25 September 2014

autumn equinox flowers (higanbana)

The autumn equinox has just passed us, and so I (Kit) want to talk for a moment about higanbana; that curious red spider-lily that shows up from time to time, in places like visual novels (Higanbana no Saku Yoru ni) or anime series (Hell Girl; Puella Magi Madoka Magica). What does it mean when it shows up?

Higanbana - red spider lily - Lycoris radiata.

Higanbana ( 彼岸花 ) literally means "flower of that (other) shore" - referring to the shores of the Sanzu River, the river dividing the world of the living from the worlds and hells of the dead. It is known by other names too; manjushage is a name that refers to a story of a curse laid upon the flower-sprite and the leaf-sprite of the Lycoris radiata, ensuring they would never meet again (when the flower blooms, the leaves have fallen; when the leaves appear, there are no flowers at all). And since the bulbs are very poisonous, the lilies were used to border rice fields and houses to keep pests away, further evoking this sense of death (albeit, in a more protective form). Some other legends associate this flower with seeing someone you will never see again, and say that is why this flower is associated with tragic partings and funerals. Who knows where the truth may indeed lie.

So in Puella Magi Madoka Magica - Rebellion Story - you can see Homura with these as her symbol; in one image, the longing and symmetry of the sprite story - that she can never seem to be able to reunite with Madoka- and the morbidity of the tragic parting/beauty in decay are expressed. An eloquent image, but packing a punch to it; are the flowers and the figure associated with them harbingers of hope, or decay?

In Hell Girl / Jigoku Shoujo, you can see these flowers surrounding the house of Enma Ai, the girl that acts as an agent of revenge and curses.

So when you see them... watch out for ghosts, curses, yokai, or even demons, for those beings too may be lurking about the scarlet flowers.


  1. Thanks for this! I'd noticed the similarity of situations in which they'd appeared but never given their actual appearance much thought. This puts to rest a subtle nagging in my head. Another great use of the flowers, especially as it takes place near a river with a god/demon/monster on the opposite shore, is Gambo in the Short Peace collection.

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