SHO CHIKU BAI
SHO (pine), chiku (bamboo), bai (plum) appear throughout Asian art, literature and folklore and are held in the highest regard as the symbols of resistance to hardship. Winter in Asia is the most difficult season, bitter cold sets in and heavy snows bury everything. At this time the pine and bamboo stay green and beautiful which signify their survival despite the insufferable conditions, and plum trees blossom while winter snow is still on the ground indicating that winter is almost over and Spring is on its way. This reminds one to look forward to a brighter future.
In Japan nature is revered and Shinto has shaped the culture and life of the people. Kami are the spirits that exist in nature and ki (also known as qi) is the spirit of human inner strength. Symbolic of that strength and spirit is the Sho Chiku Bai.
Sho (matsu in Japanese) means pine. Pine trees flourish in the most inhospitable conditions, clinging to rocky cliffs bringing beauty where no other living thing can survive. During the cold winter months it stays green and does not lose its needles. Sho is the primary symbol of inner strength, resistance to hardship and permanence. Sho’s needle shaped leaves are believed to drive away evil demons.
At New Year it is customary to place a pair of Kadomatsu (gate pines) before every gate or door. The trees are paired, one rough and prickly (male), the other softer and more graceful (female), male on the left, female on the right. With these are placed bamboo cuttings and plum branches.
Chiku (take in Japanese) means bamboo, symbolic of longevity, the staff of life to the people of Asia. It’s uses are endless, from being a religious symbol in the remotest areas to building skyscrapers in Hong Kong. Besides being so graceful and beautiful, it is tough, strong and flexible, bowing under the heavy snows of winter and bending but never breaking in harsh winds. Bamboo thrives in any kind of soil and is continuously green throughout the year. For a person to be flexible, strong and resilient is to be like the bamboo.
Bai (ume in Japanese) means plum and its blossom is considered the “Elder Brother of one hundred flowers” symbolizing beauty and optimism during times of adversity. It is the only tree that blossoms during winter signaling Spring is on it’s way.
During New Year it is customary to arrange pine, bamboo and plum blossom cuttings together in a display.