In Japan, there is one kind of flower that seems to sprout from nowhere, wild and seems to be no owner. Its striking beauty seems to beckon the passers-by to come close. Up close, it’s bizarrely-shaped petals which look like spider legs, fuel the curious mind and imagination. Some call it “yureeibana”, a flower that looks like a ghost. Some say “tengaibana”, as it looks like a ceiling decoration. It is even called “shibitobana”, (the flower of the dead), as it also grows in the graveyards.
This flower is Higanbana. Higanbana like Sakura, signals the changing of seasons. As Sakura blooms to welcome spring in April, Higanbana welcomes Fall in September. Originally from China, it is called “the flower of autumnal equinox”, thus, its name Higanbana, from the word “higan”, meaning the equinoctial week, the time when Buddhists services are held. Higanbana is known in English as Red Spider Lily, Lycoris Radiata, and Cluster Amaryllis.
When it blooms, Higanbana gives a beautiful contrast of color in the surroundings. Its bright red color gleams over the bright yellow- green rice fields which, around that time, are ready to harvest. There are other colors (yellow and white) but red is more common. It also grows in the river banks and graveyards. They grow wild and in clumps. The best way to enjoy Higanbana is on a clear, sunny day strolling in the long stretch of rice fields or on the river banks where you can see long lines and clumps of red, beautifully framing the green fields in a blue sky background. It is such a scenic view of nature! Plus the perfect crisp autumn breeze, I can’t help but sigh in wonder and amazement.
It’s a beauty to behold but beware! There is a danger that awaits to those who mistakenly consume it. There are maybe edible parts, but its bulb is poisonous and can lead to death. This is originally the reason why they are in the rice fields, to shoo away mice and other pests that can destroy the crops. Because it is poisonous, it is also called “dokubana”, literally ‘poison flower’.
Higanbana has its influence on media. “Higanbana no saku no yoru ni” is a fantasy horror manga written by Ryukishi07 and illustrated by Ichiro Tsunohazu and was serialized between May 2010 and November 2012. This manga features short stories depicting bullying in school. Higanbana revolves around a series of urban legends caused by supernatural beings called “yokai”. “Equinox Flower”, a 1958 Japanese film originally titled ‘Higanbana’, directed by Yasujiru Ozu, is a comedy-drama about a businessman who have a disagreement about his eldest daughter’s choice of husband.
When you visit Japan in Fall, don’t miss to see this beautiful flower and let it amaze you.