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Motif Information
Motif tsubaki photo.jpg
Rōmaji Tsubaki
English Camellia
Kanji 椿
Kana つばき
Season Winter, Spring
Seasonal Exceptions Summer
Auspicious No
Motif Type Flower

Tsubaki refers to Camellia japonica, a flowering shrub native to Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. It is an evergreen plant that favors altitudes above 300 meters (980 feet) above sea level.[1]

Tsubaki flowers between January and March, producing single red or white blossoms at the end of branches in the wild. In Japan it is pollinated mainly by mejiro.

During the Edo gardening boom, hundreds of new cultivars were developed and established. Today, there are over 2,000 named variations of Camellia japonica.

The flowers are prized for their beauty and the seeds may be pressed to extract tsubaki-abura (椿油), camellia oil, which was traditionally used to dress hair.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Camellia at Ueno Shimotera in the Eastern Capital (東都上野下寺つばき, Tôto Ueno Shimotera tsubaki, 1866), from the series Thirty-six Selected Flowers (三十六花撰, Sanjûrokkasen) by Utagawa Hiroshige II in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Tsubaki on Edo period tsubo in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

The camellia tree is evergreen, possessing glossy green leaves. The combination of these leaves and the large distinctive flowers with snow as a late winter or early spring motif is both striking and popular. The characters making up the kanji for tsubaki are literally "tree" and "spring".[2]

In the traditional calendar tsubaki represents November or December.[3]

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Like sakura, tsubaki were once closely associated with samurai as their blossoms drop to the ground while still intact.

Tsubaki were a common motif on items associated with the itinerant Shugendō priests[4] up until the Edo period when the religion was forcibly abolished.

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Naturally occurring camellia have five to nine petals, and blooms red or white. It is habitually depicted with its non-serrated leaves, which are about the size of a single petal. In stylized versions the petals meld into a single undulating ring. Both realistic and stylized depictions feature a tight crown of stamena with small beads on the top ends.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Tsubaki and suzume in snow (雪中の椿と雀, c.1845) by Utagawa Hiroshige in the collection of the MET

In Murasaki's Tale of Genji, camellias symbolize sudden "death" - dreams, illusions, or love affairs.

In the kabuki play Tengajaya, two brothers must avenge their father's murder and recover a stolen painting that was entrusted to their family. When the painting is finally located, they do not have the money to redeem it, so one of the brothers' wife sells herself into a brothel to raise the money. This touching scene in Act II is illustrated with the wife offering her husband a tsubaki blossom as a symbol of perseverance.

In Poetry

Utagawa Hiroshige's poem inscribed on the print of tsubaki at right:

仰向いて Aomuite Always look up
見るや椿の miruya tsubaki no to see where the camellia's blossom
落ちたあと ochita ato has fallen on the hedge

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions


  1. Wikipedia article on Camellia. Accessed March 30, 2016.
  2. Tsubaki on TheWorld Kigo Database]. Accessed March 30, 2016.
  3. Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. Rizzoli Press. 2001. p.47.
  4. Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. Rizzoli Press. 2001. p.47.

Image Credits

  • Peachchanvidel
  • Saiya-chan
  • Tzippurah

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: tzippurah (IG Username)

Contributors: C. Law (claw789 (IG Username))