The Mito Hollyhock Soccer Team Incorrectly Named! (TsukuBlog Exclusive)
In the summer months, you cannot help but notice clusters of tachi-aoi (hollyhock) growing wild on the sides of country roads or beside vegetable patches. You can’t miss them because of their height. As tall as sunflowers but not as heavy looking, they are graceful yet imposing and come in red, white and pink blossoms which bloom up and down their long, lean stems.
It is my interest in these very common and uncelebrated flowers that led me to the discovery of a bizarre state of affairs in the world of Japanese-English translation — especially in regard to the names of certain plants.
Knowing the roadside flowers to be tachi-aoi (立葵) and confirming that the same flowers were called hollyhock in English, I tried to learn more about their history and cultural associations. At first I was surprised that the ancient Aoi Matsuri Festival (葵祭) was often referred to as the Hollyhock Festival in English guidebooks and other texts.
I also discovered that the J-League 2 soccer club representing the capital of Ibaraki was called The Mito Hollyhock. This name was chosen because the crest of the great Tokugawa Family which ruled the Mito Domain for centuries consisted of 3 futaba-aoi leaves. This crest has been made extremely famous by the classic TV series Mito Komon. The Wikipedia article on hollyhock also said that that flower was the symbol of the Mito Clan.
At first I was excited. These flowers that I alone seemed to be interested in appeared to have highly distinguished historical and cultural associations. I wanted to write about this. Luckily , I started to dig further.
I did this because I still had lingering doubts about the connection between aoi and tachi-aoi. I had been to the Aoi Matsuri and seen that the Aoi associated with that festival was a leaf. I had even taken one as a souvenir and kept it in my wallet. The seal of the Mito Clan also consisted of 3 leaves (representing the 3 branches of the Tokugawa Family).
The leaves on the Mito Crest and the aoi leaf in my wallet looked NOTHING like the leaves of the hollyhock (tachi-aoi).Photos in field guides also showed me that tachi-aoi was the roadside flower, but I could find no pictures of aoi in any bookstore flower guide.
To make a long story short, I became slightly obsessed with getting to the bottom of this mystery. At the library I was able to confirm that the scientific name of tachi-aoi(hollyhock) was Althaae rosea , and that the symbol of the Mito Tokugawa and of the Aoi Matsuri was a plant with NO COMMON ENGLISH NAME but known as Asarum caulescens among botanists and futaba-aoi among the Japanese (see photo. These two plants have NO CONNECTION other than being PLANTS and having the character aoi (葵)in their names.
Finally, I went to the Tsukuba Botanical Garden to consult with Dr. Tadamu Matsumoto. He was also astonished that the Mito Soccer team had been called Hollyhock, as there was no botanical connection between futaba-aoi (the highly esteemed leaves on Mito Komon’s emblem) and the common roadside tachi-aoi (hollyhock).
There is obviously a big problem with translation when dealing with the names of plants which are not familiar to the translators. These types of errors occur not only in Wikipedia and blogs but also in respected journals, dictionaries and encyclopedias. I fell victim to such a mistaken translation when writing about the Boy’s Day (Tango No Sekku) traditions in Japan (Tango no Sekku over the Ages).
In my article I mistakenly wrote that the Japanese put irises(the Japanese term is shobu 菖蒲） in their baths and on their rooves on that day. I had gotten this translation from very respectable source books. However, I later realized that the shobu used is NOT an iris(hana-shobu) at all but a completely unrelated plant called CALAMUS(related to taro) by botanists and which was believed by the ancient Chinese and Japanese to have the power to expel evil and bad luck.
For me hollyhocks are amazing flowers and are worthy of having a soccer team named after them. But I’m sure that the citizens of Mito will not be pleased to learn that their team is named after the TACHI-AOI and NOT the revered FUTABA-AOI.
It’s like calling the Seibu Baseball club The Azarashi (sea lions) instead of The Lions. Why not? They are both mammals!