Continuing with his seasonal almanac, Kiku was pleased to see that the ‘ko’ for 27th June read something like “Irises Bloom” (菖蒲華).
As a lover of flowers, the little English fox loved to visit anywhere flowers were in bloom from the formal stroll gardens to the front step container gardens popular in Tokyo.
Kiku asked Mama Kojin what she knew about the Japanese Iris. “Well,” she said, “the English term Japanese Iris probably covers 5 different flowers…”
She explained that there were four types of iris common in Japan:
Hanashoubu (Iris ensata) – ハナショウブ, 花菖蒲
Kakitsubata (Iris laevigata) – カキツバタ, 杜若
Ayame (Iris sanguinea) – アヤメ, 菖蒲, 文目
Shaga (Iris japonica) – しゃが, 著莪
As well as a plant called Sweet Flag, known in Japanese as Shoubu (ショウブ, 菖蒲) which was sometimes referred to as an iris but was from a different plant family altogether. Kiku noticed that the kanji for both ayame and shoubu were the same, with hanashoubu only being differentiated with the character for flower (hana) at the front, and so he wondered if the almanac reference could refer to several irises.
He asked Mama Kojin what she thought. “Well the shaga probably blooms earlier, but it is true that the best time to see a variety of irises in flower is from the middle of June to the end of July, so the almanac has chosen a time roughly in the middle. Do you know that there is a famous iris garden right here in Tokyo? It was featured in a woodblock print by Hiroshige, and you can still visit today.”
“Why don’t you two take a train there and see the garden?” Mama Kojin suggested to Kiku and Miko-chan. So the pair followed the instructions she had written down and travelled to Horikiri Shoubu-en, which is located in a suburb near the Arakawa river. The two friends had never seen so many irises blooming together before and had a wonderful time. They also found that just 200 metres away from the entrance, and closer to the river was the Horikiri Waterside Park (堀切水辺公園 or Horikiri-mizube-kouen), which although only having small area of irises, had fantastic views across the water to Tokyo Skytree, Miko-chans favourite building in Tokyo.
Getting to the Horikiri Iris Garden
Take the Keisei Main Line from Ueno Station, and Horikiri-Shobuen Station (堀切菖蒲園駅) is only 6 stops. The garden is a 10-15 minutes walk south and there are many little signs showing the way during peak blooming season.
There is also another station – Horikiri Station (堀切駅) on the Tokyo Sky Tree Line.
The Horikiri Waterside Park is very close by, on piece of land in the Arakawa River.
The Horikiri Iris Garden (堀切菖蒲園, horikirishoubuen) is located in Katsuhika ward, Tokyo, and has 6,000 irises. It is one of the oldest gardens in Tokyo.
Admission is free, and the garden is open from 9am to 4.30pm.