Yoshizen's Blog

Hydrangea Otaksa


Early summer or before a summer starts,  Japan has a rainy season

(middle of June to middle of July) somewhat akin to the monsoon.

Every day is a rainy day.  And under the rain, it is the time to appreciate

pale blue Hydrangea flowers = 紫陽花 アジサイ.

There are many famous Hydrangea Garden arround Tokyo, especially

in Kamakura city (one hour from Tokyo), Meigetsu-in Temple, Hase-dera

Temple, Jyoju-in Temple are only name but few.   

Why Hydrangea in the Temple  is because of its meditative blue color.

Buddhist monks are the sombre  people.  😀  — I’m just kidding.  😀


You might have heard that the Hydrangea flower originated from

Japan.  It was brought back to the Netherlands and spread to the

Europe in late 19th century and since then many horticultural

varieties were created especially in England.

The person who introduced it to the west was a German Doctor working

in the Dutch mercantile, in Nagasaki, Philip Franz von Siebold.

( In fact, he came  Japan twice, and for the second time he acted as a

foreign affair adviser for the Shogun )

While he was in Japan, along side working as a doctor and teaching

western medicine, he studied Japanese Flora and Fauna, and collected

vast amount of botanical specimen as well.  From this study and the

research, worked together with a Botanist J.G. Zuccarini, a book

[Japanese Flora] was published.   In this book, one of the native plant

was named as Hydrangea Otaksa.  ( though, it has been renamed to

Hydrangea macropylla (Thunb) seringe f. macropylla )

Shy Siebold himself made an excuse that the name Otakusa came  

from local name though, a Japanese Botanist, Tomitaro Makino

later traced back its origin to his Japanese wife Otaki-san.


The name he put, Otaksa came from non other than his Japanese wife

Otaki-san in deed. (Incidentally, a daughter he made to Otaki-san,

the Oine = 楠本イネ, became the first female doctor, gynecologist in the

Japanese Medical history.)

He must loved her so much, as he even taught his Parrot to repeat her

name “Otaki-san” —– and a funny story was that since then it became

a custom to teach a Parrot to call the name ”Otake-san” in Japan.

( Similar to a custom in Japan, a lots of dog has their name “Pochi”

—– originally it was copied from the call for a dog “Pooch” in

English or American.)   😀


nonBotanical research institutes in the world exchanges their collection

each other.  When I was in my Uni’, my part-time work was taking

botanical photos and making the specimen in the Makino Herbarium=

牧野植物標本館 (a part of the Science Dept’ )

One day, the Herbarium received a parcel from the Science Dept’ of

the Leiden University, Netherlands.

It was the very botanical specimen which  Siebold had taken to 

the Netherlands.    And 110 years later, they were returned to Japan.

As I happened to have best dexterity, I was asked to stick those old

fragile specimen onto the card paper, then labelling them.

It was an extremely delicate work.   Not only the specimen were

completely dry old plants, but the paper base is not solid board.

Any bending force to the base paper would crumble the specimen.

Hence the binding tape need to have some margin of gap to allow

the specimen to move, while securely holding it.

The specimen itself were nothing special —– they are quite

common (to Japanese eyes)  plants, such as cherry blossoms etc.

(though, Hydrangea wasn’t included)  but the matter was its

association with historical figure Siebold who taught the Japanese

herbalists to sort the plants in real scientific way first time.


While making those specimen I’ve put a plank — I wrote my name

under the label with thin pencil. It is not visible though, if anybody

see through the label against the light, the name may be seen.

( This is the first time I revealed such mischief to the others.)  😀

Few years ago, I heard from a retired Professor of Makino Herbarium,

the portable specimen dryers powered by mobile electric generator

which I designed and made for the Ogasawara expedition ( I made its

metal work  in the Technology Dept’s work shop) were still there and

nearly 40 years later they are still working !

— its funny to think the staff of the herbarium might be wondering

to see the name on the dryer’s label “Who the hell, this guy ?”

(A facility in a big institute show no personal name as a manufacturer)

And in the Japanese practice, the photos taken by the staff doesn’t

show the photographer’s name. So, my name only remains on member

list of the expedition and behind the labels of Siebold collection.

—– it’s a hidden joke.    😀


PS: The Hydrangea in the Photo above is rather primitive type

( I couldn’t find the exact name of it though) unlike the common

types, this flower showed the real flower in the centre of sepal.

The common horticultural variety has atrophied flower  (in fact, 

it is not a flower but just the sepals)

I rather like to see the flowers in its natural form than in

an artificially created “gorgeous” style.



Hydrangea Otakusa / Makino / Ogasawara Expedition

3 Responses

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  1. […] are not a flower, in strict botanical term, they are called sepals. […]

  2. […] in the Uni’s Herbalium = a part of the  Science Dept’ where I […]

  3. […] Paulownia, AKA  Princess Tree.   This tree was named by a German doctor who brought it back from Japan, Franz fon Sieblod.   Russian Royal Princess, Anna Pavlovna helped Siebold to compile the book of Japanese Flora, […]

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