Sho Chiku Bai – The meaning of the 3 plants (pine, bamboo, and plum)

When the Japanese describe congratulatory things, we often use a compound word composed of 3 words that means plants.The compound word is Shochikubai (松竹梅), or Sho Chiku Bai, each of which has a meaning of a plant, pine (Sho : 松), bamboo (Chiku : 竹), and ume plum (Bai : 梅), respectively.

The origin of the compound word “Shochikubai (松竹梅)”

It is said that the origin of the compound word “Shochikubai (松竹梅)” is derived from “Saikan Sanyu (歳寒三友)”, a painting subject that ancient Chinese painters loved.Specifically, the painting subject designates the 3 plants, Sho (松 : pine), Chiku (竹 : bamboo), Bai (梅 : ume plum), but didn’t express lucky things like what Shochikubai means.

The meaning of Shochikubai (Sho Chiku Bai)

The painting subject “Saikan Sanyu (歳寒三友)” was introduced from China to Japan during the Japan’s Heian period (794 to 1185), when the word “Sho (松)”  meaning “pine” came to symbolize a lucky thing because the plant is evergreen so that Japanese associate it with longevity.

During the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573), the Japanese word “Chiku (竹)” meaning “bamboo” came to stand for a lucky thing, and so did “Bai (梅 : ume plum)” during the Edo period (1603 – 1868) since the plum tree blossoms in winter.

In many cases, what is called “Sho (松 : pine)” in Japan is a supreme thing, Chiku (竹 : bamboo) : a deluxe thing, and Bai (梅 : ume plum) : a regular thing.

By the way, Sho (松 : pine), Chiku (竹 : bamboo), Bai (梅 : ume plum), each of them is a representative of a plant division, the gymnosperm, the monocotyledon, and the dicotyledon, respectively.

(Reference pages of this article : Wikipedia “歳寒三友”, 語源由来辞典 “松竹梅”)


I'm Japanese living in Niigata Prefecture,Japan.I want to introduce things about Japan,especially unique Japanese products,sightseeing places,my daily life and Japanese culture.

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