Sunday, July 31, 2011

Japanese Flowers: 菊 Kiku

  I love telling this story. It’s one of my more famous cultural faux pas in Japan. It was way back when my wife and I were dating. She had become very ill and had a high fever for several days. I went to visit her at her apartment. I wanted to cheer her up and bring her some flowers. I stopped in at a little corner mom and pop shop near by. There weren’t many choices and I picked some flowers that I thought looked pretty. I came in to see her and happily presented her with my flowers. Her face went pale and her jaw dropped. She explained those were “kiku” flowers and are only put on peoples graves. Kiku is the Japanese name for chrysanthemums. Chrysanthemums are a common sight at florists and other shops in Japan. They are placed on graves when Japanese pray to their ancestors. They are a common motif in Buddhism and also the symbol of the emperor. The position of the emperor of Japan is known as the chrysanthemum throne. The chrysanthemum is the official seal of Japan and appears on Japanese passports. However, me giving my sick girlfriend kiku might look like she’s dying or I want her dead.

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