The Symbolism of Japanese Flowers

The Symbolism of Japanese Flowers

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There are few countries whose love of flowers and belief in their powers of communication have become so entwined with their national identity as Japan. Beautiful Japanese flowers – from the revered cherry blossom to the bright chrysanthemum – adorn their coins, their art, and their crockery, and even form the basis of many social activities in Japan.

In this article, we will look at Japan’s traditional flowers, some rare Japanese flowers and the meaning they continue to hold today in Japan and around the world.

Flower meanings in Japan

So integral is the symbolism and potential meaning of flowers in Japanese culture that there exists an ancient floral language known as ‘hanakotoba’. In Japan, this refers to the communicative powers of plants to convey deep emotion or carry unspoken meanings according to their physical presentation or how they appear in Japan’s historical texts.

‘Hanakotoba’ is the understanding that each plant has its own unique meaning that can be used to convey certain sentiments. There are many popular flowers in Japan that are beloved exactly because of what they symbolize in hanakotoba. Let’s look at some of them now.

The Japanese flower of life

Undoubtedly, one of the most common flowers in Japan – and certainly the most famous – is the spectacular cherry blossom, also known as Sakura. As the characteristic blossoms of spring, Sakura is the Japanese flower of life.

Sakura symbolizes hope and renewal in Japan due to its springtime arrival and this sense of rebirth is why it is associated with life. The fact that this plant only blooms for a short period of time in Japan similarly represents the transient, fleeting beauty of life. 

As Japan’s national flower, cherry blossoms are so popular they have specific blossom updates on the news and even their own festival called ‘hanami’! 

The flower that represents death in Japan

Of course, with life must come death. Yes, there are flowers in Japanese culture that specifically symbolize death! Or rather, there is one flower in Japan: the red spider lily. Also known as ‘higanbana’ to use one of this flower’s many Japanese names.

Sometimes referred to as the flower of death, this plant was often bedded in or near graveyards in Japan where its poison – fatal to rodents and other wild animals - would prevent the dead from being eaten. This, it seems, was the beginning of their association with death in Japan.

More than this, according to theTokyo Times, red spider lilies are also believed to guide souls into the afterlife. The bright colors of its petals are supposed to light the way to ‘the other shore’ – which is one reason red spider lilies are commonly used at funeral arrangements.

Japanese spring flowers

Perhaps the most famous flowers in Japan are the country’s abundant and bright spring blooms. Many of the flowers native to Japan bloom in springtime, bringing with them symbols of hope, renewal, honor, and nobility.

One such plant is the camellia – an early spring flower native to Asia. This flower is known as ‘Tsubaki’ in Japaneseand found favor with nobility during the Edo Period. While camellias traditionally symbolize love, they also used to signify a noble death for samurai and warriors.

Another sumptuous springtime flower common in Japan is wisteria, or ‘Fuji’ as it is locally known. This plant sprouts purple blooms from its trailing vines and this beautiful imagery has long been popularized in artistic motifs in both fashion and art. Many kimonos are decorated with the blossoms of wisteria plants. 

Due to the regal coloring of this purple flower, it was typically associated with nobility in Japan’s past.

What makes a good Japanese bouquet?

Now you know some of the traditional and symbolic plants in both Japan and its floral language of ‘hanakotoba’, how do you craft the perfect Japanese bouquet?

It comes as no surprise that even in floral arranging, Japanese culture finds a spiritual and symbolic power. Therefore, when making a Japanese-style bouquet it is important to employ the ancient art ofIkebana – a form of flower arrangement that artistically places blooms of different seasons together in an arrangement.

This tradition has roots in Buddhism, offering flowers to Buddha as a mark of respect. Which is a reason so many of us continue to send flowers today – to show someone we care about that we respect, honor and celebrate them.

Thus, when choosing a Japanese-style bouquet, make sure you use some traditional springtime blooms like wisteria or camellia! Find your perfect bouquet with same-day delivery at 1800Flowersor FromYouFlowers.

If you would like to practice the art of Japan’s Ikebana in your own home, why not subscribe to an EnjoyFlowers subscription? With this subscription, you will get beautiful bundles of 20, 30, or 40 stems delivered fortnightly or monthly, leaving you free to practice this ancient art of Japanese flower arranging.

If you want the joy of beautiful arrangements delivered directly to your home without the DIY, there are also fantastic subscription options available at BloomsyBox and MonthlyClubs.

What do white flowers mean in Japan?

White plants have no specific meaning in Japan, though white varieties of certain plants do have a symbolic meaning. For example, white lilies usually symbolize chastity and purity.

What do white roses mean in Japan?

White roses are associated with innocence, devotion and silence in Japan. 

What do chrysanthemums mean in Japanese culture?

Known as ‘kiku’ in Japan, Chrysanthemums are associated with nobility and have appeared on Japan’s Imperial Family’s crest for generations. However, the white ‘kiku’ is often used for funerals as it symbolizes purity, grief, and truth.

What do roses mean in Japanese?

Every color rose carries a different meaning in Japan. Momirobara (pink rose) symbolizes happiness or confidence in someone. Akaibara (red roses) represent love. Roses are common as floral presents in Japan and are typically given when the giver wishes to express deep emotion.


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