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Peonies at Kisshoin Temple

A sleepy temple bursts into bloom and parasols in April

Most of the year, Kisshoin, a sleepy Shingon Buddhist temple, is just another mortuary temple. But for about a week at the end of April and beginning of May, the 100 peony plants in the temple garden burst into bloom.

Peonies are tough shrubs despite their delicate flowers. Around Tokyo in January or February, you may see some forced peonies under straw shelters at temples and gardens. Besides being so hardy in cold temperatures, they can outlive the people who tend them. Some specimens have been known to live for 100 years. However, Japan’s varieties do have a weakness. They are native to shady mountains and forests, so they are too sensitive to be placed in full sun.

The gardeners at Kisshoin found just the right spot for these showy flowers to thrive. The temple is locally famous for having some of the tallest trees in the city. The kaya trees have lots of foliage to protect the flowers. And the gardeners help nature by providing artificial shade for these flamboyant flowers under paper parasols.