In the Solitude of Wisteria Trees (Part 2)

Nonfiction by | July 31, 2023

In that moment, I just listened.

I stopped in front of one of the trees, taking in all the details. Its imposing trunk stood far behind a low fence. Lines and grooves ran across the dark brown bark and revealed its age. The healthy branches stretched towards different directions, leading to the smaller vines and finally the blossoms.

It was a much bigger tree. But the fascination felt familiar.

As a child, I have always been fond of flowers and gardens. I spent many hours playing and picking apart the flowers in my grandmother’s yard in Davao.

I marveled at the fruits that grew from the trunk of her cacao tree. I admired the papaya tree fronds which reminded me of the tree star leaves in the 90s movie Land Before Time.

I would climb up the sprawling gumamela shrub that seemed like a tree to the tiny five-year-old me.  I nimbly made my way through the branches to pick blossoms.

I also plucked flowers from the santan bush next to it, and linked them to make garlands and bracelets to wear for the day. One of my cousins taught me how draw out nectar from them too.

I was a flower maiden in my own right. The garden was my playground. There were no toys in our ancestral home. There weren’t any children my age, well except for my sister. Though an aunt and my then-teenage cousins lived on the second floor, my usual babysitters did have their own lives and romps to attend to. If I was left there for the weekend afternoon, the garden was the escape.

I made the gumamela my toys, pretending they were flower folk with the petals as skirts and the stems as bodies. I imagined them to be like whimsical characters from the cartoons I watched. I built dialogues. I narrated. Perhaps the grownups never understood the narrative they overheard. Perhaps they never will. But it never really bothered me.

Exploring the garden was a pastime I enjoyed in solitude. It was a pastime buried under the other pastimes I discovered over the next years of my childhood, only to be unearthed when I moved to Japan. I would head out to gardens, get lost in thought, then snap away with my camera phone.  I followed the plum blossoms and camellias of early March, the cherry blossoms and baby blue eyes of April, and even the irises and hydrangeas of June. I didn’t mind the alone time. I guess my only problem was if there was a very scenic backdrop and I wished I could get a full-body picture with it.

Sumimasen! (Excuse me)” called a woman from behind, her voice laced with a Vietnamese accent. “Sasshin, torimashouka? (Shall I take your picture?)”

I came out of my meditation. I turned to see a group of travelers, some of whom were dressed to the nines. The offer came from the woman with a smile on her face and a camera on hand. “Hai, onegaishimasu (Yes, please),” I stuttered in surprise and handed my phone.  She toggled with it a little, took some photos, and gave it back. I took it as my sign to move on.

The clouds were slowly clearing up to reveal the rich indigo shade of twilight. I explored more of the wisteria groves the park boasted of. I discovered the double-flowered wisteria tree with puffy blossoms and filled the air with a delicate, floral scent. I saw the trellis of pink wisterias that trailed down like rain, its vines growing to nearly two meters long. Then I ended up in a slightly smaller but solitary trellis that was bathed in an ethereal purple light and invited another moment to contemplate.

The wisterias were all aglow as dusk slowly crept in. I walked to the park exit with a gallery full of whimsical trees. And a few pictures of me and hundred-year-old wisteria trees.


“In the pale moonlight
The scent of the wisteria
Comes from far away”
-Yosa Buson, In the Moonlight


Stephanie Puyod is an alumna of the BA Communication Arts program of the University of the Philippines-Mindanao.

In the Solitude of Wisteria Trees (Part 1)

Nonfiction by | July 24, 2023

“Come join me in the regrets for the passing spring
And wisteria aglow in the evening light”
-Murasaki Shikibu, Tales of Genji


The sky was overcast from the afternoon rain. Gray but thankfully not too dreary. All that was left was a slight drizzle. Some of these raindrops have settled on my glasses, but I didn’t bother to brush them away.  I maneuvered my phone through the clusters of wisteria before me. My goal was to achieve a “peering through the vines” self-portrait.

Little by little I found my groove and my angle. I was pleased.

I was doing yet another hitori tabi—or solo traveling in Japanese—this time in Tochigi, a prefecture north of Tokyo. Since I moved to the Land of the anime and kawaii things in October 2017, I’ve slowly cultivated a tradition of chasing and documenting perennials. It began on my first spring here, when I chanced upon cherry blossom sightseeing maps at the train station. I sought to check out the accessible spots, and from there I was hooked. The following month, I was in the company of friends and roses. The next year I added hydrangeas and irises to this list. Yes, I travel for flowers.

Over the next years, I made it a goal to visit a wisteria garden—the ones that lead you through winding pink tunnels or expansive trellises. I finally ticked it off in April 2022.

Tochigi’s Ashikaga Flower Park is home to some of the largest and oldest wisteria trees in Japan. I came there in search of the famed hundred-year-old wisteria trees that were said to inspire the Tree of Life in James Cameron’s Avatar. To be honest, I’ve forgotten how it looked like, but I do remember being amazed by the gigantic tree with pink cascading vines and a soft glow about it.

The one before me wasn’t as majestic. Neither were the other ones in the grove I was in. These looked young but approachable. They allowed me to study the flowers up close.

The purple blossoms dribbled down the vines like droplets of water. They could easily fall off with one wrong move. Wisteria is known as fuji in Japan. (Similar but not to be mistaken for the mountain. Their kanji characters are different.) I find it amusing that the flower’s kanji is a combination of the symbols for grass and water rising. It put me in a glass-half-empty-half-full kind of quandary.

After all, the wisteria is also admired for its form, with its arched trunks and its blossoms facing downwards. It was as if the whole plant was deep in prayer. Fittingly, the flower is used in the crest of a branch of Buddhism in Japan, using it as a symbol of humility and reflection.

I pulled away from this grove and navigated my way to the center of the park. The afternoon light was waning. The night illuminations would begin soon. I stopped to take photos of yellow and orange poppies. Even the azaleas. A tall pergola of baby pink wisterias snaked around the courtyard. The cherry blossoms were long gone, but spring was still in full swing.

While cherry blossoms or the sakura is the first flower that come to mind whenever one speaks of Japan, wisteria have earned a place in the country’s history and art.

We can see these viny blossoms as a common motif in kimonos and ceramics. Fuji Musume or Wisteria Maiden has been a favorite theme in paintings. Much like the goddess Venus, this woman has been reinterpreted many times. It has also inspired a traditional dance which tells the sad tale of Fuji Musume that came to life, longing for man who viewed her painting. She walked around with a stalk of wisteria as she waited a reply to her love letters.

True enough, wisteria has a character that evokes longing and nostalgia. Perhaps it’s in the tranquil purples and blues mixed with whites and pinks. Perhaps it’s in the manner the flowers dangle and seemingly float midair. Or perhaps it’s in the melancholic way the vines droop, as if longing for a past that may either be happy or sad. In this light, wisteria has frequently been tied to nostalgia in Japanese literature.

The 11th century masterpiece Tale of Genji describes fuji as a companion to the sadness that comes in the passing of springtime. Author Murasaki Shikibu compares it to the snowlike sakura which, while beautiful, is fleeting in nature. The wisteria comes out at an opportune time, much later in April, sitting with observers to lament time gone by.

Taking my sweet time around the park, I followed another path of young wisteria shrubs. A mix of excitement and longing bubbled up in my chest. Then through a clearing, I finally saw it: a trellis more than a thousand meters wide.

Over it hung a curtain of lilac and purple flowers with the specks of royal and sky blue.  Bumblebees buzzed through the vines as if they too were on holiday. Underneath, people milled around with their eyes fixed on the blossoms overhead.

On opposite sides stood two grand wisteria trees. There was a sense of wisdom and strength told in the way they stooped down with the breadth and abundance they carried. They commanded attention the way soft-spoken mentors draw your interest. You listen to every word they say.

Stephanie Puyod is an alumna of the BA Communication Arts program of the University of the Philippines-Mindanao.