Even those with little knowledge of Japan can’t help but notice the prominence of flower symbolism in Japanese culture. From the beautiful cherry blossom, which is found everywhere from haiku verse to manga comics, to the vibrant chrysanthemum appearing on everything from crockery to coins, flower symbolism plays a vital role in Japanese art, literature and everyday life.
Being a spiritual, nature-loving nation influenced by Buddhist ideology, it is fitting that flower symbolism should form such a big part of the Japanese way of life. This post examines some of the most important aspects of Japanese Flower symbolism, unpicking their meanings and giving examples of their uses.
Flower Symbolism in Japan
Hanakotoba is the unique ‘language of flowers’ in Japanese. Essentially, each flower has its own meaning, often based on its physical attributes and/or well-known appearances in historical art and literature. Each flower symbol can, therefore, be used to convey a specific emotion or sentiment. On many occasions we communicate without the need to use words as we ‘say it with flowers’.
Here are some popular examples of flower symbolism in Japanese culture:
This is the most popular flower symbol in Japan, so much so that there’s even a festival to celebrate its arrival in the spring (Hanami). Cherry blossom is a symbol of wabi-sabi, an important worldview in Japan relating to the acceptance of transience and imperfection, as well as gentleness and kindness.
The chrysanthemum is the Japanese flower symbol for the Emperor and the Imperial family, and as such appears on the Imperial Seal, Japanese passports and the 50-yen coin. It is also said to represent longevity and rejuvenation.
Also known as the ‘King of Flowers’, the peony is a Japanese flower that is used as a symbol of good fortune, bravery, and honour. It is often used in tattoos to signify a devil-may-care attitude.
It’s said that nothing is more spiritual and enchanting than a lotus flower. In Japanese culture, it represents purity of the body, speech, and mind; derived from Buddhist symbolism.
Symbolises fascination, distinction, and love. Carnations are often given on Mother’s Day.
Ikebana – The Arrangement of Flowers
The clearest practical example of the use of flower symbolism in Japanese culture can be seen in ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. The translation of the word ikebana can be defined as ‘giving life to flowers’, a beautiful way to describe flower arranging.
This involves a minimalist approach, with well-defined structures often based around a scalene triangle. Like other arts, ikebana is highly expressive and the finished arrangement should reveal the emotion and/or sentiments that go into its creation – and this is where the symbolism of each flower comes in.
Other Uses of Flower Symbolism in Japan
Furthermore, flower symbolism features across many different areas of traditional and contemporary Japanese culture. Japanese flowers can be seen in art prints , literature, poetry, films, and songs. You can also find it on a vast array of consumer goods, including (amongst many other things): kimonos, tableware, kokeshi dolls, stationery, origami paper, parasols, fans, and accessories.
Learn More About Japanese Flower Meanings
If you would like to see examples, we have hundreds of authentic Japanese goods and gifts, many of which reflect the crucial role of flower symbolism in Japanese culture.
Alternatively, you can find out more about hanakotoba and ikebana in Hanakotoba, a Japanese Secret Language Using Flowers by The Language Journal.