The year was 1948 and Japan was still recovering from the aftermath of World War II. Eiichi Ogawa, the founder of Fujita Kogyo, took over Chinzanso after the war and transplanted 10,000 trees in order to restore the garden into a green oasis. The garden boasts a variety of flowers specific to each season, and they continue to plant more every year with the support of local elementary schools. The goal is to plant camellia trees and recreate the original "Camellia Hill," which founder Aritomo Yamagata was so fond of.
One of the main symbols of the Chinzanso garden is the "Tsubaki". The wild camellia originated from Japan and its scientific name is "Camellia japonica". Siebold, a naturalist who visited Nagasaki during the Edo period, introduced the camellia in the "Japanese Botanical Magazine" in 1853 with the romantic name of "Winter Rose". After that, tsubaki was praised as the “Aristocrat’s Flower" and became widely popular in Europe. It was around this time that the opera "La Traviata" was composed.
As the name "Winter Rose" implies, camellia flowers blossom from February to April. It’s a precious flower that adds a deep crimson color to any midwinter scenery, and the tree itself with its lush evergreen leaves keep the garden vibrant throughout the year. Highly prized in tea ceremonies, they are used to adorn the seat representing winter. The seat is covered in camellias of one color, and the one to sit upon it is called the “Queen of Camellias.”
As a common theme for Japanese poetry, there are many ways to illustrate “the coming of spring.” A well-known symbol for spring is the cherry blossom, but another less-known symbol is the falling camellia, or "Ochi-tsubaki". When the camellia wilts and falls, it doesn’t drop one petal at a time, but instead the whole flower comes down. There are countless examples of camellias in Japanese history. For example, Fushimi Castle boasted enough camelias to become known as "Camellia Castle". When Ieyasu Tokugawa founded the Edo Shogunate, a “Shiratama Camellia” flower was presented as a celebratory item. Hidetada Tokugawa, the second shogun, is known as a great admirer of camellias. And it’s said that the samurai were fond of the camellia because of its stability and strength, standing proud up until their final “fall”.
Camellias were extremely popular during the Edo period, and this led to high prices and high demand, to the point where many resorted to stealing them. They were so popular in fact that the people made up a saying to try to de-popularize the flower and make it less desirable because the demand was too much to handle. That’s the origin of the saying “Camellia flowers are unlucky because they fall in one piece.”
There are over 6,000 varieties of camellia in the world, with more than 2,000 of those from Japan alone. You can enjoy comparing the different varieties and their colors, petals, and shapes.