The Secrets of Hanakotoba: Japan’s Language of Flowers

It is a well-known fact that language is made up of words and gestures that are familiar to most of us. Each culture has its own, and often, there is overlap between languages that makes communication a little more simple. Other times, we rely on translation to bridge many of those gaps that are not immediately intuitive to us. What we sometimes take for granted though, is that there is an entire world of language that goes beyond those simple words and gestures alone. 

One language in particular, the special Japanese language of Hanakotoba, communicates by way of expressing emotions and intentions through flowers. Every color and arrangement carries its very own meaning and feeling, which can sometimes be more impactful than simply using words alone. In fact, the special significance behind each of these Japanese flower meanings are present in the symbolism and code names given to each blossom.

While Hanakotoba is not the only language to attach a meaning to each flower, this form of communication is by far one of the oldest.

So what are some of the secret messages contained within each flower in Hanakotoba? Listed below are some of the most popular flowers in the language, and their meanings. Each of the flowers themselves serve to communicate powerful messages: from the way they are arranged, even down to the nature of the flowers themselves, which carry messages that go beyond words.

Sakura: Cherry Blossom

Meaning: A Pure & Gentle Heart

In perhaps one of the most symbolic flowers in Japan, the cherry blossom is ever present in folklore and culture. Taking its meaning from purity and gentleness of heart, the sakura is symbolic of the principle of “mono no aware”, which communicates the awareness of impermanence. As such, it is often found in art and even provides the inspiration for many popular tattoo designs. This flower most closely illustrates that principle by its brilliant, short-lived blooming season. This brief period serves as a reminder to live with our best intentions, staying aware of the gentle, ephemeral nature of life, because it is indeed short.

Hinageshi: Red Poppy 

Meaning: Fun-Loving

The red poppy is symbolic of deep emotion, and serves as a reminder to have and remember good times. While in Western cultures, the red poppy flower is more commonly used to communicate death and remembrance of those past, in Hanakotoba the meaning takes on something much lighter, and reminds us to live our lives with fun and passion.

Sumire: Violet

Meaning: Honesty & Sincerity

The violet has come to be known as a symbol of honesty, hard work and sincerity. Often thought to have its name taken from the ink of the hard-working carpenter, this flower only seeks to tell the truth. In giving the gift of a sumire to another, the message is clear: only the best of intentions are meant, and with the hope that honesty will be shown in return.

Tsubaki: Camellia

Meaning: A Noble Death

Communicating with this flower sends a very strong message… The red camellia speaks to a noble death in this secret language of flowers. While most flowers begin to wilt and lose their petals one by one, the tsubaki loses its bloom all at once as the head of the flower falls directly from the stem. Over time, this has come to be communicated as a noble death, in a vivid illustration of death in one’s prime, rather than a fate of eventual decay.

Saboten: Cactus Flower

Meaning: Intense Passion

In a message no less impactful, but with quite a different connotation, sending someone a cactus flower communicates intense feelings of passion. Not to be taken lightly, the saboten is not indigenous to Japan, but its message has made an indelible mark on the way these powerful feelings have been used in communication throughout the region. Sending a cactus flower is an unmistakable message conveying strong sentiments of passion!

Renge: Lotus

Meaning: Purity & Nobility 

The lotus flower is an enchanting flower in its own right. When combined with its meaning of purity in body and mind, it is no wonder why it is a chosen method of communicating these noble principles. The meaning of the renge is derived from Buddhist symbolism and has served to captivate many over time with its simple message of spiritual awareness.

Yuri: Orange Lily

Meaning: Fun & Splendor

In contrast with the serenity evoked by the lotus blossom, the orange lily communicates a different message entirely. Often used to demonstrate the lighter sides of life, the yuri is a flower that serves as a messenger for fun times to be shared, and moments of splendor. In overabundance, this message can quickly turn into one of haste and overeagerness, so the caution behind this overall positive message is to enjoy life, without being too hasty.

Higanbana: Red Spider Lily

Meaning: A Final Goodbye

Often used for funerals, the red spider lily is said to grow on paths where people part ways for good. Fabled to be the flower that greets the dead on their path through the afterlife, the higanbana is the flower that is seen to mark the end of an important chapter. While not always used to mark death, this flower is often sent as a final goodbye and is symbolic for moving on. 

It’s always incredible to learn about the many ways that we have for communicating across cultures; it really is a look into the infinite world of words itself. If you are looking to get started with a language project of your own, and need pointing in the right direction, we are happy to help. Get in contact with us today, and we can assist with a free quote to start you on your journey.

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