Hanakotoba is a traditional Japanese language of flowers. In Japanese culture, most flowers have a secret, unspoken meaning. Each beautiful Japanese flower is a symbol to express certain feelings and intentions. In modern Japanese pop culture, Hanakotoba still makes appearances in some manga and anime.
Japanese Flower Types
As we all know, Sakura and Chrysanthemum are national symbols of Japan. But besides these two, some other Japanese flowers also have a powerful meaning and symbolism. By learning the cultural associations of these flowers, we will be able to appreciate Japan’s nature, poetry, and culture more deeply.
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Himawari or Japanese sunflowers can be found in Hokuryu, Hokkaido Island, and Furano Flower Fields. The Himawari can grow up to 3 meters tall and 40 cm in diameter. In Hanakotoba or Japanese flower language, the meaning is adoration, respect, longevity, and loyalty. There is a sunflower festival or known as Himawari Matsuri in summer when this flower blooms and people come to adore the beauty of Himawari, Japanese sunflower.
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Sakura (Japanese Cherry Blossoms)
This beautiful Japanese flower is also a national image of Japan. We can find the Sakura trees easily in Tokyo’s streets and gardens. Sakura also grows in Hokkaido Island and Sumida Park. The trees can grow up to 12 meters tall. Sakura flowers bloom every spring, and there is a sakura viewing event called Hanami. The event instantly became people’s favorite because the Sakura only blooms for a short amount of time, proudly showing their beautiful light pink and white blossom. The Japanese flower language meaning of this cherry blossom is an accomplishment and the beauty of a pure and gentle heart.
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As well as Sakura, Camellia also blooms in springtime. We can find this beautiful Japanese flower along the coast of Southern Japan. The trees are almost like shrubs with dark glossy green leaves and large flowers. These beautiful flowers can have various colors. Start from shades of pink to red, also shades of white to yellow. The shape of Camellias is often found in traditional Japanese patterns. The meaning of Tsubaki in Hanakotoba is discretion, longing, and perfect love. But among warriors and samurai, Camellia is a flower that symbolizes a noble death.
Asagao (Morning Glory)
Asagao in Hanakotoba can be interpreted as two completely different things. First as a symbol of a brief love. Because this flower, as the name says, only blooms shortly in the cool breezy weather of the morning then closes by late afternoon. However, the blooming season of Asagao lasts from spring until fall, so this Japanese flower also symbolizes a long-lasting bond of love. Morning glory or Asagao was introduced in Japan in the Heian period, and now can be found in the Japanese gardens of Osaka or known as Sakai. The strong characteristics of this flower are the heart-shaped leaves and tie-dyed blue blossoms with white streaks.
Ume (Japanese Apricot Blossoms)
This Japanese white flower, commonly found in pale pink blossoms too, is the flowering of Japanese apricot trees. The meaning in Hanakotoba is pure heart, elegance, and faithfulness. They bloom in spring, just before the sakura. When in full bloom, the flower is very fragrant, smells like sweet honey. Ume trees originated from China and now can commonly be found in the gardens of Japan and grow between 4-10 meters high. Besides the beautiful and fragrant flowers, the fruit of the Ume tree is also useful for people in Japan. The fruit can be eaten and used to make a fruit liquor called umeshu.
Sakurasou (Japanese Primrose)
Another Japanese flower that blooms in spring is this flower with the Latin name Primula sieboldii. It is very popular in Japan and known as Sakurasou because of its shape that resembles sakura. Sakurasou have these iconic deep magenta blossoms and the five-petalled flowers that look like daisies. In Hanakotoba, Sakurasou means desire and long-lasting or eternal love.
Hydrangea is one of the Japanese flowers that are easiest to grow but has very deep symbolism. In Hanakotoba, this flower is used to express guilt and gratitude. Hydrangea is a flowering shrub that can grow in any type of soil. The flower blooms during spring to early autumn, usually during June and July. The color of hydrangea can vary depending on the soil characteristics. But it is usually found in indigo blue, pink, white, and sometimes red or purple.
This is one of the most iconic Japanese flowers after Sakura. Since centuries ago, chrysanthemums have already become an important part of Japanese culture and featured in many aspects by the Japanese emperor and imperial family. In Hanakotoba, chrysanthemums are associated with purity, truth, nobility, and trust. In addition, there is also White Chrysanthemum, known as Shiragiku. This particular Japanese white flower symbolizes grief and became the most common flower to be used in funerals.
Kinmokusei (Sweet Osmanthus)
In Hanakotoba, this flower is used to secretly say that we trust a person and consider them noble and truthful. The osmanthus flower is usually bright orange, but some species also have yellow or white blossoms. This Japanese flower is native to China and was brought to Japan during the Edo period. Now Kinmokusei can easily be found in gardens throughout Japan. Some cities even make Kinmokusei an official city tree because of its beauty and deep meanings. The characteristics of osmanthus plants are the evergreen shrubs and the purple-black fruit drupe.