[Red spider lily meaning] The reason of hell flower’s name in Japan

beautiful lycoris radiata

In Japan, gorgeous red flowers are blooming from mid September. About September 22, there is a time unique to Japan called O-Higan (お彼岸). The O-Higan is a period of seven days before and after the Autumnal Equinox Day. Therefore, this red flower blooming at this time is called Higanbana (彼岸花).

Higanbana flower is called “red spider lily”, “hell flower” and “lycoris radiata” in English. Actually, there are many aliases in Japanese, but like flowers of death, most of them are ominous names. Why is Higanbana (Red spider lily) in Japan ominous like the name “flower of death” or “hell flower”?

Higanbana’s name has two meanings, a good word and a bad word. I will explain that secret.

This post is read well in March. The O-Higan is in March and September, but the red spider lily is seen in September.

  • The red spider lily is called Higanbana in Japan.
  • There are many other names for Higanbana.
  • Some names are scary, others have good meanings.
  • The red spider lily is poisonous and cannot be eaten by animals.
  • The red spider lily was planted in tombs and rice paddies.
  • The blue-colored Higanbana is a non-existent flower.
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The red spider lily (Higanbana) has ovr 1000 different names

As this flower blooms around autumnal equinox day: Higan (彼岸) , it is commonly called Higanbana (彼岸花) in Japan.

Higanbana use the name of the season as the name of the flower as it is, so it is easy to understand, but this flower has many other names. Many of them is the word that gives a bad impression.

I will introduce the name of a bad impression and the name of a good meaning.

Bad Impression
  • Poisonous Flower: Dokubana (毒花)
  • Dead Person Flower: Shibitobana (死人花)
  • Ghost Flower: Yureibana (幽霊花)
  • Abandoned Child Flower: Sutegobana (捨子花)
  • Hell Flower: Zigokubana (地獄花)
Good Impression
  • Higanbana (彼岸花)
  • Manjushage (曼珠沙華)

I gave just a few examples. There are few words that give a good impression, and many are terrible words.

It is not possible to introduce all aliases. Because it is said that this flower has more than 1000 names. Please refer to this URL『http://www.kumamotokokufu-h.ed.jp/kumamoto/sizen/higan_name.html』 (Japanese site, A website collecting Higanbana’s name)

A spider lily blooming at the water's edge.

Why are there many words of meaning to be hated? I explain the reason for that.

Two reasons that bad meaning is used

There are reasons for this flower to have an ominous name. That hint is the place where this flower is in bloom.

  • Buddhist Temple / Shinto Shrine
  • Grave (Cemetery)
  • Farm Road / Rice Field
  • River Bank
  • Slope (Hill / Moutain)

The places where these flowers bloom have something in common. And it had a purpose and was artificially planted.

Red spider lily is easy to associate with death

Tombstone and red spider lily.We often see Higanbana flowers are dense in the grave and bloom. It is also commonly found in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines which are religious facilities as well.

A grave is a place that fills a deceased person. In Japan, there is a custom to go to always graves and temples in the equinox day.

Higanbana flowers are blooming so as to surround the tombstone is we think in was easy to be had a very sinister image. The flowers bloom red flowers every autumn equinoctial week.

There is a poison to all parts of red spider lily

Res spider lily (Higanbana) contains poison in bulbs, flowers, stems and leaves.

Higanbana flowers cannot be eaten because they are all poisoned. If you eat, you may get diarrhea and vomiting, and in severe cases your body may paralyze and die.It will be called Dokubana(poisonous flower)for commandments.

This poison is effective not only for human body but also for moles and weasels. Therefore, it is planted as an animal control in important places such as “temple and shrine” “grave” “embankment of a river” “rice field”, etc.

It summarizes the reason why the bad impression was given.

  1. We often see this flower in places (Cemetery, Temple and Shrine) to burial the dead.
  2. Flowers which the whole is poison and can not be eaten.

When looking at the red spider lilies, negative images are being used naturally because of poison, death and religion being associated.

More in details

Red spider lily are triploid and do not increase in nature. It was planted in cemetery and paddy fields by human hands. There is a reason for that.

  • To avoid roughening the dead in the ground of creatures such as the Mole.
  • In order not to be able to damage the banks and ridges.

In old Japan, burial that buries the bodies directly in the ground was common. The burial method by burial is generally a way to fill up the bodies which make up the soil, and the soil is flattened as the corpse inside the soil decays and decomposes normally. However, the buried body becomes corrupt or difficult to decompose properly due to foxes, raccoon dogs and moles that live on the ground.

Therefore it is said that people used to plant toxic flowers around the grave and the banks so as not to bring the animals doing that mischief close.

red spider lily plant was planted where we wanted to keep animals away

red spider lilyt was planted where we wanted to keep animals away

Red spider lily is a flower that has been appreciated by people in the past. However, in modern times it is buried in the state of bone, so we no longer need to plant red spider lily. As a result, in modern times, seeing the cluster amaryllis in the grave is disliked because it associates with death.

Also it is said to be the color that sucked the blood of the people by the color of that red flowers was buried. It is said that it looks like a ghost, as the flower part moves swaying greatly. In addition, there are superstitions that bringing red spider lily flowers home will be a fire. In modern Japan, Higanbana, which was once useful, has become a flower with a bad impression of being hated now.

A wonderful name is derived from Buddhist scriptures

Higanbana flowers are also seen in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

Higanbana flowers are also seen in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

There are lots of bad impression words, but on the other hand there is also a wonderful name of Manjushage (曼殊沙華).

Manjushage is a flower related to Buddhism. It is a flower that appears in the Buddhist scriptures, and it is a flower that does not exist on the ground.

For example, the following part comes out in Myōhō Renge Kyō (妙法蓮華教).

是時天雨曼陀羅華 摩訶曼陀羅華 曼殊沙華 摩訶曼殊沙華 而散仏上 及諸大衆

When Buddha is trying to talk about Myōhō Renge Kyō, it means that “mandarage” and “manjushage” have fallen from devaloka to the Buddha and the audience. It is a cluster amaryllis(Higanbana) that was named the heavenly flower that does not exist on the ground.

Manjushage (Higanbana) is a flower whose name comes from Buddhist scriptures, so it is sometimes planted as a precious flower in a Buddhist temple.

Higanbana of red flowers. Manjushage of white flowers.

Higanbana of red flowers. Manjushage of white flowers.

By the way, Manjushage that appear in Buddhist scriptures are considered white and soft flowers. For that reason, if the flower is red it is called Higanbana, and if the flower is white some people call it Manjushage.

Flowers similar to red spider lily

White color

White higanbana, unlike red higanbana, is a flower of good luck.

As explained above, the White Spider Lily is called Manjushage (曼珠沙華).

According to the dictionary, Manjushage and Higanbana are the same flower. It is positioned as another name for Higanbana. However, from this Buddhist point of view, Manjushage is a legendary flower and is said to have soft, white flowers of the Buddha’s world.

Strictly speaking, the white Higanbana is a hybrid of the red spider lily and the lycoris traubii, so it is different from Manjushage in the Buddhist sense.

In Japan, unlike the red spider lily, the white Higanbana is sometimes favored to be planted in home gardens as an auspicious flower of Buddha.

Blue color

The blue-colored higanbana is a non-existent flower.

The Blue Spider Lily is a flower that does not exist in reality. 

In the Japanese anime and manga “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba”, the lily is dyed blue.

In the anime setting, the demon boss became a demon as a result of taking blue Higanbana when he was a young human.

The body of a demon is stronger than that of a human, but it disappears when exposed to sunlight. He tried to obtain an immortal body by looking for red spider lily flower with a blue color.

He wanted to live forever, but in the end he could not find the blue Higanbana. The reason for this is revealed in the last episode, but blue Higanbana only bloom during the daytime, and demons who cannot walk under the sunlight cannot find them from the beginning. It was also a type of flower that bloomed only a few days out of the year under special conditions.

Incidentally, Japanese anime blogs considered that it might have been lupine, agapanthus, or wisteria trellis.

  • The language of the lupine flower is “always happy” and “voraciousness”.
  • Agapanthus is very similar in shape to red spider lily.
  • Wisteria appeared in the anime as a weakness of demons, and was the most powerful consideration. Also, the sound of wisteria (fuji) in Japanese was associated with immortality (fushi).

In the end, it was not these considerations, but the flowers of the anime’s original setting. The blue spider liliy does not exist in reality.

Yellow color

The yellow higanbana blooms later than the red higanbana.

The Yellow Spider Lily is called “Shouki Suisen” and is found mainly in the warm southwestern regions of Japan, such as Kyushu and Shikoku. Its flowers and leaves are larger than those of the red spider lily, so it is favored as an ornamental and cut flower.

The flowering season is a little later than that of Higanbana, in late September or October.

Its scientific name is lycoris traubii, and it was crossed with the red spider lily to form the white Higanbana.

Pink color

Pink higanbana blooms in August.

The Pink Spider Lily is called “Natu Suisen (夏水仙)”.

Similar to the red spider lily, there are no leaves when the flowers bloom. It is also poisonous. However, the leaves of the Higanbana grow after the flowers wither, while the pink Higanbana blooms after the leaves wither.

The flowers bloom in August, one month earlier than the Higanbana.

It was an emergency food in Higanbana in the past

It is red spider lily that has poison in all parts. But in fact, exposure to water for a long time allows poisons to escape and be able to eat.

Therefore it is said that they were eating as an emergency food in the year of food shortage. It grows even in a watery land like a pond or a river, so it seems that in the Edo period many plants were planted together with the effect of eliminating animals in the soil.

Red spider lily are widely known as hardy plants even in the present age. Plants with a poison are often seen in the temple. For example, ginkgo and cycad were also emergency food at the time of the famine.

Because it is not something to eat normally, it is said that an ominous name was given for the admonition.

It is also said that people intentionally made it sinister names so that children do not dig and eat it.

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Finally. The scenery of Higanbana is beautiful.

In Japan red spider lily because the bloom brilliantly in the autumn equinox(お彼岸), it is said that Higanbana(彼岸花).

There is also a wonderful alias called Manjushage(曼殊沙華) which appears in Buddhist scriptures. However, there are many bad words like hell flowers and dead man flowers in alias other than Manjushage.

Higanbana flowers were very useful plants for the people of the past. In the year of famine they were eating as an emergency food by removing poison. And because it grows on moist land, it was planted everywhere in Japan. However, because now is always blooming in time to go to the grave, from the part of the people has become easy hated plant. The swaying red flowers imagine dead person or ghosts. Some people say red is the color of the blood of the dead. As it was closely related to human life, it has more than 1000 names.

Finally, if you come to Japan in September, you can see this beautiful flower. It belongs to the lily family and if you look closely, you can see a very delicate flower. I hope you will enjoy the beautiful scenery of rice fields and temples and shrines with higanbana in full bloom.

By the way, the middle day of O-Higan (Autumnal Equinox Day / Spring Equinox Day) is the only Buddhist national holiday in Japan.

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