I love this flower. I love all flowers, but this one, ah, this one comes packaged with the most wonderful stories. Its scientific name is Lycoris radiata; in English it's red spider lily; in Japanese it has several names including higanbana (ヒガンバナ), in other words, autumn equinox flower.
It's also referred to as manjusaka (曼珠沙華), based on an old Chinese legend about two elves: Manju guarded the flowers and Saka the leaves, but they could never meet, because the plant never bears flowers and leaves at the same time. They were curious about each other, so they defied the gods' instructions and arranged a meeting. I assume it was not via Twitter. The gods promptly punished them, as gods are wont to do, and separated them for all eternity.
To this day, the red lily is associated with loss, longing, abandonment and lost memories in hanakotoba (花言葉), the language of flowers. It's believed that if you meet a person you'll never see again, these flowers will grow along your path.
It's all very depressing.
Manjusaka, incidentally, can also be pronounced manjushage. The flower has many other names, but many of them are no longer used.
- I've come across an old name that's not used in Japan anymore as far as I know, chicken blood plant (鶏血草, keiketsusō), due to its colour.
- It's known as shibitobana (死人花), flower of the dead, because it blooms while you visit your ancestors' graves.
- It's called yūreibana (幽霊花), because the flower looks like a ghost.
|Higanbana in a graveyard in Shibamata|
|Graveyard in Shibamata|
Mock Joya tells a story in his book Things Japanese (1958) that I haven't been able to verify anywhere else. I keep telling you: once a copy-editor, always a copy-editor. Check, verify, question, be anal. Anyway. He says early missionaries from Portugal brought the plant to Japan. (I doubt this very much, since the plant is originally Chinese.) As they travelled across Japan spreading the gospel and venereal diseases, they planted bulbs by the wayside. "Where the patches of the red blossom end, you will know, will be the place where we have died," they told their fellow missionaries.
The best higanbana park near Tokyo is Kinchakuda near Hidaka in Saitama, which I wrote about here. If you don't want to travel so far, you can visit Koishikawa Kōrauken near Iidabashi Station, Kyu Shibarikyu Onshi Teien next to Hamamatsuchō Station or Showa Kinen Park in Tachikawa.
I went to Koishikawa this morning. I wanted to safari to Kinchakuda, but Mother Nature is throwing a temper tantrum called Jelawat, which is heading towards Tokyo as I write this, so I thought it prudent to avoid long train journeys.
Kinchakuda is already in full bloom, but Koishikawa will probably be at its best towards next weekend. Provided it survives this typhoon. Sigh.
|Flashes of red and a spot of sunlight in Koishikawa Kōrakuen's forest|
|Higanbana against hagi (bush clover) in Koishikawa Kōrakuen|