"Oh, crikey," I thought, "I've written so many posts about irises. How do I find new information for this grey spirit yearning in desire to follow knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought"?¹
So I opened a Smirnoff Ice Wild Grape; opened another one; contemplated life, the universe and everything; paged through my dusty old books; and there it was … in a book published long before Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Google … the origin of Boys' Day, a holiday celebrated in May.
"Tango-no-sekku, Boys' Festival, is an occasion to express thanks for the healthy growth of boys and pray so as to make them safe from sickness and evil influence." Apparently it originated in an ancient rural custom: May was when insects began to appear to harm plants, and that's when farmers tried to get rid of bugs with bright banners and grotesque figures planted in their paddies.²
These figures eventually turned into the beautiful samurai dolls bought for boys nowadays.
Boys were also washed in a bath made with the leaves of an iris called called Shōbu-yu (菖蒲湯). Shōbu (菖蒲) is a Japanese iris, but shōbu (勝負) also means a match or bout, so – Japan does love its homonyms – the flower will help you to fight against evil.
If you're a boy. If you're a girl, you sit there and look cute until a clever, strong, brave boy rescues you, in other words, marries you (link).
Tango-no-sekku is still celebrated in Japan. It's a public holiday that's called Children's Day, but in reality it focuses on boys. Girls have another day, Hinamatsuri or Dolls' Festival, which is not a public holiday.
Flowers. Let's be a girl and think pretty thoughts.
A week ago I discovered a gem of an iris garden in Katsushika thanks to a friend called Adriana. She looks like a princess but she's actually a cockroach queen, but that's another story for another day.
It's called the Horikiri Iris Garden (堀切菖蒲園), and it's an utter delight. I've been to more famous spots such as the Meiji Jingū Iris Garden, but it's so crowded that it turns into a ghastly experience. Horikiri is remarkably quiet, although I should add that we arrived very early and left when the school groups started arriving.
It's unexpectedly big, and it hides in a quiet shitamachi suburb just off the Arakawa River.
|Horikiri Iris Garden. Entrance is free.|
The walk through that area was doubly poignant to me, because in that same week a university student had told me that Horikiri is rural (oh, sweetie, you have NO IDEA!) and very dangerous (ditto). She has an apartment near Horikiri Station, but she hates it because her neighbours drink and knock on her walls and sometimes her front door.
"Have you complained to the landlord?"
After torturous silences, prompting, nourishing, nurturing, sensei adding 2 and 2 and getting 12, it turns out she doesn't want to complain because the perpetrators would then know that she had complained.
"Why don't you move?" I asked her.
Repeat above-mentioned process, and conclude that relocating would be mendokusai (a nuisance).
There are days when I get so frustrated with Japan's university students that I want to scream. Naïve at best, immature at worst. Let me state categorically that Horikiri is a lovely area, and that there is no danger. Nothing. Zip zero nada nothing niks.
I know I'm generalizing, but … another student in that same class told me that a certain station in Aichi was very dangerous because there are many Koreans and Brazilians in that area. MarymotherofJesuswept. I hear that theory every day. I'm so tired of the trope of dangerous foreigners that I didn't even argue. I said "oh" and changed the topic.
End of rant.
Although the iris garden is the main attraction in this area, there's another hidden gem closer to the river called the Horikiri Waterside Park (堀切水辺公園 or Horikiri-mizube-kōen), and that's where Adriana really wanted to take me. The woman knows I'm besotted with Sky Tree, and lo and behold, you get beautiful shots of flowers plus towers from this spot.
|Approaching the Horikiri Waterside Park. The iris garden is very small, but once you're there ...|
|... this is what you see.|
How to get there
My recommendation is to go via Horikiri-Shōbuen Station (堀切菖蒲園駅) on the Keisei Main Line: the garden is an easy 15-minute walk from the station. During iris season, you can simply follow the garden's banners all the way from the station.
Another possibility is from Horikiri Station (堀切駅) on the Tokyo Sky Tree Line.
The Horikiri Waterside Park is to the west, on a narrow strip of land in the Arakawa River.
It was supposed to be a flower post, and I complained. I'm sorry, but … kids … you gotta wake up and smell the weeds.
I will respond to comments, also on older posts, towards the beginning of next week.
1) Quote from Tennyson's Ulysses, which remains my all-time favourite poem.
2) Read more about irises and evil here.
|Entrance to Horikiri Iris Garden|
|Spotted near the garden|
|Bookshop near the station|
|It's called Lucky Street, and nearby ...|
|... you can see statues of the shichifukujin or seven lucky gods.|
|Dragonish water basin at a neighbourhood temple. Or was it a shrine? Can't remember.|
|This is iris country!|
|This is REALLY iris country.|