Monday, 4 June 2012

Three times iris viewing in May, a flower worth a poem

Last month I visited three of the most famous spots in Kyoto for iris viewing, for the month of May is the perfect time for this flower that inspired poets in Japan since ages. One of the oldest poems, from the Heian period (794 to 1185) recounts about the iris at Ōta Shrine. The iris pond at Ōta Shrine, or Ōhta Shrine, is so famous and beautiful that it is a National Natural Treasure. These irises flowering early to half May are called rabbit-ear iris, Kakitsubata in Japanese:

''Kamiyama ya ōta no sawa no kakitsubata
Fukaki tanomi wa iro ni miyu ramu''

''Like the kakitsubata at Ōta Wetland, a God-sent heaven,
my trust in you can be seen in the color of their flowers.''

The famous irises create a cloud of purple which can't be matched (see no.'s 1). To realize that they have been showing their splendour to their admirers for over a thousand years is equally stunning. You can watch the spectacle day and night and you do not even need a ticket. Although a 300 yen donation is of course appreciated. You can just leave it in the donation box. When you've seen enough and can only see purple spots in front of your eyes, pray for good health or a happy marriage at the shrine that is dedicated to the god of plentiful harvests.

Starting at the top, every visit after this would have to be a letdown of course. Additionally, timing is difficult when it comes to nature. The timing at Ōta Shrine was absolutely perfect, on May 14th. But I can't help but thinking I was too late at Heian Shrine (May 16th, no.'s 2) and Umenomiya Taisha (May 17th, no's 3) to find the irises in their prime. Alas, no time left to visit the fourth most famous iris viewing spot, Oharano Shrine.

Fortunately I do have a second chance in June at Heian Shrine. Other species will bloom that moth, hanashobu and ayame. In May there was no cloud of purple, or yellow, or white... Just a few specks here and there. Luckily, Heian Shrine garden has other features that do make a visit worth wile. The garden contains three ponds, with great amounts of water lilies, which are also a raffle to see. The last pond does not even need flowers, but is magnificent through the beautiful bridge built over the water.

Umenomiya Taisha garden was less of a sight, so bedraggled it was somewhat funny and strange to walk through the rusty gate and rather unkempt garden. Although, when the timing is right, it could be worth the trip to this slightly out of the way place with a tower of sake barrels to worship. Umenomiya should at least be a showcase of the most species of iris when they're blooming (apart form Kyoto Botanical garden maybe). Well, June arrived and I'm ready for another round!


  1. Hi, it's first time for me to post a comment to your blog.I went to Heian Shrine a couple of month ago.It was just before cherry blossoms starting to bloom.I thought I mistook the day I came, but I don't like people crowded, I prefer to go tourist spots without any event. Anyway, I was surprised to find that you know much about a place where you visit. I always go and take picture, that's all. I found myself I need to learn more!

    1. Christel (So Kyoto)5 June 2012 at 05:46

      Dear iko84, thank you for your reply! I agree that it is very pleasant to visit the most beautiful places and be alone :) In such a popular city as Kyoto it is a rare thing. However, the times I chose to visit these three places were maybe chosen well, because they were not crowded at all. For my articles I need to know about the subject, which is a good thing to force myself to 'study' and research! Also it is a nice way to get to talk to people about the subject and sometimes even get 'guided tours' because of the shown interest :) Please visit So Kyoto again!

  2. Thats a very interesting picture with the girls jumping from stone to stone. Did you see anybody fall in the water? that woulda made my day. Also, I love all the color you were able to capture. Amazing!! :-)

    1. Christel (So Kyoto)5 June 2012 at 16:09

      Hi hardkoretom, Thank you for your comment! I was between hoping and fearing one would fall... :) But no, they reached the other side safely. It would have been a killer capture though! Thanks for the compliment!

  3. I know it has been a while since you updated this blog, but how can I contact you? Are you on facebook or do you use email? I am a big fan of your blog! I teach in Japan now and studied at the University of Utrecht for one year. I am American.