Sho Chiku Bai: Meaning of Japanese Shochikubai
When describing auspicious things, we Japanese often use the compound term composed of 3 separate words, Sho Chiku Bai (松竹梅).
Shochikubai has the literal meaning of pine (Sho: 松), bamboo (Chiku: 竹), and ume plum (Bai: 梅).
Sho Chiku Bai (松竹梅)
The origin of the Japanese term Shochikubai (松竹梅) comes from Saikan no Sanyu (歳寒三友: Three Friends of Winter), a subject loved by ancient Chinese painters.
The Chinese painting subject, Saikan no Sanyu, designates the three plants, Sho (松: pine), Chiku (竹: bamboo), and Bai (梅: ume plum), as its theme.
But unlike what the Japanese Shochikubai means, those plants in the picture weren’t originally the symbol of auspicious things.
Meaning of Japanese Shochikubai
The painting subject, Saikan no Sanyu (歳寒三友) or Three Friends of Winter, was transmitted from China during the Heian period (794 to 1185)
when the word Sho (松) came to symbolize auspiciousness because the pine tree is evergreen Japanese people associated it with longevity.
Subsequently, during the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573), Chiku (竹) came to stand for good luck, and so did Bai (梅) during the Edo period (1603 to 1868)
because bamboo has vigorous vitality and the plum tree blossoms in the winter.
Today in Japan, in many cases, the thing to which we assign the word Sho (松: pine) is the supreme thing, Chiku (竹: bamboo): the deluxe thing, and Bai (梅: ume plum): the regular thing.
And those items named Sho Chiku Bai are typically used to indicate grade/quality of themselves.