Secret Lives of Japanese Flowers – Japan Talk

Secret Lives of Japanese Flowers – Japan Talk.

posted by John Spacey, Japan Talk, September 08, 2012 

The Japanese have a long tradition of associating meanings to flowers


Flowers have influenced numerous aspects of Japanese culture from kimono to war. 

Kimono Flowers

Traditionally, kimono patterns have an intricate symbolic meaning. A kimono might signal a young woman’s availability for marriage or a married woman’s fidelity. 

Other kimono might show off an individuals social rank. Ceremonial kimono such as wedding kimono include symbolic flowers appropriate for the occasion. 

kimono patterns 

white tulip geisha 

kimono flowers and demons 


Flower symbols are also a common theme of traditional Japanese tattoo (irezumi, 入墨). In contrast to the West, flowers aren’t necessarily considered feminine in Japan. 

flowers in izezumi 

Samurai Flowers

Sakura (cherry blossoms) are associated with the Japanese concept of mono no aware (物の哀れ). This can be translated “feelings for the passing of things”. 

Mono no aware is a important part of the way that the Japanese think

The classic example of mono no aware is the sadness the Japanese feel for falling sakurapetals. 

sakura senior couple 

sakura clock 

Sakura bloom spectacularly and then fall to the ground within days. This is considered a reminder of our mortality. 

Japanese warriors such as the Samurai and Kamikaze took this analogy further. For a warrior, falling sakura represent the ideal life — live a brief but brilliant life and go out with a dramatic fall. 

kamikaze pilot and sakura 
(farewell ceremony for kamikaze pilots) 

samurai sakura 

No Love Flowers for Warriors

Samurai can’t stand tsubaki (camellia flowers) because the entire flower falls all at once (rather than petal by petal). Tsubaki are considered bad luck for warriors. 

fallen Tsubaki 

Amongst regular people, tsubaki aren’t considered bad luck at all. In fact, red tsubakirepresent love

Tsubaki love 

Imperial Flowers

Yellow or orange chrysanthemums have been a symbol of Japan’s Imperial Family since the 14th century. 

Various Imperial crests feature 14 or 16 petal chrysanthemum. In the Meiji-era it was a serious crime to use the imperial seal without authorization. 

Today, the chrysanthemum crest makes occasional appearances on government documents. It’s on the front of all Japanese passports. 

japanese passport 

The imperial seal is also displayed at many shrines in Japan. The Emperor wasconsidered a god before WWII

Chrysanthemum crest

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