The “Three Friends in Winter” are pine trees, bamboo and plum blossoms. This is a nature grouping borrowed from the Chinese ethical tradition of Confucianism. Sho-chiku-bai is the common term for this trio in Japan and is a transliteration of their Chinese names.

Each plant represents various moral values. Pine trees, represented on this panel by stylized lobed branches, are dependably green all year and are therefore symbols of steadfastness. They can grow to be large, ancient trees and so also represent strength and longevity.

Bamboo plants, like pine trees, are evergreen. Traditionally the Japanese considered all plants that remained green in winter auspicious and favored by the gods. Because bamboo shoots can grow up to a foot a day, they represent the vigor of youth. Bamboo bends but does not break under the weight of snow and therefore embodies flexibility.

Plums are the first trees to blossom, often under snow. Their blossoms represent bravery and faithfulness because, despite the cold, they return every year as harbingers of spring. With their beauty and sweet fragrance, they also symbolize grace under adversity.

The “Three Friends in Winter” often decorate objects for New Year and wedding celebrations. They are a well loved and auspicious triad that is associated with happiness.

Copyright 2006 Jeffrey Krauss and Ann Marie Moeller