While in the past few week I often chose flowers which where imported to Japan and thus had a Katakana name originating from an European language, this week I am decorating the English Conversation school 英会話教室 in Fuse, Higashi Osaka 東大阪布施 with an original Japanese flower, a swertia japonica, センブリ in Japanese. Even thought the flower has a scientific Latin name, e.g. swertia japonica, there is no genuine English name, but plants in the genus swertia are sometimes referred to as felworts. In Japanese, either the Katakana センブリ is used, or the Kanji 千振. Now, this is really amazing for me as an Japanese learner – as I have learned that foreign words are written in Katakana and Japanese words in Kanji or Furigana never in the combination of Kanji and Katakana.
The flower センブリ was unknown to me, but I was intrigued by the simple beauty of the violet flowers (Yes, I picked my son`s favorite color again). The flowers itself are quite small, but if one looks closely, the regular shape of the star-like flower with five violet petals and five underlying small green sepals. Five violet stamen stick out from the corona and surround the green style, making for a very nice balance. (For the biological terms, try this diagram from the English Wikipedia page.)
While checking the internet I found out the swertia japonica 千振 actually is a medicinal plant used in the case of hair loss to stimulate hair grows. As I am not as young as a was once, I got very interested in that aspect of the flowers.
In the English Conversation lessons 英会話 in our school in Fuse, Higashi Osaka 東大阪布施, I could use the flowers as an example that often traditional Japanese Terms are better explained than translated. Talking about famous things in the Japanese autumn, 秋刀魚 for example translates as “Pacific saury”, but it might be easier understandable to say “a long thin fish we Japanese like to eat in autumn” when talking to an English speaking person that does not normally eat fish. Another classic example is おにぎり. Generally, it is called “rice ball” in English 英語, and any English speaker who visits Japan will know the word. But imagine talking to an old grandmother from the northern Highlands in Scotland, and you stand a good chance that she will have never heard of a “rice ball” in her long life. As the term “rice ball” is quite descriptive, she will probably imagine something that will come close to the Japanese Onigiri with a spherical shape. So it might be a good idea to explain the Onigiri a little bit more in detail.
In the case of the swertia japonica 千振, there is no page in the English Wikipedia.