Throughout history, Japanese flowers have been used as a form of unspoken communication. This art of using Japanese flowers to communicate is known as hanakotoba, where Japanese flowers and plants are given codes and passwords that are meant to convey emotion and communicate directly to the recipient or viewer without the use of words. Let’s take a look at some unique Japanese flowers and their identities.
Camellia / Tsubaki
Camellias are early spring flowers that are native to Asia. These Japanese flowers were incredibly popular with nobles during the Edo Period, as amongst warriors and samurai, the red camellia symbolised a noble death. The camellia does have other meanings, too. These Japanese flowers also symbolise love, however, it is custom not to give these Japanese flowers to someone who is sick or injured due to the nature of these flowers ‘beheading’ themselves when they die.
Chrysanthemum / Kiku
Chrysanthemums are Japanese flowers native to both Asia and Europe and are known as kiku in Japanese. As a motif, chrysanthemums are perfectly round and are one of the most recognisable Japanese flowers. Chrysanthemums have incredibly noble connotations and are often found on the Japanese Imperial Family’s crest. In society, chrysanthemums indicate purity, grief, and truth, and are often used for funerals.
Wisteria / Fuji
Wisteria or fuji, are auspicious purple flowers that grow on woody trailing vines. These Japanese flowers are a popular spring motif, especially for traditional fashions such as the kimono. Throughout history, wisteria has been associated with nobility as commoners were forbidden from wearing the colour purple.
Red spider lily / Higanbana
Red spider lilies are bright Japanese flowers found in the summer throughout Asia. They are associated with final goodbyes as Japanese legends suggest that these flowers grow wherever people part ways. In ancient Buddhist writings, it is claimed that the red spider lily guides the death through samsara, known as the cycle of rebirth and because of this, these flowers are often used for funerals, but they can also be used for decoration without connotations.
Cherry Blossom / Sakura
Cherry blossom is of Japan’s most renown and popular flowers. Cherry blossom, also known as sakura is a Japanese flower that represents springtime. In the literary sense, cherry blossom is meant to symbolise fleeting beauty and the brevity of life. In the secret method of communication, hanakotoba, these Japanese flowers indicate a pure and gentle heart. Cherry blossom can be found in a variety of things from food to cosmetics due to its popular and beloved nature.
Sunflower / Himawari
Sunflowers used to be native to North America, but can now be found around the world, including Japan. These bright and cheery flowers were brought to Japan hundreds of years ago. As you may have guessed, these flowers symbolise radiance in the language of hanakotoba as well as respect.
Sweet pea / Suitopi
Sweet pea flowers are native to Italy and only arrived in Japan at the turn of the 20th century. Until recently, in hanakotoba, the sweet pea was known to mean goodbye. Today, these flowers have mostly lost their symbolism and are now a popular bouquet flower that is sold from winter to spring.
Plum blossom / Ume
The ume or Chinese plum tree is native to China. The plum tree is more closely related to that of the apricot tree, where the fruit of these trees is sometimes referred to as Japanese apricots. In the old communication of hanakotoba, these Japanese flowers indicated elegance and loyalty. Partnered with the popular cherry blossom, these Japanese flowers bloom in spring just before the appearance of sakura.
Daffodil / Suisen
Daffodils, also known as suisen are native to Europe and Northern Africa. These flowers arrived in Japan almost 700 years ago and now grow wild in certain areas. These flowers are incredibly unusual, blooming from late December through to February. In hanakotoba, daffodils represent respect.
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