Japan's 72 Microseasons - #32
"Sacred Lotuses Unfurl Their Petals"
July 12 - 17
はす はじめて ひらく
Hasu hajimete hiraku
”Sacred lotuses unfurl their petals ”
One of Japan’s—if not all of Asia’s—most famously symbolic flowers begins its life in the mud.
Hidden away, they emerge during the height of summer in the dim pre-dawn light, petals delicately opening through the day until late afternoon when they close once again. They repeat this for three days, then from the fourth day they stay open and begin to flutter away.
Called the “flower of heavens,” the graceful lotus—with its perfectly balanced shape and elevated position above the water—seems almost purpose-built for poetic metaphor and religious symbology.
Hasu wa doro yori idete, doro ni somarazu
The lotus grows from the mud but is not stained by it
In addition to the mud thing, their seeds can lie dormant in dry lakebeds for seemingly endless lengths of time, only to be brilliantly reborn when the water returns.
Fittingly, it’s been long associated with reincarnation-focused Buddhism, often featured in art and statues of the Buddha throughout temples in Japan. Such temples will also often feature ponds where the real things can grow—particularly those temples associated with the Pure Lands sect of Buddhism, which seeks to create physicals representations of paradise here on Earth.1
It is perhaps funny then, that with all this longstanding sacred connotation, that the Japanese word hasu has nothing to do with enlightenment from samsara, but rather a much simpler visual connection. Have a look at a lotus pod once the flowers are gone:
If you thought: “those look a bit like beehives,” then you’re of a similar mind to the Japanese speakers of a couple thousand years ago. The word hasu is said to be a derivative of hachinosu (蜂の巣), which means—you guessed it—beehive. And given the bright blossoms are only around for a short time, the holey sight of the pods would have been the more common one for most.2 The flower’s kanji character is similarly utilitarian in origin: 蓮 is a combination of the character for stretching out (連) and the “grass” radical (艹), giving us an ideogram meaning “grass that stretches out (of the water).”
The seeds and petals have had various medicinal uses over history, but its the root which has enduring popularity as a tasty tuber with a starchy texture and unique appearance. No use letting the whole plant go to waste once the flower is gone!
Lotus root, or renkon (蓮根) in Japanese, is happily available year-round to enjoy in stews, side dishes, and fried as tempura, but some of the items below are more specific to this microseason:
● Seasonal vegetable
tōmorokoshi, トウモロコシ, corn
● Seasonal seafood
tobiuo, 飛び魚, flying fish
● Seasonal flower
hasu, 蓮, sacred lotus3
There is certainly something magical, divine, inspiring, or just plain cool about how at a single time each year, a place can be suddenly transformed with bursts of color and life. How for just a few days, a bit of heaven can be glimpsed in a muddy pond.
See you next kō~
Keep up with the seasons
There are a few other names: suifuyō (水芙蓉, “water hibiscus”), ikemigusa (池見草, “plant you see in ponds”), and the very straightforward mizu no hana (水の花, “water flower”)
Specifically Nelumbo nucifera