Higanbana, flower of the equinox
Japan is a country where many legends still co-habit with its inhabitants. These legends are often linked to the country’s mythology and are not restricted to certain animals or creatures or even places that have become symbolic. They can also concern Japan’s flora. What follows is the story of a flower like no other, which usually grows near cemeteries and symbolizes death. This red flower, exposing its petals forming passionate flames has inspired many artists to create Haiku or even Ukiyo-e.
"彼岸花 Higanbana" means "Flower of the equinox", "彼岸" being a Buddhist festival during which graves are cleaned. However, this flower has many other names, so that it is sometimes called "the flower with 600 names", the flower of the specters (yuureibana 幽 霊 花), orphan flower (sugetobana 捨 子 花), the flower of hell (jigokubana 地獄 花), the fox flower (kitsunebana 狐 花), etc. It is native to China, Korea and Nepal, and was introduced in Japan later. The most common hypothesis is that it was introduced with the rice cultivation. Flowering usually takes place from late summer and in autumn.
In Japan, this flower is often a sign of a bad omen. But in the sense of red flower or heavenly flower, it can also be a good omen. It is often used to decorate graves, and also to scare away rats from gardens with its poisonous bulb.
Symbolically, the Higanbana flower represents a final separation. It is therefore not suitable for offering to a person you like... At the origin of this symbol is the story of Manju and Saka, two elves from China. One should take care of the flower and the other one the leaves. However, although they had been forbidden to meet, they infringed the law. There then followed a strong mutual love which annoyed the goddess Amaterasu. Ruthless, she cursed them and separated them. The two elves could never meet again. According to this legend, it is said that the flowers fade when the leaves grow, and vice versa.
Another legend says that the Equinox Flower blooms profusely on the road to Hell, guiding the deceased to their reincarnation.