I see red, I see red, I see red

Walking along the Azama river at this time of year, one can see patches of these attractive flowers.

red spider lillies

Red spider lilies (higanbana or manjushage)

The red spider lily (higanbana or manjushage) is possibly THE seasonal flower.  Thousands of people flock to Kinchakuda in nearby Hidaka City to see fields of them.

The plant is most likely native to China, but has been cultivated in Japan for centuries.

We have recently had the autumn equinox, and the period that follows is known as Higan.  This is an important time for visiting the graves of ancestors.  The red spider lily is often found around gravesites due to having a poisonous bulb, which helps keep vermin away from the graves.  This association means that it is considered unlucky (or at least poor taste) to give bunches of the flowers to someone.  One superstition says that bringing the flowers home will result in a house fire.  (Probably derived from the flame-like appearance of the petals and the flammability of pre-modern housing)

The flowers are also often seen on river banks and around fields, possibly dating back to times when famine was a very real threat.  The alkaloid toxins in the bulbs can be leached out by soaking in water, and thus the flowers could be grown as “famine food”.

white red spider lillies

“Do you have them in a different colour?”

I was also lucky enough to come across some white variants, a type unknown to many locals.

The Azuma River is on my route to and from work.  I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open for other “discoveries” in sububan Japan.

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