Sunday, July 31, 2011

彼岸 Higan and 彼岸花 Higanbana Flowers(Red Spider Lilly)

 Higan is a time of Buddhist reflection. It occurs twice a year for periods of seven days; three days before and after the Vernal and Autumn Equinoxes (shuubun no hi and shunbun no hi). The word "higan" means "the other shore." In Buddhism it refers to nirvana. Japanese usually have some days off around this time. There are three main times a year when Japanese visit their family graves to pray for the ancestors; Spring Higan in March, O-bon in August, and Autumn Higan in September. The Japanese are very quick to say they are not religious, but ancestor worship is an integral part of Japanese culture.
During the Autumn Higan, a common sight are the “Higanbana” flowers that bloom at this time. The higanbana are a very beautiful, but very unusual looking flower. In English, it is “Red Spider Lily” or sometimes "cluster amaryllis". I recently learned a little more about them. There is a white variety which I’ve personally never seen. Now they grow wild everywhere in Japan, alongside roads and rice fields, but at one time they were cultivated. They grow from bulbs which are extremely poisonous and were planted around rice fields and homes to cut down on pests like mice. You won’t find the in flower shops and Japanese people never pick them, partly because the plant is known to be poisonous, but also I think it is associated with Higan ancestor worship. They are blood red and remind you of death. And you never know, they might be the reincarnated spirit of grandma. I once made the mistake of picking some for my girlfriend, now my wife. We were on a road trip and had a fight. I picked some red flowers along the side of the road to make up, but she only got more upset. Please enjoy the scenery during this season in Japan, but remember, “Don’t Pick The Flowers!”

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