Iris (ayame)


Iris (ayame, shoobu, kakitsubata, airisu)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Mid-Summer
***** Category: Plant


Iris Flower (hanashoobu 花菖蒲) Iris ensata

ayame あやめ Ayame iris
hana ayame 花あやめ(はなあやめ)
shiro ayame 白あやめ(しろあやめ)white iris
kuruma ayame くるまあやめ
chabo ayame ちゃぼあやめ
Iris sanguinea

hanashoobu 花菖蒲 (はなしょうぶ) Shobu iris
shoobu mi 菖蒲見(しょうぶみ)viewing Shobu
shoobu en 菖蒲園(しょうぶえん)Shobu park
shobu ta 菖蒲田(しょうぶた)field with Shobu
Iris ensata

shiro shoobu 白菖蒲(しろしょうぶ)white Shobu
ki shoobu 黄菖蒲(きしょうぶ) yellow Shobu

shoobu 菖蒲 (しょうぶ ) Japanese Shobu iris
..... ayame あやめ、ayamegusa あやめ草(あやめぐさ)
noki ayame 軒あやめ(のきあやめ)iris under the eaves"
hakushoo 白菖(はくしょう) white Ayame iris
Acorus calamus

ichihatsu 鳶尾草 (いちはつ) Ichihatsu iris, "wall iris"
..... ichihatsu 一八(いちはつ)"one eight"
koyasugusa こやすぐさ
suiran 水蘭(すいらん) "water orchid"
Iris tectorum

. Blue Flag (kakitsubata 杜若) .
and Matsuo Basho about Hokku


kigo for early summer

airisu アイリス Iris
seiyoo ayame 西洋あやめ(せいようあやめ)"Western Iris"
Fam. Iris

niwazekisho 庭石菖 (にわぜきしょう) Niwazekisho Iris
Sisyrinchium rosulatum

sekishoo 石菖 (せきしょう) "stone iris"
ishiayame,ishi ayame 石菖蒲(いしあやめ)
Japanese Sweet Flag, Grassy-leaved Sweet Flag
Acorus gramineus

shaga no hana 奢莪の花 (しゃがのはな) Shaga iris
kochooga 胡蝶花(こちょうか)
Iris japonica Thunb.


http://www.kyoto-np.co.jp/kp/koto/96plant/june/3/gif/hanasyobu.JPG Hanashoobu

There are many more words in Japanese to differentiate between the many kinds of iris that flower mostly during the rainy season, giving a special elegance to an otherwise dreary season. In Japan, there are many famous Iris Parks and Iris fields, which I will introduce below.
Gabi Greve

Nisaburo Ito (1910-1988) 伊藤仁三郎


Famous Iris Fields in Itako
Itako Town in Ibaraki Prefecture lies beside the river Tonegawa. During the Edo period (1603-1868) it flourished as a relay port for the shipment of cargo from the north of Japan by water to the nation's capital, Edo. The beautiful scenery on the waterfront was much admired by writers and artists, many of whom visited the town.

Today, the Ayame (iris) Festival in June is the biggest tourist attraction. Along the sides of the river iris flower park has been set up, and as the season approaches, as many as one million individual plants of around 500 colorful varieties come into bloom in purple, white and yellow. During the festival season every year the town attracts about half a million visitors. Boatmen ply the waters in rowboats, taking sightseers on trips redolent of the past. If you are lucky, you might be able to see a beautiful bride going out to meet her bridegroom on one of these boats.
Have a look at some pictures of the area too.


The famous Meiji Shrine Iris Garden

Meiji Shrine in Tokyo is famous for its splendid Iris Garden, which was designed by the Emperor Meiji himself.
People take joy in painting and making haiku about these plants.

Look at many more beautiful pictures here:

More photos of the many Iris Festivals (ayame matsuri) in many areas of Japan.
Mizumoto Park, Horikiri Park and more in Ibaragi Prefecture.

Toyotsu City

Look at an Iris Garden in Yokosuka, Japan.


An Iris called TRILLION

Shared by Elaine Andre
Joys of Japan, February 2012

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

Story about Daruma Dolls with Iris Design



ayame あやめ was a way to call the cheaper prostitutes at the hatago hostels along the various kaido-roads of the Edo period.
Most came from poor farming families, had to do hard work in the hostels and died at a young age.
They were also called "women to put rice on the plate", meshimori onna 

四谷新宿馬糞の中で アヤメ咲くとはしおらしい
Yostuya Shinjuku bafun no naka de ayame saku to wa shiorashii
. prostitutes flowering in Yotsuya and Shinjuku, Edo .


In 1689 Matsuo Basho (松尾芭蕉) crossed the Natori River and entered Sendai, Miyagi on ‘ The Narrow Road to Oku.’ It was the day they celebrate by converting their roofs with ‘Sweet flags’, or Calami’ (あやめ). He visited there around the time of the Sweet Flags Festival (あやめの節句)(5th day of Fifth Month, also called the Boy’s Festival), when sweet flags were displayed on the eaves of houses to drive away evil spirits, or they took “Shobuyu, or 菖蒲湯 (bath with floating sweet flag leaves)” baths. The leaves keep mosquitoes and snakes away with strong fragrance. As the strong fragrance was believed to drive away bad air, people began to take baths with sweet flag leaves. Furthermore, the plant ‘Sweet Flag’ was believed to be a symbol of the samurai’s bravery because of its sharp sword-like leaves. Even now many families with young boys enjoy “Sweet Flag Bath(shobu yu)” in the Boy’s Festival on May 5.
source : Akita Haiku

CLICK for more photos
CLICK to see more stamps from Oku no Hosomichi.

Basho on his way from Sendai to Hiraizumi.

ayamegusa ashi ni musuban waraji no o

irises in bloom
let me tie around my feet
the cords of the sandals

Matsuo Basho,
Sendai, Oku no Hosomichi
. . . cirje/research

I shall tie
irises to my feet -
sandal thongs

Grass of the sweet flag -
I shall use them to tie
my straw sandals

Tr. Shirane

I will bind iris
Blossoms round my feet―
Cords for my sandals!

Tr. Keene

It looks as if
Iris flowers had bloomed
On my feet -
Sandals laced in blue.

Tr. Yuasa


asatsuyu no hajike furueru ayame kana

morning dew
shaking it off trembling
the iris

Gabi Greve

from the tallest iris
he partakes of the sunset
the tiny frog

Photo and Haiku from Gabi Greve
My Iris and the voice of Buddha (2005)


ware mo sasu terifurigasa ya hana shoobu

I will also put up
an all-weather umbrella -
iris flowers

Mitsuhashi Takajo 三橋鷹女

. terifuri-gasa 照り降り傘
umbrella for rain and shine .


In the archives of Shiki you find a collection of haiku about iris from 99.

through the picket fence
the thin blades
of irises
Yu Chang

Evening sunshine
after the rain –
yellow irises
Alison Williams

Read more here:


blue irises -
grandmother walks along
without her cane

- Shared by Cristina-Monica Moldoveanu -
Joys of Japan, March 2012


Watching the iris,
The faint and fragile petals ―
How am I worthy?

Amy Lowell



久保田万太郎 Kubota Mantaroo


.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Kakitsubata

summer again -
friends of two colors
side by side

© Photo and Haiku by Gabi Greve

Read more of my stories about Kakitsubata:

The literal meaning of the Chinese characters 燕子花 is
"Child of the Swallow", because the form of the flower looks like a baby swallow starting its first flight.


tsubakura mo shoobu fuku hi ni aeri keri

swallows too
the day eaves are thatched with irises
show up

-Issa, 1809

The night before the annual Boy's Festival (fifth day, Fifth Month), eaves of houses were thatched with grafts of blooming irises; Kiyose (Tokyo: Kakugawa Shoten, 1984) 122. The return of the swallows coincides with the human celebration.
Tr. David Lanoue


Katsushika Hokusai, 1834

stirred by wind
along the wayside
iris bows to strangers

Shared by Isabelle Loverro
Joys of Japan, February 2012

Related words

The long leaves of the iris (shoobu) reminded the samurai of their swords.
The word SHOOBU 勝負 also means a fight, usually to the death.

***** . seasonal festival of the iris .
菖蒲の節句 shoobu no sekku
The Boy's Festival on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, now May 5.


kigo for late spring

neji ayame 捩菖蒲 (ねじあやめ) "twisted iris"

barin 馬蘭(ばりん)、baren ばれん、nejibaren ねじばれん
Iris lactea

Grows to about 1 m long. Originated in China, with twisted leaves and light purple flowers.


Actor Matsumoto Koshiro

. Utagawa Toyokuni . (1769-1825)





Origa said...

from the tallest iris
he partakes of the sunset
the tiny frog

Gabi san, this haiku is absolutely lovely! As are all the photos in this entry. Thank you for the beautiful introduction! :-)

And may I share one of mine -- from the calendar for 2004, a collaboration of Mitsuge Abi (Japan) and myself:

wet garden --
a slug on the iris



Anonymous said...

Quote from HERE

Lis and Iris in French

The first use of the word "iris" in French is in a 13th c. manuscript, Le Livre des Medecines Simples, where it says: "iris porte roge flor et ireos blanches." The word existed before, to name a prism, or rock through which the light diffracts into a rainbow (here the etymology is clear: Iris, messenger of the Gods). How it came to designate the plant I don't know (ref: Godefroy: Dictionnaire de l'Ancienne Langue Francaise, vol. 10, Kraus reprints, 1969).

The first instance of the word "lis", plural of an unattested "lil" from Latin lilium, is around 1150 for the flower. The word is often found as metonymy for the lily flower, and used in numerous metaphors for whiteness, purity, etc.

For example, in Erec et Enéide by Chrestien de Troyes (ca. 1170): "plus ot que n'est la flor de lis, Cler et blanc le front et le vis" (forehead and face pale and white more than the lily flower) (example taken from: Tobler-Lommatzsch: Altfranzösisches Wörterbuch). The word fleur de lis is also used as metaphor for the Virgin Mary (1223). First clear-cut use of the word "fleur de lis" in its heraldic acception is in 1225 in Durmart le Gallois, although Victor Gay (Glossaire Archéologique du Moyen-Âge, vol. 1, Paris, 1887) claims that the word is used in an ordnance of Louis VII (1137-1180), without giving any reference.

What is really strange is that the lily was such a constant metaphor for whiteness, and would become a golden charge. As mentioned before, lilies are usually white, not yellow.


anonymous said...


By the way, let me tell you about those three kinds of Japanese iris and another kind of plant called “iris” in the ancient times of Japan.

The 1st kind of iris is the Hanashobu (ハナショウブ, 花菖蒲, Iris ensata var), growing in the wet land. It is the most extensively cultivated variety in Japanese gardens.

The 2nd kind of iris is the Kakitsubata (カキツバタ, 杜若, Iris laevigata), growing in the semi-wet land. It is less popular, but is also cultivated extensively.

The 3rd kind of iris is the Ayame.(アヤメ, 菖蒲, 文目, Iris sanguinea) typically growing wild on the dry land in Japan.

 The 4th plant doesn’t belong to the kind of iris but is called ‘Shobu’ (ショウブ、菖蒲) in Japanese, or ‘Ayame’ ( あやめ), or ‘Ayamegusa’ ( あやめ草) in the old Japanese terms. This is a plant called ‘Sweet flag’ belonging to the Acoraceae family, Calamus, and known for its fragrant roots, rather than its flowers.

The 1st kind of iris, Hanashobu are wonderful garden plants. As the word Iris means rainbow, irises come in so many colors: blues and purples, whites and yellows, pinks and oranges, browns and reds, and even blacks. The genus Iris has about 200 species and is native of North Temperate regions of the world.

more by
Hidenori Hiruta

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Matsuo Basho

hana ayame ichiya ni kareshi Motome kana

this Ayame iris
has withered over night
like actor Motome . . .

MORE about Yoshioka Motome

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

noki no shoou shinabinu uchi ni netari keri

fell asleep while
sweet flags on the eaves
were still fresh

This hokku is from lunar 5/5 (June 21) in 1806, when Issa was in the area to the east of Edo on a trip to visit some students. It seems to refer to the evening of 5/4, when preparations for the big 5/5 Tango children's festival began with people placing bunches of long, blade-like sweet flag leaves on their eaves, often tied together with mugwort leaves. Both of these herbs were believed to purify the house and its inhabitants and protect them at the start of the summer epidemic season, as was a bath taken the next day in which sweet flag leaves had been soaking. Sweet flag or calamus (shoubu) is a wetland plant that grows at the edge bodies of water, and it is often confused with Japanese irises (hana-shoubu), a different plant. Sweet flag has no flower petals like the iris but only a spadix or spike shaped like a small corn cob that puts out tiny green flowers. Sweet flag is loved, however, for its leaves, its attractive lemon-like scent, and its many medicinal qualities, which are probably the reason it was used to purify houses and is still used in healthful sweet flag baths. Presumably Issa is staying at a home where the the fragrant sweet flag and mugwort hang down from the eaves, and they all go to bed early, since tomorrow is a big festival day. The last thing he can remember seems to be the scent.

There may also be the suggestion that the visit went well and communication went on at just the right pace.

The first two links below are to views of a traditional house with sweet flag and mugwort leaves placed on and under the eaves. The third shows contemporary kids taking a sweet flag bath:


Chris Drake

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