It had a bit of a late start here, but tsuyu–the rainy season–is now upon us. Gray through the days are and uncontrollable though my hair is in all the humidity, there is a bright highlight to this season: ajisai, aka Hydrangea. These were some of the first flowers to be taken from Japan to Holland for study, however they were quite surprised when the deep blue flowers they saw in Japan grow into a firey pink once they planted them at home. This is because hydrangea have different colors depending on the pH level of the soil. Acidic soil will lead to blue flowers and alkaline soil will lead to pink flowers, but there is any range of blues and pinks and purples and whites in between.

This flower also has numerous possible meanings in modern hanakotoba (the language of flowers), some of which make sense with the color-changing tendancies: Capriciousness, arrogance, a persevering love, an energetic girl, ruthlessness, wantonness, a boastful person, betrayal, or even “you’re cold” or “you’re beautiful, but so cold!” Just by looking at this collection of meanings I can just imagine what kind of romance they might signify.

Of course, flower language isn’t a terribly old thing in Japan–it has a lot of its roots in Victorian flower language, so it’s taken on a lot of those meanings since Westernization. This native Asian shrub has been brightening the rainy season for centuries, and is the flower of choice to decorate the graves of the Matsudaira clan in Matsue.

Gesshouji is known as the hydrangea temple of the San’in region, and is is where the feudal lords who ruled over Matsue for 10 generations (following the short-lived Horio and Kyogoku ruling clans) are buried. The first of this Matsudaira line, Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu‘s own grandson Naomasa, ordered Gesshouji named in honor of his mother who is buried there as well. Naomasa’s is the largest grave there, but the 7th generation lord, Harusato (aka tea-loving Lord Fumai), also has a rather will decorated grave, and a special grave for used tea whisks. A ceremony is head every April on the anniversary of Fumai’s death to bury the used tea whisks and thank them for their service.

The other Matsudaira lords are also buried through the foresty temple, which each grave decorated in its own unique ways (including special motifs for Fumai’s lesser-known sake-loving son).

Tranquil though it is, the graves are hundreds of years old, so as I was observing the flourishing hydrangea…

…my peaceful state of mind was quite suddenly interupted by a mis-step.

Had anyone had witnessed it I’m sure they would have laughed at my face.

But enough about me. How about more hydrangea?

There is plenty more to say about this temple than just one post will justify. It’s best just to see it for yourself–they provide an English guide, as well as tea and wagashi (how could they not with Fumai buried there?), and a small museum of Matsudaira clan artifacts. That, and my camera ran out of battery just before I sat down to tea this time. This kind of atmosphere, thick with the scent of flowers and rain, is best enjoyed in person, is it not?

Of course, this entry doesn’t even begin to touch on Gesshouji’s most fearsome ghostly residents… that is a story for another time.

He’s waiting quietly… and I think he may be grouchy because of that.