You don’t “just” buy flowers in Japan.

Last week Aven and I went to a flower shop to buy some flowers for a Japanese friend who had a birthday. It was our first time in a Japanese flower shop and after looking around for 5 minutes or so, we picked a bunch of flowers we thought looked pretty and went to the counter to pay. I picked out a happy birthday sign and asked about wrapping the flowers in nice paper. Thankfully the lady at the counter did not leave us in our ignorance but informed us that the flowers we chose are actually flowers that people use to place on grave sites. We then received a short but helpful education on Japanese flower culture. The florist who made a special bouquet for us asked about our friend’s age and what kind of relationship we have with her. Apparently this changes the kind of flowers that are appropriate to give. We were very thankful to be spared the embarrassment of giving funeral flowers to our birthday celebrating friend! If you ever have the need to give flowers to a Japanese person, make sure you double check which flowers are culturally correct!

White or yellow chrysanthemum (kiku in Japanese) represents longevity and rebirth but is also used to symbolize death and therefore used at funerals.
This flower has a very interesting meaning in Japanese culture. In Japan its called “higan” and it blooms during the autumn equinox period which interestingly is also called higan in Japan. This is when the period of darkness starts to exceed the period of daytime and also when many Japanese will visit family graves. The word higan literally means “the other shore” and so this flower is commonly used for funerals or grave visits. Not something you want to give to your friend celebrating a birthday! Interesting fact, this flower was commonly planted near rice fields and grave sites. Mainly to chase away pests with its poisonous bulbs. Seeing them near grave sites encouraged the idea of death and separation being attached to them.

2 Comments on “You don’t “just” buy flowers in Japan.”

  1. Very interesting to know! I wonder if it’s the same in other cultures?

    I’m glad the florist helped you out of what would have been a serious faux pas!


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