The hidden meaning of flowers in Japanese culture
Hanakotoba: the language of flowers in Japan
The Japanese patterns screen-printed on the washi paper that I use for my creations, in addition to their beauty and finesse, are also highly symbolic in Japanese culture. Called Wagara , each pattern can come from nature, daily life, geometry... there are hundreds of them.
I have already written an article on this subject , which I invite you to read. Here, we will focus on the Wagara dedicated to flowers ⚘ ⚘ ⚘.
Nature and flowers occupy a central place in traditional Japanese culture. Even today, some are revered and are even the subject of festivals throughout the country.
Symbolism of flowers in Japan
In Japan, the hydrangea is a flower characteristic of the rainy season (or tsuyu), which occurs each year from June to July. Its colors are very changeable. These color variations are due to the acidity of the soil. Thus, a neutral soil (limestone soil) will give the hydrangea a red tint while an acidic soil, enriched in aluminum in particular, will give it a blue tint.
The hydrangea is thus a symbol of inconstancy and would represent a changing, volatile spirit, even a lack of constancy or even a lack of loyalty.
However, this flower is the subject of many festivals and popular celebrations and is widely represented in traditional Japanese arts.
Traditionally in Japan, the peony was the symbol of the nobility and the upper classes in general. Imported from China around the 6th century where it was considered the queen of flowers, it gradually became more popular and is today in all parks and public gardens.
The peony is a recurring element in Japanese prints and was of course found in Art Nouveau motifs, such as the illustrations of A. Mucha.
I love this flower, it is at the heart of the Casa Pampa collection, the Art Nouveau collection by La Factorigami.
Face of the morning in Japanese, morning glory in English, Ipomée belle de jour in French, ipomées open very early in the morning and are one of the emblematic flowers of summer for the Japanese.
As is often the case in Japan, they even have a festival in their honor, the Iriya Asagao Matsuri festivities which are taking place this weekend in Tokyo.
Ipomoeas don't really have any meaning in Japanese culture. It's a flower that Japanese children regularly grow at school.
Asagao is a pattern found on Yukata (light summer kimonos) and
Tenugui (thin cotton towels).
I've only seen it very rarely on washi paper and the colors weren't to my taste but I hope to use it one day :)
Chrysanthemum is known in Japan as the flower of emperors. The imperial family made it their emblem and it is found on the imperial seal, Japanese passports, certain coins... It is a very resistant flower and is a symbol of longevity and immortality.
It is certainly not as popular as the cherry blossom but it has just the same right to its little celebration. Every year, the Bunkyô Kiku Matsuri offers a splendid spectacle with thousands of chrysanthemums and autumn flowers: it's the celebration of happiness!
It's still more cheerful than in the West (especially in France) where the chrysanthemum is rather considered the flower of All Saints' Day and cemeteries...
Etymologically, chrysanthemum means “golden flower” (from the Greek chrysós “gold” and ánthos “flower, root”).
Sunflowers are undeniably the stars of the month of August in Japan, they are celebrated every year during the Himawari Matsuri (sunflower festival) throughout Japan, here is a site that lists them all :)
I found a bit of everything in my research on its symbolism: hope, healing, respect, radiance, fidelity, adoration, symbol of the sun... so I will avoid telling you nonsense and tell you that its meaning seems to be positive.
It is also a flower that has the ability to extract toxic elements from the soil (metals and radioactive elements), which is why entire fields of sunflowers were planted around the Fukushima power plant after the disaster. 2011.
Higanbana or Lycoris, Japanese Amaryllis, the red spider lily, the flower of ghosts, the flower with 600 names means "the flower of the equinox" in Japanese.
It is a very common flower, in September, in China and Japan, along rivers, roads, rice fields. It is not very widespread in the rest of the world. It is a very bright red or white and reminds me of a little fireworks :)
However, its symbolism is not very happy...
Higanbana refers to the autumnal equinox, a time when Japanese people pay respects to their ancestors, and is often planted near temples and cemeteries in Japan. She would guide the souls of the deceased towards reincarnation.
There is also a Shinto legend which tells that the sun goddess, Amaterasu, entrusted the elves Manjû and Saka with the difficult task of watching over the flowers (Saka's task) and the leaves of the Lycoris (Manjû's task). They fell madly in love with each other. To punish them, the Japanese goddess curses the flower, so that if the leaves grow, the flower withers. And if the flower blooms, the leaves fall. Thus, the two lovers have been separated for eternity.
In Japanese spirituality, Higanbana is seen as a manifestation of wisdom. It symbolizes acceptance of the natural cycle of life and death, and reminds us that every ending is the beginning of a new beginning. She reminds us that even in the darkest times, there is always beauty and hope.
While preparing this post, I discovered that oxalis could be eaten in salads and even infused to make lemonade! If you're missing lettuce for tonight...
Its very sober and elegant pattern has made it one of the 10 most popular Kamons among samurai. A Kamon in medieval Japan was a kind of coat of arms that allowed a family, a clan or a samurai to be identified on the battlefield. The Kamons most often represented plants, flowers, sometimes geometric shapes. Unlike European coats of arms, Kamons are and remain surprisingly very modern having been invented several centuries ago. The Kamon of the oxalis was often associated with a sword and was supposed to protect the family from demons and misfortunes.
Personally, I love oxalis. I advise you to slip purple oxalis bulbs at the base of your green plants, this will make very stylish and always surprising mixtures!
I will end this article with 3 flowers that I have already presented to you in an article dedicated to last winter's collection, Ume , the plum blossom.
Ume, the plum blossom. This flower has many meanings in Japanese culture. THE Ume are first of all associated with good fortune, health, life force: they are vigorous enough to bloom in the heart of winter. They are also considered talismans against evil spirits (like many Japanese symbols). Finally, they are also a symbol of elegance and dignity. I love its symbolism, I dedicated a collection to it last winter.
This flower is generally represented as rounded with regular pistils.
Momo , the peach blossom is represented with the tips of the petals, a little pointed, in the shape of a drop of water. Fishing in Japan is at the heart of many folk tales and stories, notably the myth of Izanami who escapes from the world of the dead by throwing peaches at his pursuers. This is also the case with the legend of Momotarô , a Japanese folk tale which tells the story of a child born from a peach, capable of defeating demons.
Let's finish with THE flagship flower of Japan, both for foreigners and for the Japanese themselves: the cherry blossom. The cherry blossom truly marks the arrival of spring and sunny days. Nowadays, the Japanese gather in parks to picnic, meet up with family or friends while admiring the cherry blossoms. The full flowering of Sakura only last a few days, which makes these flowers the very personification of ephemeral beauty. This brief moment reminds us of the short duration of life and the importance of savoring every moment of it. THE Sakura also marks the beginning of a new cycle, new horizons. Indeed, the month of April is a pivotal month in Japan: month of back to school, of a new fiscal year, of hiring. It's the month of new promises :)
The cherry blossom is a strong national symbol even if it does not appear in any institution or official document (it is the chrysanthemum which appears on Japanese passports). Japanese leaders regularly offer cherry blossoms during important diplomatic trips
Even if at first glance all these flowers look the same, it is very easy to differentiate the Sakura from the others: the tips of the petals are always split.