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Maples inspired by Beloved Classical Poems
Written in 7th year of Hōei (1710); manuscript from 9th year of Kyōho (1724)
Author: Itō Ihe’e Masatake

This book is a botanical guide written by an Edo period horticulturalist enchanted with maples of both early summer green and autumn reds and golds.

The author, Ihe’e Masatake was also known as “Somei Ihe’e,” a name passed down in his family for generations. Ihe’e was the fifth generation head of the largest gardening family in Edo. Ihe’e’s book records thirty-six new varietals that he created himself with color pictures and descriptions of their leaf characteristics. Ihe’e made this botanical guide an even greater treasure by adding a poem composed about maples from classical poetry compilations like the Kokin wakashū or the Senzai wakashū etc. to each entry. And each varietal was named based on the poem that Ihe’e chose for that maple.

For example, you will see a green maple on the right. Ihe’e described this maple saying, “this varietal’s characteristic round leaves make it quite cute. The leaves are fairly thick so they do not fall during autumn rains, nor do they change colors.” After his explanation, Ihe’e added the following poem by Mibu no Tadamine from Book 5: Autumn II of the Kokin wakashū. “At Kasatoriyama- Umbrella-Wielding in rain- the brilliant colors of autumnal foliage set travelers’ sleeves aglow” (Kokin wakashū, translated by Helen McCullough) and named this maple “Kasatoriyama,” “Mount. Kasatori” after the poem.

On the left, you will see a maple of a more subdued color named “Shika Momiji,” “Deer Maple”. According to Ihe’e’s description, this maple’s leaves are first the color of dappled persimmon fruits. Due to the dappled color looking like deer fur, this varietal was named “Deer Maple” and the Ogura hyakunin isshu poem by Sarumaru Dayū “When I hear the voice of the stag crying for his mate stepping through the fallen leaves deep in the mountains - then is the time that autumn is saddest” (Hyakunin isshu translated by Joshua S. Mostow) was attached.

In this fashion each of the thirty-six varietals is paired with a classical poem and given a name based on the poem. Other varietals include elegant names like “Meigetsu” or “Bright Moon”, “Akaji no nishiki” or “Red Background Brocade”, and “Matsukaze” or “Waiting for the Wind”.

Until Ihe’es book, maples were less popular and considered less inspiring than camellias, peonies, and rhododendrons. But Ihe’e took the maple’s unpretentious existence and by pairing them with beloved classical poems introduced graceful and elegant trees to the Edo people. Thanks to Ihe’e’s promotion, maples enjoyed a burst of popularity and became the representative tree of the mid-Edo period.