Houses of Sleep
Willow Woman
East West
Decline of Taste
Note on Yeats
Oscar Wilde
Again on Hokku
On Poetry
Again on Poetry
Morning Fancy
Ink Slab 




My friend looked aghast when I declared: "The beauty that we gladly attach to the Japanese plum-blossom (I say Japanese to distinguish it from the Western plum-blossom) may not exist; it is, I dare say, only the stories or poems of long-dead people which are associated with them that make them look beautiful." I do not mean to speak striking language merely to pose as a clever man; I always believed in what I said to my friend upon the plum-blossom. It would perhaps be better to begin with the definition of beauty; beauty is no beauty, I think, if it has no universal appeal. I almost thought it wrong to speak of the beauty of the plum-blossom, though beautiful it is in some meaning; I was often asked by a foreigner why we make so much of them. It is perfectly right of him not to see the beauty which we think we see well; because a Japanese story or poem in association with the plum-blossom makes no slightest impression on his mind. It is in that story or poem, as I said before, their beauty is, but not [<84] in the flowers themselves. We at once see the tremor of the ghosts of old history or tradition, the ghosts of reminiscences, in the thrill of whiteness in their petals, we might say, like something of an angel's smile or like a rim Of eternity; if there is an unmistakable beauty in the plum-blossom, it is in your own mind. Well, after all, where is beauty if not in your imagination?
    However, there are some reasons why our ancestors loved the plum-blossom and we love them still. I do not know how we became the passionate lovers of flowers: it is the fact that we are; and during the months of winter we are. deprived of joy with the flowers. And the plum-blossom happens to appear from under much snow and wind as a harbinger or prophet of spring. Some Japanese essayist says: "you are the prophet Jeremiah; you are John the Baptist. Standing before you I feel as though in the presence of some solemn master. Yet by your presence I know that winter has passed and that the delightful spring is at hand." The fact of their being a first-born among the flowers makes the Oriental mind, in [<85]  love of symbolism and allegory, associate it with courage and undaunted spirit; their simplicity in appearance, their utter lack of wealth in floral substance, has become profitably an object-lesson for the cherishing of pride even in poverty. A thought of plum-blossom reminds me of an age, perhaps the age under the Hojo feudalism, when life's simplicity was promulgated even as a theory; I think the love and admiration of the plum-blossom belong to a comparatively modem age in Japan, which is almost agelessly old. But I do not mean to say they had no admirer in ancient age: they had, for instance, Michizane of the ninth century.
    There is, in fact, an almost endless list of people in Japanese tradition or story who have left a sign of close attachment for them; they are not the flowers for children and people uneducated, but for those of culture and imagination, who are in truth their creators and at the same time their admirers. The mere existence of them as flowers is slight; but it is our imagination that makes them great.
    Now, speaking of the evolutionary side, it seems to me that they have almost reached the [<86] highest possible when they turn to fragrance; the flowers gained it by sacrifice of the bodily beauty. Oh, what a fragrance I If there is any flower that shows the utmost economy of force, it is the plum-blossom. If they exist, they exist in suggestion; they are not the flowers of display like the cherry-blossom or camellia. They are suggestive: therefore they are strong. They are the Oriental flower through and through, and, above all, the gentleman of flowers of the East-simple, brave, economical, true and suggestive.
    I always come to a plum orchard at the proper season, not only to admire them but to gain the spiritual lesson. Our forefathers used the flowers and trees to advantage as an object-lesson, as it is was not the day of text-books; and I hate to learn from the books, and come to the plum-blossom to improve my thoughts, and always feel happy that I have learned something of them. [<87]