Tsubaki: The rose of Japan begins to bloom

Photos by Yashira M. Rodriguez Sierra
Photos by Yashira M. Rodriguez Sierra

Tsubaki: The rose of Japan begins to bloom

by Yashira M. Rodriguez Sierra
Stripes Okinawa

I remember the first time I saw Japan’s rose. Flipping through a book about flowers, I fell in love at first site with the camellia flower. There’s no doubt that the camellia flower has an incredible beauty, that it even enjoys a privileged position in Asian cultures.

In Korea, the flower represents longevity. Similarly, for China it is part of their traditional medicine and for Japan, the camellia is used in the traditional tea ceremony.

The camellia japonica is called Tsubaki in Japan and is considered “the rose of Japan.” The bright red, pink and white flowers bloom in an evergreen shrub. There are 300 different species and about 3,000 hybrid camellias around the world.

The popularity of the flower goes beyond its remarkable beauty and dates back to the Edo Period (1600-1868) when it was included in the tea ceremony tradition. The leaves of the camellia sinesis species are used for many teas popular worldwide used for casual drinking and medicinal purposes. In art, camellia japonica has for centuries inspired numerous paintings, illustrations, poems and more.

The seeds are extracted and the oil used in hair moisturizers. Even sumo wrestlers use the camellia hair oil as part of their regimen.

The extracted oil is also used in cooking, especially for tempura style frying and salad dressings, in other beauty products like soap, and in paints.

The camellia bushes flower from January to April and you’ll find these blooms in all corners of Japan. A few towns and shrines across the country even celebrate the arrival of the camellias. In Hagi, an old castle town in Yamaguchi Prefecture, there is an annual festival in honor of the vibrant blossom. On Oshima Island, the flower is used to make many of the local items like jam and oil. The island is also home to three of the 50 International Camellia Society Gardens.

During the spring flowering season, I collect the camellia blossoms shed by the bush for a fun project. In a glass bottle full of water, I soak the camellia blossoms between two to four weeks. At the end of that process, I have camellia-infused rinse to use after shampooing my hair. Give it a try!


YN3 Yashira M. Rodríguez Sierra is originally from Caguas, Puerto Rico. She is assigned to Sasebo Naval Base. Rodríguez Sierra enjoys nature and moving to Japan was a dream come true. She volunteers at a local orphanage and before joining the Navy she was an artist and journalist.

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