August: Ha-zuki

In the lunar calendar, August was the month in which leaves (ha) began to fall, hence the name “Ha-zuki“.
The official beginning of Autumn “Risshu” comes around the 7/8th day. However in the Gregorian calendar, August finds Japan still in the middle of lingering summer heat: sultry and sweltering.

One of the flowers commonly seen in Kyoto neighbourhoods this month is the Rose of Sharon (fuyo). It reaches a height of about three metres and the reddish-purple, five petaled flowers bloom until October. Some varietal strains bear white, pink and mixed colour flowers. In the tea ceremony world, this flower is representative of summer and is a favourite for the Chabana style of flower arrangement, expressing the ephemeral quality
of all things.

In this season of mid-summer, lotus (hasu) flowers are also linked to the Japanese psyche. According to ancient chronicles, the lotus was originally cultivated for medicinal purposes.
Later, different varieties were introduced from China with today’s most common types of lotus, having been introduced from the continent during the Meiji period (1868-1912)

There is an interesting etymology for the Japanese name for the lotus (hasu). After blooming, a hard honeycomb shaped pod is left. Since this looks like a beehive (hachi-no-su), the entire plant is referred to by the abbreviated (ha-su).

Lotus also have an essential role to play this month as decorations at the OBON festival, Japan’s great annual celebration of the returning dead. Offerings of food, flowers
and incense are given to every family grave in Buddhist temple cemeteries. Some of the other interesting rituals involving lotus include: pouring sake (rice wine) onto the big plate-like leaves with their hollow stalks stuck between people’s lips to act as metre long drinking straws.

Fundamentally, the lotus is the flower of the Buddha and is considered a divine and sacred plant. The lotus flower with it’s huge corolla, in blooming offers a fleeting vision of delicate shades of pink and white. The lotus symbolises birth and rebirth by the fact that petals open when the sun comes out and close when the sun sets. The long stem illustrates connection to our origins, growing from the muddy depths that symbolise the challenges of our everyday human existence.

In 1688, the famous Haiku poet Basho visited one of his disciples on the occasion of “Tama Matsuri” (Festival of the Spirits) which is a Buddhist custom to honour the departed (deceased) spirits of one’s ancestors. Cut lotus flowers were among the offerings placed on the spirit shelf “tamadana“. His haiku implies that lotus flowers blooming in a small pond are just as much offerings without being cut.

hasu ike ya/ ora da sono mama/ tama matsuri

lotus pond!/ not-pick this as/ festival of spirits

— Basho