Lotus Leaf (蓮の葉)
The lotus leaf refers to the leaf of the hydrophyte called lotus, which floats on the water's surface, and is also called Kayo due to the introduction of Chinese herbal drugs. It is also familiar as the leaf of lotus root. In the Hinduism, Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism, 'lotus' itself has a special meaning, and it's highly valued along with the lotus flower and lotus seed. The lotus leaf is a representative example in explaining a phenomenon of lotus effect.
In Japan, the lotus leaf also has a meaning that is different from the above religious one, and this different meaning is explained later.
Meaning of the lotus leaf and religion
The trade in lotus leaves
The term "trade in lotus leaves" refers to persons who have dealt with ginkgo nuts, akebi or nuts of any beech tree of the genus Castanopsis growing naturally at different times, or with seasonal goods necessary for annual events including the five seasonal festivals and 24 divisions of the old calendar, before the days of such events at morning markets and fairs in various regions of Japan, from the old times (in the later years of the modern period, vegetable shops, flower shops and gaisho (stallholders) sold seasonal goods).
Because lotus seeds and lotus leaves used in the Urabon Festival (a festival of the dead held on Buddhist All Souls' Day, which is usually around the 15th of July or August, depending on the local custom) were accorded particularly high value, and most goods that were put on trays using lotus leaves or leaves of fuki (Japanese butterbur) were sold, persons dealing with seasonal goods were described as being in the 'trade of lotus leaves.'
However, seasonal goods were treated as goods whose quality was neither important nor considered, even if it was slightly bad, because they were used for a short time as so-called consumed goods. Therefore, the meaning of persons dealing with seasonal articles or mocks was added, and the term "lotus leaf" also came to be used in reference to seasonal articles or mocks.
Major seasonal goods
January: Sekku (seasonal festival) of the New Year and Jinjitsu (the seventh day of the new year in the lunar calendar), held from January 1 to 7
Bitter orange, sakaki (species of evergreen sacred to Shinto), pine trees and bamboo
February: Setsubun (Bean-Throwing Festival) on February 3
Sardines, holly and soybeans 'which are used as a barrier to prevent Oni (an ogre) from coming in and as a tool to throw it out'
March: The Puppet Festival on March 3
April: Kanbutsue (celebration of Buddha's birthday) (birthday of Buddha) on April 8
Amacha (hydrangea tea) using 'leaves of a plant similar to hydrangea'
May: Tango no Sekku (Boys' Day) on May 5
Oak leaves for 'Kashiwamochi' (rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves) and iris for 'bathwater with iris petals'
July: Tanabata (Festival of the Weaver) on July 7
Bamboo grass and bamboo
August: August 13 to 16
The Urabon Festival (a festival of the dead of Buddhist All Souls' Day, around the 15th of July or August, depending on the local custom) (Buddhist rite)
Lotus leaf and lotus seed
The Obon Festival (a festival of the dead, or Buddhist All Souls' Day) (a Japanese ancient festival for the worship of ancestors)
Hozuki (Chinese lantern plant) (written as 鬼灯 or 酸漿 in Chinese characters), makomouma (a horse decoration made of Manchurian wild rice or straw), and adzuki beans or black-eyed peas; black-eyed peas were used for red rice in place of adzuki beans in the Kanto region because the popping of peas conjured up the image of Seppuku (suicide by disembowelment), a much-hated image.
September: Viewing the moon on September 25
Japanese pampas grass, edamame (green soybeans) and chestnuts
October: Festival in honor of Ebisu on October 19 and 20
Root crops such as Japanese radish, burdock and so on, and fish (Ebisu is also the God of fishery in Japan); this is a 'festival for a huge harvest (of cereals) and praying for a good catch.'
Susuharai (year-end cleanup) on December 13
Whale 'because there is a custom of making and eating Kujira-jiru (whale or blubber soup) after susuharai'
Winter solstice on December 22
Yuzu (Japanese citron) and pumpkin 'because yuzu bath and pumpkin gruel were used to restore energy in winter'
Overseas trade in lotus
In countries of Southeast Asia, where Theravada Buddhism is popular, lotus is highly valued from the religious aspect, and lotus-related trades exist. In Vietnam and elsewhere, traders row small boats in lotus ponds and collect morning dew from the lotus leaves in order to sell it. Additionally, there is lotus flower tea, which is made through a process similar to that of collecting the morning dew from lotus leaves, and traders sell top-level tea requiring much time and many processes of placing high-class tea leaves into lotus flower buds, picking up each flower bud after adding the fragrance of lotus flower to the tea leaves, and collecting tea leaves in small boats.
A wanton girl (Hasunoha Onna in Japanese) was called Hasuhame, Hasuba or Hasuwa in ancient times. Although the term "Hasunoha Onna" is not used today, the terms "Hasuppa Onna" and "Hasuppa" are. The term was a reference to women who conducted lightheaded behavior such as being spirited, impudent, coquettish or too friendly in their words and deeds, who had flirtatious tendencies or who floated from place to place like rootless wanderers.
There are various theories regarding the origin of the word, such as the theory that it mimics how a lotus leaf floats on the surface of water, being moved by the wind or current, or that it mimics how morning dew rolls upon the lotus leaf. Another theory is that the word was derived from the meaning that goods sold through the trade in lotus leaves changed seasonally, or that it referred to seasonal articles or mocks. Moreover, there is a theory that the word was derived from the name of the occupation because the novel "Koshoku ichidai onna," written by Saikaku IHARA in 1686, had a description of Hasuhame (equivalent to Hasuha Onna), who was described as a woman employed by a big wholesaler in Kamigata (the area of Kyoto and Osaka) to have an affair with a good customer for the purpose of entertainment. However, it is uncertain whether any one of the above was actually the origin of a word, or that the word having the above meaning was created through a process by which words were in complete harmony in a multiple manner.
In ancient India, women came to be graded because goddess worship was generated from the many gods of Hinduism (many gods and animal gods existed). As a result, the most fantastic woman was called 'Hasuonna,' and as the top symbol, Lakshmi (a consort of Vishnu in Hinduism) (this is known as Kisshoten (Laksmi) in Japan, but, it refers to Kisshoten (Laksmi) in Buddhism and to Kisshotennyo (Lakshmi) in Esoteric Buddhism) was worshiped.
Hasuhameshi (lotus leaf rice)
Hasuhameshi, also called Hasumeshi, is a dish made by steaming lotus leaves, softening them by adding salt, mincing softened lotus leaves and mixing them with steaming rice. People can eat this dish at shops in the temple town of Monzen-machi or at temples even today, as altarage for the Urabon Festival or for the rites and festivals of some religious schools of Buddhism, or as specialty; however, this dish is seldom made in general daily life. There is a similar dish called Hasugayu (lotus gruel) or Hasuhagayu (lotus leaf gruel).
Renhan (rice wrapped in lotus leaf) in China and Southeast Asian countries, which is also called Heyefan in Chinese, refers to Chimaki (a rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves) in Japan; it's a steamed dish made by wrapping Uruchimai (nonglutinous rice) or Mochigome (glutinous rice) with various foodstuffs in lotus leaves, and steaming the wrapped item. Of course, other leaves such as bamboo grass, straw and so on are also used to make Chimaki, and Chimaki is introduced as one of the dishes in present-day China, but in ancient times Chimaki made using lotus leaves also had a religious meaning.