What is Hanakotoba? Hanakotoba translates to “Flower Words” in Japanese, meaning that this is their equivalent to Floriography or their language of flowers. Similarly to Floriography, Hanakotoba grew in popularity around the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the fad moved worldwide. Hanakotoba is used in a great deal of Japanese literature, most of all in anime and mangas. Sometimes the use of the flowers is very subtle to the point where it is easily missed if you are not aware of what the symbolism is referring to. Let’s take a look at a few examples of flower symbolism in animes both past and present.
Ouran High School Host Club – Roses (Rosa)
Ouran High School Host Club is an anime that aired its last episode back in 2006, yet is still referenced to this day whenever the concept of a Host Club is presented. While this is an older example, Ouran uses the concept of Hanakotoba a great deal with a focus on roses. When each of the main cast is introduced in the host club room they are presented with a different color rose. While this could have just been a design choice for the series when connected to Hanakotoba there are many more symbolic similarities.
Tamaki Suoh: Tamaki Suoh is the male lead in the show and the president of the club. Tamaki is introduced with green roses which symbolize hope and cheerfulness, something very symbolic of his character. He represents hope and a new beginning for his entire club and hints at the fact that there’s a great deal of emotion and change in his story.
Haruhi Fujioka: Our main character and heroine of the story makes the last introduction in the first episode and is presented with a red rose. This hints at the fact that this is not only a romance anime, but also the start of new love for Haruhi both for herself and for perhaps one of the other club members.
All other members are introduced with different colored roses as well, each one giving us a glimpse into their character arc and their general personality. This use of subtle symbolism fits in seamlessly with the series.
Your Lie in April – Cherry Blossoms (Sakura)
Cherry Blossoms are a common occurrence in anime as they have a simple yet very deep symbolism behind them. The cherry blossom flower undergoes a cycle of dormancy in the winter that some have attributed to a type of death. Once winter has passed the cherry blossoms bud and then bloom all over again as the cycle continues. This has given the cherry blossom flower a symbolism of life death and rebirth.
Your Lie in April uses this concept heavily as one of the two main characters, Kaori Miyazono, has a life-threatening health condition. Throughout the series, we see her struggle as she makes friends and tries to live as much as she can while she has the best chance.
Our other protagonist Kousei Arima also has a great deal of symbolism connected to this with his story. After losing his mother Kousei goes into his own type of death where he can no longer hear his piano, something that he used to find so much passion in. These two characters are at two different parts of the cycle that cherry blossoms represent, but they balance each other to keep the cycle going.
Demon Slayer: Red and Blue Spider Lily (Higanbana)
Much like the cherry blossoms, red spider lilies are a common symbol used in anime and manga. However, these flowers are usually used for darker series in genres like thriller or horror. Red spider lilies are associated with death and specifically “final goodbyes,” which is often times a strong theme in horror literature. Blue spider lilies symbolize a myriad of positive emotions and calm energy, the opposite of red.
Demon Slayer addresses a lot of difficult concepts concerning survival and living situations within its setting. The primary antagonist of the entire series is a demon named Muzan that was made immortal by the Blue Spider Lily. Despite this origin, he embodies the opposite of what the flower is said to symbolize. Thus, the red spider lily is used much more often to symbolize this antagonist along with the demons he creates.
Soul Eater: Red Camilla (Tsubaki)
Let’s take a trip back a few years again to the anime Soul Eater and specifically the character of Tsubaki. Tsubaki’s name is the alternate name of the Camellia flower in Japan, already showing the heavy symbolism the flower carries for her. Of course, the flower name alone does not necessarily show all the symbolism that the flower has. Red camellias hold the symbolism of being modest and humble, something that Tsubaki certainly is in the series. Comparatively to her partner, she is shy and somewhat meek at first, reflecting further the Hanakotoba symbolism.
Multiple times the flower is shown and even directly spoken about in relation to Tsubaki and is even used as a way to put her down. Camellia flowers have no scent and this is meant to mirror the fact that Tsubaki herself is not very outspoken at the beginning of the series.
The secondary meaning for the Tsubaki flower is death, as the flower decapitates itself from the rest of the plant when it dies. This connects to the symbolism of the entire series as the students we focus on are there to help Death as something akin to his reapers to collect souls. Tsubaki goes through a very compelling character arc as there are those who try to use the negative connotations of her name against her, yet she is still able to come out on top.
These are only a few examples of the way Hanakotoba makes its way into Japanese media, there are countless more even within the same series. Having taken a look at this beautiful language of flowers, how many new connections can you make in your favorite series?
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