The Japanese Maple and Its Inspiration

What is a Japanese Maple?

According to “The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language”, by Houghton Mifflin Company, A Japanese Maple is an Eastern Asian shrub or small tree (Acer palmatum / Acer japonicum) widely cultivated for its decorative, deeply and palmately lobed, often reddish foliage. Furthermore, it is an ornamental shrub or small tree of Japan and Korea with deeply incised leaves, cultivated in many varieties.

The Inspiration

The Japanese Maple has an essence of grace, beauty, tastefulness, elegance, mood and feeling, with its horizontal branches and space.  These trees attract many people, not only for its brilliant fall color, but also for their leaf shape, texture, delicacy, and as a four season tree.  These trees sing seasonal songs through out the year. Their buds swell and anticipate new fresh leaves unfolding in spring.  They bring a cool feeling with bright green color in summer.  The Japanese Maple produces outstanding color in fall and in the winter, they become naked showing everything from old wounds to the beautiful movement of the tree along with a winter silhouette.

We commonly find the Black Pine and Flowering Cherry in Japanese paintings. The Japanese Maple has always been thought of as poetic. The Japanese Maple was best captured in Japanese court poetry, in the “waka” or “tanka” style dating from the 7th through 13th centuries because of the feelings they evoke.  That is perhaps the reason it is easy to find many songs and poems written about Japanese Maple trees.  Japanese are familiar with  special phrases like “Momiji-gari”, which literally means hunting Maple or Maple viewing. Many people visit and enjoy the fall color of wild and natural Japanese Maples in the mountains or fields of Japan. Furthermore, there is a Japanese expression, “Yama ga moeru” which translates to “burning mountain in autumn” because an entire mountain filled with wild Japanese Maples can transform into a fiery crimson red due to the color of the Japanese Maples in the distance.

Poems About Japanese Maples

Here is one of hundreds of Japanese poems written in reference to Japanese Maples:

In Japanese:
Arashi fuku
Mimuro no yama no
Momijiba wa
Tatsuta no kawa no
Nishiki nari keri
- Noin Hoshi

In English:
By the wind storm's blast
From Mimuro's mountain slopes
Maple’s leaves are torn,
Which turn Tatsuta River
Into a rich brocade.
- Monk Noin

This poem is from a collection of poetry from the Japanese book titled “Ogura Hyakunin Isshu” or “Hyakunin Isshu” which  is an anthology of 100 poems by 100 different poets.


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