Hanashobu Display in Japan
Hiroshi Shimizu @@@

 Improvement of hanashobu, which in the West is called the Japanese iris, was first undertaken in Japan, and there are now more than two-thousand named cultivars in my country. The development of hanashobu has been directly related to its display. To understand the development of hanashobu it is necessary to understand this relationship, which I shall explain.
Fig.1 View of the Kodakaen at horikiri,a colour print of Hirosige


Garden Display


 When Japanese people want to appreciate the beauty of hanashobu they usually visit hanashobu gardens when the irises are in bloom. There are at present more than two hundred hanashobu display gardens spread over the Japanese archipelago. More than two million people visit these gardens each year.
 Early in the 19th century several gardens at Horikiri, Located about six miles east of the center of Tokyo, became famous for hanashobu displays. George M. Reed of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden visited these gardens in 1930, and wrote a very good article describing them,"The Iris of Japan" which appeared in the Bulletin, No.40, of The American Iris Society.
 The most famous of the hanashobu gardens at Horikiri was Kotaka-en. Hiroshige, the great ukiyo-e a painter, executed a beautiful woodblock print showing the hanashobu on display in this garden(Fig.1). Three viewing pavilions and a well developed, trained pine tree are in the center of the picture, and an artificial hill is on the left. From the elevation of this hill, visitors could get a good view of the hanashobu just below.
 In the lower garden about fifty different varieties of hanashobu were grown. They were grown in rows of variable length, and usually only one kind to a row. But each variety was repeated at several different places in the garden. The visitors were admitted to the garden upon the payment of a small fee, and they sat in one of the viewing pavilions to enjoy the flowers.
 The hanashobu plantings were surrounded by elevated banks or levees, and the visitor walked on the banks, which held water in the beds, to appreciate the flowers. The design of this garden leads the visitors to see the irises only from above !
 There are two reasons the kotaka-en garden was designed in this manner. The first reason was to protect the owner's house and family from floods. Flood disasters occurred often in the Horikiri area. The owner's house, not shown in Fig.1, was also built on an elevation for this reason. The second reason for the Kotaka-en design is that Japanese peoples like natural scenic beauty. The open vista seen from the top of the hill and from the pavilions was lovely. Japanese garden design principles call for the surrounding wood, river and mountain(Shukkei) to be incorporated into a total scenic view.
 The appreciation of Hanashobu in the open vista, looking down upon the flowers, gave impetus to the development of a new flower form, the "horizontal form", in the Tokyo region. Varieties in this form are very strong and resistant to the wind and rain. We call these types of hanashobu the "Edo types" after the old name for Tokyo.

Fig.2 Kumamoto indoor display
Indoor Display

 There are three quite distinct types of traditional indoor display for hanashobu in Japan. The first I will describle is Kumamoto indoor display, which is practiced by the Kumamoto Mangetu Kai. Kumamoto is the name of reagion in south-eastern Japan on the island of Kyushu. The Mangetu Kai, which means "Full Moon Society", was organized for the development and appreciation of hanashobu, and its annual meeting was held at the time of the full moon in June.

 
The unique method of display in Kumamoto entails showing the irises in pots. The hanashobu bloom season in Kumamoto is frequently beset with heavy rains, which lead to growing the irises in pots. Gradually, too, rules were developed for the display for irises inside the house. Pods were about 24 cm in diameter, and flower stalks were about 90 cm in height (Fig.2). Seven to nine plants were arranged along the wall side of the main room. One or two irises were displayed in the tokonoma, a special alcove designed for displaying objects d'art, paintings and plants appreciate to the season. The irises displayed in the tokonoma had flower stalks smaller than those on display along the wall.
To the Kumamoto Mangetsu Kai the inner sprit was more important than the form in the display. The heart of the display lies in the "selfless manner" in which the host serves the guests. Therefore, the host did not put stalks of his new varieties in the tokonoma, a place of great ritual importance in Japan. Likewise, when the host arranged the potted irises along the wall of the room, he put the guest's varieties in the center of the row.

 When the guests appreciated the irises, they sat upright and bowed to them. This marked their respect for the flower. Next, the guests stood up and examined the shape and size of the style arms. They liked large and strongly formed style arms, and very much disliked small or poorly formed style arms. Because they believed that the flower's "mind" is in the style arms, being in the center of the flower, the style arms must be large and "right" as the heart of a human being should be.

 After appreciating the irises on display, guests talked with the host about cultivation and the shape and color of irises on display, but there was no "flower contest." Thinking that each variety has its own personality and virtue, the individual characteristics must be respected. Competition would be disrespectful.

 These Kumamoto irises devotees liked the arched flower form, which resembles the shape of Mt.Fuji. This was because they viewed the iris from the side, rather than from the top. Improvement of their varieties was directed to the creation of varieties suitable for display in a Japanese style room. We call their irises the "Higo type" after the old name of Kumamoto. Varieties of the Higo type are especially well liked by many Japanese hybridizers.
Fig.3 Tokyou dwarf plant disply
 The second type of indoor display I will address is the Tokyo dwarf plant indoor display. This is a method of pot culture and display devised by Mr.Ichikawa about 1930. Mr.Ichikawa used a flat pot about 30 cm in diameter and 3 cm deep to cultivate and display hanashobu. Usually ten to twenty rhizomes are planted in the pot during bloom season. The following year these plants will bloom seven to fifteen flowers.(Fig.3)
 The essence of the art of this unique method of cultivation is in skillfully controlling grows. The amount of fertilizer and water are carefully regulated, and the pot is moved in response to seasonal and weather changes. Care is taken to protect against disease and insect pests.
 To totality of flowers, leaves and pot produce a natural elegance of form pleasing to the eyes. The ability to succeed with this method can be said to spring from the resourcefulness of Mr.Ichikawa who, in his love of nature beauty, tried to bring it closer to his life.
 The suitable varieties for this method of display are not miniature types with smaller flowers, but rather smaller growing Edo and Ise cultivars. Undoubtedly this form of display shows the influence of bonsai. At present Mr.Noboru Kobayashi, who lives in Tokyo, avidly cultivates and displays his irises in this way.
Fig.4 Ise indoor display
 Ise, is the distinct in central Honshu where the Grand Shrines dedicated to the ancestors of the imperial family are located, and which has close ties to Kyoto. A unique type of hanashobu and a unique type of iris originated in Ise, and this is the third type of indoor iris display I will discuss.
 At the beginning of the 20th century, cultivation of irises for use in the unique Ise display was rather widespread in the Ise district. Popularity of this display style declined, however, and it seems that it is no longer practiced in Japan. As a result, many details of the Ise display remain unclear. Fortunately, the late Dr.Hirao illustrated the Ise style in his book Hanashobu(Kashima Publishing Co.,Japan,1959). Moreover he provided a short comment about Ise display in another of his book, The Japanese Iris(Asahi Shinbun publishing Co.,Japan,1971). (For those who have access to this book, it is noted that the comment is, regretfully, written only in the Japanese language.)
In the Ise style, potted flowers were displayed in front of a folding screen or a curtain in a Japanese style room(Fig.4). Twenty-seven plants were arranged in three ranks, nine plants in each rank. The person making this display gave great care to flower color, and the height of the flower stalks and leaves had to be about the same. A low screen in front of the first rank was used to hide the pots in which the irises were growing.
 Upon viewing and appreciating an Ise display, a guest would say to the host: "All the falls are sufficiently drooping downward." These words were the highest form of praise one could give to an iris display in Ise.
 The unique "Ise type" of Japanese iris was developed for this display. All Ise irises are single, the height of the flower stalks and leaves are about the same, and the falls droop downward. I think that the characteristics of Ise varieties, even more than those of Higo varieties, were influenced by the fact they were developed for indoor appreciation. Consequently, Ise varieties have shorter flower stalks than Higo varieties. Usually they are 70 to 90 centimeters in height. The shortness of stalk was one of the reasons the potted plants needed to be put on a flower stand for display.

The Japanese Mind and Hanashobu

 Several years ago I contributed an article to the Bulletin of The American Iris Society and the British Iris society Year Book entitled "Iris Hybridizers in Japan." Referring to the Japanese people, I wrote "When we look at flowers, we see the beauty of nature through the flowers ." Its spirit is suggested by the Tokyo dwarf plant indoor display. The flower, green leaves and soil in the flat pot symbolize or reflect the forms and features of a hanashobu garden landscape. When a Japanese person looks at it, his mind visits a large hanashobu garden and "takes a rest" there. His mind is always hoping for harmony with Nature. This spirit led to the creation of many hanashobu gardens and also to the creation of the Tokyo dwarf plant indoor display.
 On the other hand, the spirit of Kumamoto("each flower has its own personality") is important to the Japanese also. Japanese naturalistic religion, Shinto, grew out of the everyday life of the Japanese people in primitive times. All natural objects and phenomena were considered as having their own gods(kami). Today the majority of Japanese people have no interest in the tenets of Shintoism, but they nonetheless often sense that natural objects have distinct personalities. This Japanese characteristic has contributed to the various flower forms developed through iris hybridizing.(Fig.5)
 The reverence for Nature is an emotional and nonrational influence on the Japanese mind. At the same time, Japanese through is marked with an insular prejudice, stemming from the relative isolation and freedom from foreign invasion our nation experienced for many generations. This insular prejudice has prevented the Japanese from developing universal concepts so useful for international cooperation. The insularity of Japanese through has directed the Japanese mind toward the inner spirit rather than toward universal precepts. It is this inner direction of the Japanese mind that is reflected in the elegant ritual of tea ceremony and in the Kumamoto indoor display of Hanashobu.
 The development of the unique characteristics of Edo, Higo and Ise hanashobu varieties and the different display method associated with these three distinct hanashobu types are creative art forms which attempt to express the unique esthetic sense of the three Japanese regions.
 Dr.Shuichi Hirao, in his book The Japanese Iris, observed that the characteristics of Edo hanashobu may be likened in their smart, sophisticated air to the merchant culture which dominated Tokyo for so long. The Higo hanashobu have the solemn dignity of the daimyo, the feudal lords of pre-modern Japan. Ise hanashobu have the gentle grace of young women of noble birth.
 I think that the breeding of plants and the manner in which plants are displayed reflect the culture in which the plantsman lives. Unique cultural characteristics have their origin in centuries past.                                   

Fig.5 Flower form in Hanashobu
Edo type(horizontal)
Ise type (pendent)
Higo type(arched)