Published by the Reader Collection, Ontario Canada, 2014,

ISBN 978-0-9937035-0-8


Reader Collection > Guides > Guide to Japanese Woodblock Prints of Flowers and Birds > Flowers and Birds


Chapter 2 – Flowers and Birds


2.1  Flowers and Birds


This chapter addresses the question ‘what are the names of the flower and bird species and why were these particular species chosen as subjects?’.


2.2   Names


Names of 345 flowers and 256 birds depicted in the sample of prints considered here are given in latin (i.e., scientific name), English and Japanese in section 2.4 for flowers and in section 2.5 for birds.




Scientific names are given first because there is no English name for some far-eastern species. Species are arranged alphabetically by family, and by genus within family, to group similar-looking species. In some cases the species name is given as only sp. because the pictures did not provide sufficient detail to distinguish between species within a particular genus.

An English name is given second. For species with more than one commonly used English name, one name was chosen arbitrarily from those listed in the GRIN database for plants (Wiersema, 2013) and from the AVIBASE database for birds (Lepage, 2013). These databases and other references included in section 6.1.1 of the Bibliography should be consulted for alternative names.

Japanese names are given next in four ways; first, using the roman alphabet (i.e., rōmaji), second using Japanese katakana syllabary, third using Japanese hiragana syllabary, and fourth using Japanese-Chinese ideograms (i.e., kanji). Artists used kanji most often for names but either katakana or hiragana was used instead when no kanji ideogram existed (e.g., for some exotic species from the Americas or Africa) or when the artist did not know the kanji name. Katakana or hiragana was sometimes given alongside kanji as a pronunciation aid for picture viewers unfamiliar with a flower's or bird’s kanji name. Rōmaji never appeared on pictures but it is given here to help western viewers pronounce the Japanese name. Rōmaji is a direct translation of katakana/ hiragana. While most species have only one katakana/hiragana name, many have more than one kanji name. All the kanji names used by artists are included here and they are listed by Kangxi radical number in Appendix 1.

Artists wrote flower-bird names on about half the pictures examined. Two examples are given below for a bird, the Japanese bush-warbler (Cettia diphone) in the Sylviidae Family. Example 1 shows the species’ hiragana name (うぐひす) and a 1-ideogram kanji name (). Example 2 shows its katakana name (ウグヒス) and a 3-ideogram kanji name (柴脊令). Typically a species’ kanji name contains more than just one ideogram. The katakana and hiragana names are written as uguisu in rōmaji.  






cettia sig 1



Cettia sig 2








A sample picture of each species is given alongside its names as an aid to identification. For species appearing frequently in the set of pictures examined it was possible to choose a picture which showed the species’ shape and color accurately enough for it to be easily recognized. For other species appearing less frequently it was often necessary to choose a picture of poorer quality for the purpose of species identification.


2.3   Artist’s Choice of Species

Flower-bird pictures are typically used to help communicate emotion and to describe species. Presumably an artist chose a certain species either because, in Japanese culture, it was associated with the emotion (s)he wished to communicate to picture viewers or because (s)he wanted to inform picture viewers about that particular species.

Of the 345 flowers and 256 birds considered here, 161 flowers (47%) and 92 birds (36%) are used by the Japanese as symbols of different human feelings, characteristics or seasons of the year. These symbolic associations are listed in the species’ descriptions in sections 2.4 (flowers) and 2.5 (birds). Sources of additional information about Japanese flower-bird symbolism are included in section 6.1.2 of the Bibliography.

Artists may have chosen to draw a particular species because it had economic value as a source of food, medicine, or entertainment (e.g., pet bird, ornamental plant). Of the species considered here, 252 flowers (73%) and 94 birds (37%) had economic value. These species are identified in sections 2.4 and 2.5.

   Species not native to Japan (i.e., exotics) may also have been chosen for depiction because they would be unfamiliar to most picture viewers and, therefore, of interest as a curiosity. Of the species considered here, 127 flowers (37%) and 88 birds (35%) were exotics. The geographic origin of each species is included in the species’ descriptions in sections 2.4 and 2.5.

    Some species were more popular than others with artists. The number of artists choosing a particular species is also given in the species’ descriptions in sections 2.4 and 2.5. A species’ popularity with artists was more closely related to its use as a symbol than to its economic value or its geographic origin. For flowers, the percentage of species used as a symbol increased progressively from 23% for species chosen only once by artists to 100% for species chosen by more than 33 artists (Table 2.1). Similarly for birds the percentage increased from 3% to 88%.  In contrast, the percentage of neither exotic species nor species with economic value increased with increasing species’ popularity.


Table 2.1. Relationship between the number of artists choosing a particular species and the species’ use as a symbol.


Number of artists choosing a species

Percentage of species in each category used as a symbol


























more than 64







Section 2.4 of Chapter 2 or Back to Guides