A couple of weeks ago, less than a quarter of the way through the new play Smokefall, an unfamiliar word caught my ear. "Finding the right flower for an occasion is an ancient practice," one of the characters announced at the breakfast table, randomly. "The Japanese call it Hanakotoba." That little bit of dialogue was an aside meant to convey that this particular character was growing senile, and he quickly changed the subject. But the word stuck with me.
Hanakotoba: The ancient practice of finding the right flower.
It's a lovely concept, and one that at its most basic level seems distinctly Japanese in its inherent thoughtfulness and connection to nature. In Japan, flowers are woven into so much of the culture—from handmade costumes to government seals—it makes sense that they've evolved into their own nuanced, symbolic language. Some of the associations are ones Japan shares with much of the world (roses connote romance, for example), but Hanakotoba also includes many other flowers and meanings that are completely unique to the practice.
With spring and its blooms on the horizon, we at Sweet thought it as good a time as any to delve into the art and explore the cultural importance of some of Japan's most significant flowers: