Imported from China around the 8th century, the chrysanthemum soon became popular with the Imperial family, and the flower’s motif is still ingrained in Japan’s national identity today. The Emperor’s role is euphemistically referred to as the “Chrysanthemum Throne,” and the Imperial Seal, which is featured on every Japanese passport, is a sixteen-petal chrysanthemum.
Various cities across Japan hold chrysanthemum festivals in the fall, usually running from October to November. The Nihonmatsu Chrysanthemum Doll Festival opened just last Friday in Fukushima prefecture’s Nihonmatsu city and is set to run until November 18th.
In the past, the Nihonmatsu chrysanthemum festival has ran for about seven weeks and could feature up to 30,000 flowers. However, due to the March 11th nuclear disaster and difficulty obtaining flowers, last year’s festival only ran for four weeks and could only muster about 6,000 chrysanthemums. This year, the Daily Yomuiri reports, the event organizers managed to obtain 10,000 flowers, and the festival will be extended to five weeks.
The Nihonmatsu festival features elaborate chrysanthemum displays, the most popular being the kiku ningyo, or chrysanthemum dolls, mannequins replicating well-known scenes from history, pop culture, and literature while dressed in clothing constructed out of chrysanthemums.
Other chrysanthemum pieces on display include ozukuri chrysanthemums, individual plants groomed to have 1,000 or more flowers.
Pennsylvania’s own Longwood Gardens has attempted to grow a true-to-name ozukuri several times, and finally managed to break the 1,000-point last fall, with 1.167 blooms from one plant. (Fun fact: Last fall, a Japanese ozukuri also reached a record 4,351 flowers.) A Longwood Gardens blog post from 2009 gives a detailed account of how horticulturists growozukuri. The post also features a video with commentary from the gardening crew and footage of them transporting the massive plant.
If you happen to visit Japan between now and mid-November, do try to attend one of the chrysanthemum festivals taking place, in Fukushima or elsewhere. If you won’t be making the 15-hour plane ride any time soon, don’t worry! Longwood Gardens has grown another ozukuri for this fall season, and will be putting it on display with other elaborate chrysanthemum pieces in their own Chrysanthemum Festival running from October 27th to November 18th.