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Botan

Motif Information
Motif Botan 01.jpg
Rōmaji Botan
English Peony
Kanji 牡丹
Kana ぼたん
Season Late spring, early summer
Seasonal Exceptions Winter
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Flower
Pronounciation
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Peonies in Full Bloom in the Garden of Kichisuke (浪花百景 吉助牡丹盛り, Kichisuke botan sakari, 1860), from the series One Hundred Views of Osaka (Naniwa hyakkei) by Nansuitei Yoshiyuki in the collection of Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Detail of botan on byobu (1595-1600) by Kaihō Yūshō at Myōshin-ji
Peonies in the Tokugawa Garden (東京拾二題 落合徳川ぼたん園, 1928), from the series Twelve Scenes of Tokyo by Yoshida Hiroshi


Botan refers to peonies (Paeonia spp.). Peonies come in two varieties, one that resembles a deciduous tree and a herbaceous (perennial bush) variety. Both have compound lobed leaves. Peonies can be white, yellow, pink, purple, red, or variegated and new cultivars are being bred to this day.

Botan were introduced from China to Japan during the Nara period. Another name for botan was ebisugusuri ("foreign medicine") and its root was prescribed for epilepsy.[1] In China it was known as "king of the flowers" and thematically it was considered appropriate to pair it with the "king of the beasts," shishi. Other Chinese motifs, such as karakusa were also heavily paired with botan during this period.

During the Genroku period (1688-1703) there was a "botan boom" with hundreds of new cultivars being developed and sold.[2] Of particular interest are the kan botan (寒牡丹) and fuyu botan (冬牡丹), tree peonies that were developed to bloom out of season in the winter.

The kan botan is a peony that has the potential to bloom twice a year- in the spring and in the autumn. Its spring buds are removed and the autumn ones forced to bloom. The success of this approach is highly dependent on the weather and even experienced gardeners have a success rate of about 80%.[3] In contrast, the fuyu botan is an early spring blooming cultivar which is forced to bloom early by creating greenhouse conditions around the plant.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Most botan bloom in early summer. Several winter blooming varieties were bred in Japan in the mid-Edo period and botan can be used as a winter motif whether or not it is yuki-botan, botan in snow.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Botan was called "the king of flowers" (花王) in China and this epithet was introduced with the motif into Japan.[4] For this reason it is common to see it paired with "the king of the beasts," shishi or "the king of the birds"- usually a galliforme (kujaku, kiji, niwatori) or hou-ou.

Botan is often used as a symbol of nobility and feminine beauty.[5]

Auspicious Nature

Botan has been associated with decorative Buddhist motifs since its import from China.[6] Its use as medicine and the sight of its large blossoms in winter have only added to its auspicious appeal.

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Botan kamon


Botan is depicted as being a large, lush flower with ragged edges to its petals. It can be accompanied by its heavily lobed leaves or placed on a bare branch to evoke winter if it is being depicted in a naturalistic manner.

When stylized it is often presented as forming a perfect circle accompanied by karakusa.

Botan is most commonly confused with bara or tsubaki. Bara and tsubaki have un-lobed leaves and are never paired with karakusa.

Motif Examples

NOTE: See more relevant images in our corresponding gallery.

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Dog and Peonies (牡丹遊狗図, 1800), on hanging scroll by Kaneko Kinryō (金子金陵) in the collection of the Seikado Bunko Art Museum


Many shrines have winter blooming botan gardens. Two of the most famous are Tōshō-gū shrine (東照宮, Ueno Park, Tokyo) and Hase-dera (長谷寺, Nara)

In Poetry

立てば芍薬 Tateba shakuyaku When standing, she is like a a herbaceous peony
座れば牡丹 Suwareba botan When seated, she is like a peony
歩く姿は百合の花 Aruku sugata wa yuri no hana When walking, she is like a lily



Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions

References

  1. Wikipedia article on Paeonia, accessed February 2, 2013
  2. World Kigo Database, accessed Febraury 2, 2013
  3. Four Seasons in Japan Winter Peonies
  4. Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. Rizzoli. 2001. p.60.
  5. http://www.issendai.com/names/japanese/geisha-names.shtml
  6. JAANUS Article on botan karakusa, accessed February 2, 2013

Image Credits

  • Ainokimono
  • Bika Bika
  • Cloverrain
  • Moligami
  • Moonblossom
  • Muhvi
  • Naomi Graham Hormozi (Immortal Geisha)
  • Peachchanvidel
  • Sarcasm-hime
  • SuperGrouper
  • Tzippurah

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: tzippurah (IG Username)

Contributors: