The safflower, or ‘Benibana,’ is designated as the prefectural flower of Yamagata.
Back in the Edo period, this flower was processed into what was known as “hanamochi (literally ‘flower rice cakes’)” for transportation. Today, we still follow the same traditional method, using only flowers grown in the prefecture.
April 10th is traditionally believed to be the best date to start seeding.
Thin out in mid-May (to give some space).
Putting up Stakes for Support
In June, stakes are placed as supports so that they don’t get blown over by the wind.
The First Bloom
In Yamagata, the first blossoms usually appear around July 2nd (time of Hangesho, or 11th day after the summer solstice).
(Safflowers of the Mogami region)
Benibana that grow in the Mogami region are known for their sharp thorns. The picking of their flowers usually starts early in the morning, when the morning dew softens the thorns.
All flowers bloom in approximately a week. The pickers start working among the morning mist, early in the morning.
Picked flowers are washed in water (hanafuri, or ‘flower shaking’).
By treading on the flowers, petals are nicely ‘damaged’ for easier extraction of pigment.
After 2-3 days, petals turn red from natural fermentation.
Pounding in a Mortar
Pounding in a Mortar
Making Hanamochi (Flower Rice Cake)
Fermented benibana petals are formed into round balls by hand. They are then put between straw mats and pressed upon uniformly by bare feet in order to give them their flat rice cake-like shapes. After they have been dried, hanamochi are ready for transportation.
During the Edo period, hanamochi were transported via the Mogami River, where they were eventually shipped all the way to Kyoto or the Kyushu area aboard Kitamae-bune (Japan Sea cargo ships).
First, the yellow pigment is rubbed out of hanamochi in cold water. Then, hanamochi is put in straw ash lye to extract the red pigment. Smoked ume (Japanese plum) and rice vinegar were also used as color formers.
Floss silk is dyed before being hand-reeled in some cases (known as the ‘Nitta-style tie dyeing’ technique).
By repeatedly overlaying dyes from benibana and other pigments, hundreds of incomparable hues and shades can be achieved.
Benibana is believed to have entered Japan via the Silk Road.
During the Edo period, the Mogami Benibana accounted for over 60% of all benibana production nationwide. However, because the dyeing industry had not yet started in the Yamagata region, it was only considered to be just one of the area’s cash crops.
During the Meiji period, the production of Benibana started to decline due to the importation of chemical dyes as well as other national policies.
However, thanks to the support of various people, third-generation Shuji and his wife Tomiko succeeded in releasing Benibana Tsumugi (pongee). Well-liked by the public, the product was distributed nationwide.
Today, with much appreciation for our history, we strive to continue making the highest quality products with Yamagata-grown Mogami Benibana.