Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Flowers from the Dead

I was going to write about these some time ago, then I totally forgot.

Things I like in Japan: the Death Flowers.

I like how this one came right through the crack in the pavement.

I'm not entirely sure whether they are flowers for the dead, or flowers from the dead. I think maybe they are flowers from the dead, rather, because of their timing, and the way they just appear seemingly uncultivated at the edges of things.

The edges of fields, for example.

I first saw them my first year, and when I pointed them out to Nami and told her I wanted to put some in a vase, she advised me not to give them to anyone, because they were connected with death! I later heard that they are called higanbana in Japanese, and that there may be a superstition about them involving fire as well.

Near the river rocks I just found in September.

You can read a touch more about them here; as for me, I was struck by their sudden, quiet ubiquity just around the time of the equinox. So they are associated with the death of a season, or because they line graveyards. But they line other things too, whether by accident or by design, I cannot say. They bloom along the edges of things, by paths and fields, the out of the way places where people do not dig or tread. They also look weird, these lilies opening their petals so far, they look inside-out as flowers.

More higanbana by the river.

And they seem like flowers from the dead, to me, because they crop up following the holiday season of Obon, the festival of the dead in Japan, where ancestors drop in for a visit, then are sent back to the spirit world. Graves are visited, cleaned, and rites are tended. A few weeks later, these flowers appear as if to say thanks for the nice party, we enjoyed it, and we got back home all good.

More higanbana, some of them fading, along the edges of a rice field.

Then as quickly and quietly as they appear, the flowers disappear. And summer is over, and fall begins.


  1. They are also known as Resurrection Lillies and Naked Ladies here in the states. The leaves come up in spring, then disappear. Then the flowers come later, just like you said, in late summer for a brief show. Lovely!

  2. Apparently, the way that the leaves come in spring and flowers in fall is seen in Japan as symbolic of people who are unable to meet.. like estranged lovers and whatnot. Cool!

  3. I should also add that all these photos were taken with my new <3 phone. (Heartphone, like smartphone, only kinder)