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Chinese woodblock print of orchids (postcard)

Hanakotoba is the language of flowers: emotions or messages are communicated through the symbolism of flowers. Since it turned summer on June 21st, I figured I’d tell you about the meaning of orchids.

Mahjong Guardian Stone Summer OrchidAs a mah jongg-player I thought it was THE flower of the season, orchid being the Summer Guardian Stone. But having looked into Japanese flower symbolism, I seem to be wrong! Yeah well, mah jongg is originally Chinese, so.. :) Never mind. As the game is being played in Japan as well, this post is still relevant as my submission for June’s Hello Japan! mini challenge about Flowers & Japanese Gardens. ;)

Mahjongg Card Summer OrchidStarting of with a haiku by Yosa Buson (1716 ~ 1783), translated by R.H. Blythe.

An evening orchid,
Hidden in its scent,
The flower’s whiteness
yoru no ran
ka ni kakurete ya
hana shiroshi

The orchid represents refinement. It is no common plant and it’s pleasures are reserved for the privileged few, so it is also a symbol of the rare and precious. The essence of refinement is an continual process of improvement until absolute perfection is reached.

In the art of fortune telling with mah jongg cards or stones, the Orchid Guardian protects young girls. If it appears in response to a question about a daughter or a younger female relative, it serves to allay any anxieties regarding their welfare.

I have a white orchid at home. It was a birthday gift from my aunt several years ago. White seems appropriate for a flower like this, since it indicates purity and cleanliness in traditional Japanese society, and is seen as a blessed colour because of its sacred nature: it’s the colour of the gods and therefore free of all ‘contamination’. But what is maybe best — if you’re into Zodiac signs that is (which I’m really not) — the white orchid belongs to my sign of Pisces.

White orchids

I’ll leave you with the Japanese version of a beautiful song about flowers by Einstürtzende Neubauten: Blume, sung by Etsuko Sakamaki-Haas. I invite you to listen to the English translation afterwards.

Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan. June’s mission is ‘Flowers and Japanese Gardens’.

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Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task relating to some aspect of life in Japan. This month’s mission is ‘Back to School‘: to learn something, anything, about Japan.

I’ve been getting reacquainted with origami. In my early teens it was one of my biggest hobbies that started when I discovered how to fold a butterfly on an Asian open air market. It was probably the first Japanese thing I really got into — not counting my father’s enthralling stories about his childhood in a World War 2 Japanese prison camp… :\

Somewhere along the line I lost interest in the art of paper folding, but I never stopped using my golden paper fir trees as Christmas decoration! Unfortunately I can’t show you ‘cause they’re stowed away in the basement. You’ll have to wait till X-mas time! ;) Or ask Mr Gnoe whether it’s true.

Now that I’m having some kind of burnout, I’ve been looking for activities that are less intense than computer stuff, reading or watching movies. Enter: cooking, ‘gardening’ (on our small balcony), hiking & my old pastime origami. My brain is SO hazy I can’t remember a thing, not even how to fold the butterfly that I must have made a thousand times. So I started from scratch again by buying second hand copies of the instruction books I owned back in the days. Of course I had hung on to my multiple cute papers! :)

I’ve been learning how to do some of the old fav figures, but I had to learn something new for this month’s Hello Japan! challenge. Since I’ve also been looking into origata, the (related) art of gift wrapping, I here present the combined result: a spring birthday present with origami flowers I’ve never made before.

Spring birthday gift with origami flowers

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Edited to add: there’s a post up on Graasland explaining how to make these fancy origami flowers!
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As the gift is a book (Crossroads, by Niccolò Ammaniti), I also taught myself how to fold a crane bookmark. In Japan cranes are a symbol of longevity.

The mark is made of gold & blue paper: both colours symbolizing wealth. The feminine blue also represents self-cultivation, calmness and purity and pale blue is specific for April. The warm gold & cold blue tint are in harmony (yin & yang).

A present: novel & origami bookmark

But that’s not the only thing I’ve been learning this month… I also set my mind to learning how to count to ten in Japanese. I already knew how to get to eight, but now I’m trying to recognize the characters, know the digits out of order and to sum up to ten. And yes, I’ve got some proof! Listen to this. :)

1 t/m 4 in Japanese

I hope you’ve also contributed to April’s Hello Japan!? For each and every participant our host Tanabata is donating $6 (¥500) to either the Japanese Red Cross or — even more up my alley — Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue Support (JEARS)! No need to have your own blog, commenting on the challenge post is fine too.

I’ve already donated to JEARS but their work is so important that I hereby pledge to follow Nat’s example with the equivalent of €4,- per person. So please join us if you’ve got a chance!

Here’s why.

As you might know we love a colourful home. But except for walls painted in different colours we would also like to have some nice things on them. Well, today our Clifton Karhu Woodblock Print furoshiki arrived from Japan!

Most of Clifton Karhu’s works have strong colours. We’re sad to learn that he died in March this year.

We really love our new furoshiki but haven’t decided yet where to put it… Please help?

These are the different options… (numbers 1-4 from top to bottom):

Please let us know what you think?! That would be awesome, thanks!

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!

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