scaled-down version of SANBON JITATE.

FUKUSUKE ZUKURI: A small plant with one round bloom, shaped like a doll or “FUKUSUKE”.


KENGAI ZUKURI: cascade style

BONSAI ZUKURI: a tree-type chrysanthemum with small flowers made into a Bonsai form.

Oozukuri The Dome


OOZUKURI (Big Form in Japanese), later called SENRIN ZAKI blooms with hundreds to 1,000 flowers per plant. This requires a professional technique to achieve.

It is said that people came to compete about the number of flowers, then the expression “Senrinzaki” (a thousand blooms) became more popular than “Oozukuri.” It is not clear who invented this style, or how they made it. Even the staff of Shinjuku Gyoen said that they are not sure about the origin of Oozukuri. They can only say that it was first displayed for the royal family at the royal chrysanthemum exhibition in 1884 in Akasaka Court. One horticulturist especially well remembered for his skill with the Oozukuri was Yukio Ichikawa, on the staff of the royal gardens in the Meiji Period (1868-1912).

Three pots of Oozukuri were displayed at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and appreciated by European people for the first time.

One final style: at the end of the Edo period, a gardener living in Edo (Tokyo) made a doll of Kiku flowers and displayed them for the citizenry. This display came to be called “Kiko Ningyo” (chrysanthemum doll). image

In 1929, the annual chrysanthemum exhibition was moved to its present location, Shinjuku Gyoen Garden.  Formerly an imperial garden, Shinjuku Gyoen Park became open to the public in 1949, after World War II.

Kiku Fairs of Today

Chrysanthemum enthusiasts are decreasing, as are other enthusiasts of Japanese traditional gardening. This is one reason that I am making a Japanese version of my “Plants and Japan,” so that I can draw people’s attention to traditional gardening.

Why are Japanese people no longer as interested in this fascinating form of art/craft/recreation/hobby? I believe there are many reasons.

One is that Japan became a highly developed consumer society, like America. Especially in these days, we can purchase potted blooming flowers for cheap prices. People have begun just to buy plants and do not grow them anymore. Now on the surface, it looks as if gardening is prevailing in Japan; however, young generations just buy blooming potted flowers,  plant them in containers and throw them away after they finish blooming.

At the same time, young people are getting interested in the small bonsais for sale at fancy flower shops next to succulents and airplants. They think that bonsai is cool as an ornament for their rooms. I wonder if the growing techniques and display methods of traditional gardening are troublesome for them. To learn these things takes time.

One more reason: In Japan, I think people tried to forget old traditions after the World War II. This tendency has been stronger in Japan than in other Asian countries. Japan is very unique in that the royal family survived after World War II.

I wonder if the Japanese government taught the history of Japan to children correctly. If adults teach the history accurately, children will know about the bad behaviors to other countries during the war. I do know that people became unfamiliar with the past, including good aspects of Japanese culture. This is just my opinion. For young generations, the royal family is just like a prince and princess in a fairy tale. I heard that the USA decided not to punish the royal family just after the war because the Japanese were trained to follow royal family. It seems the USA thought that Japan would be disordered if they did away with the royal family system. History is always interesting, in every country.

On the other hand, why was gardening so popular in Japan during the Edo period? One of the reasons is that Japan was at peace during that time. Also, I wonder if the disclosure of Japan developed a peculiar culture, including this fanatic enthusiasm for gardening.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/16 at 12:57 PM


Please give me information on how I could purchase Japanese Chrysanthemum plants.  I would really like to add them to my garden.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/04 at 02:43 PM

Deborah, I’m fairly certain that most of the cultivars of chrysanthemum available in your local nursery are originally Japanese cultivars. Spoon mums, spider mums, football mums—I think those all originated in Japan. Hope that helps.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07/08 at 10:49 AM

I wish to purchase giant varieties of chrysanthemum. Please let me know the address.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/21 at 08:20 AM
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