Seventh feudal lord of the Matsue Domain, Matsudaira Harusato (aka Lord Fumai), has just gotten major a facelift.


I was asked to make a cover for the February 2015 issue of the city newsletter, and I wanted to do something that felt very representative of Matsue to me. I like history and I like drawing portraits, so I wanted to draw a historical figure. Hands down, this tea-loving lord is my favorite figure of Matsue’s history. Furthermore, they wanted something bright and flashy, so flowers typically work for that. What’s more, I really like camellia (tsubaki), and they are one of the flower symbols of Matsue, and they are frequently used in the tea ceremony, and the camellia valley on the Matsue Castle grounds starts going into major bloom around late February. So Lord Fumai and camellia seemed my obvious choice for content.

Until I asked whether they wanted something like my cartoony Fumai-ko they might have seen before, or if they’d prefer something a little more refined.

My cartoony Fumai-ko to explain Bote-Bote Tea.

“Refined! Refined!” they cheered.

But, given my artistic roots, “refined” mentally translated to “shoujo manga.”

Unfortunately, this is not a face that translates well in shoujo manga.

Ironically, I’m writing this post as the “Portrait In Museum: The Appeal of Portraiture” exhibit is going on at Shimane Art Museum (until March 9). This historical portrait is one of the featured pieces.

Something felt terribly off to me as I was working on it, so much so that I covered up the face while working on the flowers so that I wouldn’t be so disgusted with the results. I consulted with fellow artists to see if there was something I could fix in the anatomy, and as pretty as we all sort of felt it was, we could not quite tell what was so bothersome about it. The people who requested it for the newsletter all loved it and thought it was beautiful, but I was still very put off by it.

The reception has mostly been good, though people go out of their way to say how pretty the camellia are opposed to mentioning the odd figure in the middle, or he’s just an afterthought and people don’t notice him as much as I do. Many people didn’t recognize that it was Lord Fumai even though he was labeled as Lord Fumai right by the spot that said, “Hey! Your local American CIR drew this!” As a couple of elderly acquaintances brought it up in conversation, one said to the other, “There were such pretty camellia! And she drew Lafcadio Hearn, too.” No!! Hearn gets to be on covers all the time, but Fumai is my favorite, so I wanted him to be on the cover!

At last, a friend who is not regularly steeped in the worlds of glittery shoujo manga saw it and burst out laughing, as she articulated right away what was so funny about it—-why is this old man so pretty???

It’s gotten a little easier to look at since then, as I now know what was so weird was about it. Apparently, all that green tea gave him the power of Matcha Magic for this spectacular transformation!


To follow up the previous post about camellia, one of the first things I ever learned about them was that unlike most flowers, they don’t just lose their petals little by little.

Although some varieties do shed petals somewhat profusely.

Rather, most of them just roll off the tree in their entirely and hit the ground with a plop–pottori!–and this reminds some people of heads. Therefore, the darker association with camellia is that they can signify an untimely, sudden death.

Of course, there are plenty of other flowers with morbid meanings, and it’s not as if this is the first thing that comes to mind people see these flowers. In the Edo era, when the castle town of Matsue was founded, these bushes were planted in abundance because their oil was used for polishing katana–nowadays it mostly used for polishing hair. Some people might also be reminded of the 1962 Akira Kurosawa film Sanjuro and their use as a plot device in that movie (not to mention part of the title character’s on-the-spot name).

Whatever the association might be, where there are camellia bushes (or trees, as the case may be!), there are fallen blossoms on the ground, and I rather enjoy them. It’s hard to say why–maybe because it’s interesting to see where they wind up, or maybe it’s similar to how people feel when they see cherry blossoms scatter?

We’re probably all familiar with the rose–but how about its native Asian cousin, the camellia? While Camellia Sinensis is the plant that tea leaves comes from, C. Japonica comes in a wide variety of blossoms. It’s known here as 椿 (tsubaki), and it is one of the symbol flowers of Matsue. In Western flower language the camellia stands for an unpretending sort of excellence, and the Japanese Hanakotoba are more along the lines of modesty and loveliness beyond reproach (or in a white camellia’s case, a cool beauty). It also has connotations with love–an ideal love, or slightly different meanings by color. A red camellia may mean “I’m in love” or “I have a reserved kind of love,” whereas a white camellia might have more to do with waiting. Many camellia varieties may have buds for a few months before blooming–I’m willing to bet that’s where they got the “waiting” part!

There was a variety of camellia that bloomed through most of the winter all through town (and which smelled very sweet!), but most of the more unique varities–or even the most basic red ones which first come to mind when someone pictures them–all burst into bloom around the same period of time earlier in March, and are still continuing to bloom now. The big pink ones right outside my office just opened up over the past few days! While I’m always excited to see what varieties are peaking over the fences around the neighborhood, one of the best places to see them is in the camellia forest on the western Matsue Castle grounds, home to about 450 camellia trees. The San’in Camellia Club just held their 44th camellia show on the castle grounds over this past weekend, too.

Now here’s a whole bunch of pictures I’ve been collecting over the past few weeks:

There are some other connotations associated with the camellia that I’ll bring up in my next entry about them.