In Japan, when the rainy season comes, blue and purple flowers start blooming everywhere. These are Hydrangea flowers, called Ajisai in Japanese. In this article, we will introduce interesting facts about hydrangea, hydrangea’s flower meaning, and the best places to see them in Japan.
Table of Contents
- The Japanese Hydrangea (紫陽花・アジサイ)
- Hydrangea Season in Japan
- Ajisai’s Meaning in the Language of Flowers
- Best Places to See Hydrangea in Japan
Hydrangea are called 紫陽花 (ajisai) in Japanese, also commonly written as アジサイ in Katakana. It is said that the name 紫陽花 was derived from 集真藍 (azusai), which means “藍（青）色が集まる (aoiro ga atsumaru) - a gathering of blue”.
Hydrangeas are said to originate from Japan and some other Asian countries. There is Japanese literature from ancient Japan’s Nara period (710~784) that talks about Ajisai. It is said that not much was known about ajisai in ancient times, and that when Japan implemented its open door policy, foreigners from the West came to know about ajisai. They brought the original species of ajisai back to the West, reproduced it, and named it Hydrangea (ハイドランジア).
Types of Ajisai / Hydrangea
There are over 50 species of hydrangea that can be roughly divided into 2 categories:
ガクアジサイ (gaku-ajisai) / Japanese Hydrangea : the original native Japanese hydrangea
ハイドランジア (haidoranjia) or 西洋アジサイ (seiyou-ajisai) / Western Hydrangea : ajisai that were crossbred and reproduced in the West
Hydrangea Comes in Different Colours
Hydrangeas come in many different colours and colour gradients. There’s the classic blue and purple characteristic of the original Japanese hydrangea species, and also pink, red, white, green.
Why do Hydrangeas change colour?
If you have a hydrangea plant, you may discover that the colour can change. This is because the colour of hydrangea flowers depends on the nature of the soil, and also the amount of time that has passed since blooming. The reason for this is a natural pigment called anthocyanin that hydrangea plants contain. This pigment is affected by aluminium absorbed by the plant from the soil - the more aluminium, the bluer. Additionally, the more acidic the soil, the more easily aluminium dissolves, and the more easily it is absorbed by the plant.
This is why blue to purple ajisai are especially common in Japan. Because the soil here is highly acidic. In comparison, hydrangeas in the West are commonly pink to red-purple because of the alkaline soil.
Then what about the white hydrangeas?
White hydrangea specieses are unique. They never change colour, always producing white flowers despite the nature of the soil. This is because white hydrangea species lack the anthocyanin pigment, allowing them to grow pure white flowers. If your white hydrangea turns red, purple or blue, it is likely not a white hydrangea species. Many white hydrangea species gradually turn green as they age and decompose.
The Colour Becomes Deeper as Time Passes
When hydrangea flowers have just bloomed, they are more of a cream colour. As time passes, the colour will gradually change, becoming a darker pink, red, purple, or blue depending on the nature of the soil, until eventually it reaches its peak.
The Spread of Ajisai in Japan
In the post-war period, the spread of infectious diseases in Japan became widespread. During this time, the concept of using Ajisai as decorative flowers for those who had passed away started. Additionally, hydrangeas grow easily so they started to be planted in many places. From there, ajisai came to bloom in mountains, forests, and even shrines and temples.
The hydrangea season in Japan coincides with the rainy season. This is how Ajisai came to be the symbol flower of 梅雨 (tsuyu) - the Japanese rainy season. The rainy season in Japan is usually from early June to mid-July, while Ajisai starts to bloom from the end of May and early June. The best time to see hydrangeas is mid June to early July when they are at full bloom.
Hydrangeas are one of the things to be glad about during the rainy season. Despite the cloudy and wet days, coming across a beautiful blooming hydrangea is sure to lift your mood. It makes you come to appreciate the beauty and small happy encounters even during gloomy times.
花言葉 (hana kotoba) is the Japanese language of flowers where each type of flower carries its own special meaning. In the language of flowers, hydrangeas can symbolise “family”, “harmony”, and “friendship”. This is derived from the appearance of its close cluster of tiny flowers.
However, hydrangeas can also carry negative meanings - “fickle”, “cheater”, and “heartless”. This is apparently because the colour of hydrangea flowers change through the season.
Each Colour Has a Different Meaning As Well
Hydrangeas as a whole has a certain meaning, as mentioned above, but each color has a different meaning as well.
Blue / Purple Hydrangea Meaning
Blue and purple are the standard colours of Ajisai in Japan. Since they give off a cold and cool impression, they carry the meaning of “beautiful but cold”, “arrogant” and “heartless”. On the other hand, they also mean “mysterious”, “intelligent” and “serene” due to their dignified appearance in the rain.
Red / Pink Hydrangea Meaning
Red and pink hydrangeas are mainly found in Europe. They mean “energetic female” and “strong love” in the language of flowers. The flower language of “Energetic Female” in particular was bestowed by the French.
Pink hydrangeas also carry the meaning of “love”. In recent times, they have grown popular as a Mother’s Day gift. An alternative from the usual carnations.
White Hydrangea Meaning
White hydrangeas mean “devoted love” , “unwavering affection”, and “generosity”. It expresses the white hydrangeas purity that is unstained by other colours.
Green Hydrangea Meaning
The green hydrangea アナベル (Annabelle) has increased in appearance recently. The flowers typically bloom white before ageing and turning green. The green hydrangea (Annabelle)’s hana-kotoba is “patient love” because we need to patiently wait for it to show its true colours (literally).
Different Hydrangea Types also Can Carry Different Meanings
Not just by colours, a different variety of hydrangea may also carry a different flower language meaning. Here we introduce some of the most common ones you can find in Japan.
額紫陽花 / ガクアジサイ (Gaku-Ajisai) : Modesty
The Gaku-Ajisai is a native Japanese hydrangea species. Compared to our common impression of hydrangeas, it has a small centre and few flowers, which is why it symbolises “modesty”.
山紫陽花 / ヤマアジサイ (Yama-Ajisai) : Maiden’s Love
So named because they grow in the mountains, Yama-Ajisai’s appearance makes it difficult to identify them as hydrangea. They have tiny flowers that barely cluster. Their cute and seemingly shy and delicate appearance gave it the meaning of “maiden’s love”. It also carries the meaning of “earnest love”.
てまりてまり (Temari Temari) : Family Peace & Harmony
The Western Hydrangea, also known as the “temari temari”, has cute round petals. Its many small flowers grow together forming a ball shape resembling a family’s close relationship.
There are several spots in Japan that are well known for their beautiful hydrangeas. Here are some of them.
Kyu Nakagawa Mizube Park / 旧中川水辺公園 (Tokyo)
This spot is famous because you can take a photo of hydrangeas with the Tokyo Sky Tree. Many species and colours of Ajisai can be seen in the park. Moreover, there is a river where you can enjoy boat rides.
When? Beginning of June
Price? Free admission
Opening Hours? 24 Hours
Meigetsuin / 明月院 (Kamakura City, Kanagawa)
Kamakura City is a popular place to visit for hydrangeas with many famous spots, this is one of them. Meigetsuin is one of the most famous and popular spots for hydrangea viewing. T
When? Beginning to mid-June
Price? 500 yen
Opening Hours? 08:30 to 17:00 (last entry 16:30) ※June only.
Website : https://trip-kamakura.com/place/230.html
Mimuroto-ji / 三室戸寺 (Uji City, Kyoto)
There are many beautiful ajisai spots in Kyoto City, where traditional Japanese culture flourishes. Kyoto is home to many temples, so you can see ajisai at temples. Among the many beautiful temples in Kyoto, Mimuroto Temple in Uji City is especially beautiful. They are known for their heart shaped hydrangeas.
Price? 1000 yen
Opening Hours? 08:30 to 15:40 ※ Ajisai Garden hours.
Website : https://www.mimurotoji.com/
Kobe City Forest Botanical Gardens / 神戸市立森林植物園 (Kobe City, Hyogo)
When you think of Kobe, you think of its beautiful nature. The Kobe City Forest Botanical Garden boasts over 350 varieties and 50,000 hydrangeas. One of the best places to see ajisai in western Japan. The Garden is very big, so take your time exploring.
When? Mid-June to early July
Price? 300 yen
Opening Hours? 09:00 to 19:00 (last entry 16:30)
Closed Day? Wednesday
Website : https://www.kobe-park.or.jp/shinrin/