The Symbolism of Japanese Hydrangea

In my first Hiro Hattori / Shinobi Mystery, Claws of the Cat, I mention an arrangement of hydrangea blossoms in the room where the murder occurred.

Hakone Hydrangea Purple

Flowers have great importance in Japanese culture. The art of ikebana, or traditional flower arranging, developed hundreds of years ago and was considered an appropriate art for both men and women–many samurai studied ikebana as well as swordsmanship.

In Japan, flowers have long been displayed in seasonal contexts. Certain flowers are considered “appropriate” for, symbolic of, and associated with, specific times of year. Additionally, flowers carry traditional meanings that are understood by students of ikebana and Japanese culture.

Hakone Hydrangea

Hydrangea (known as Ajisai (紫陽花) in Japanese) have a long history in Japan. In fact, the flowers are said to have originated there. Since they bloom most vibrantly during the Japanese rainy season (June and early July), ajisai are traditionally associated with this season.

Takao Hydrangea

The flower has both positive and negative connotations in Japanese tradition, symbolizing both deep or heartfelt emotion and also a fickle or changeable heart. In fact, I used them in Claws of the Cat precisely because of these dual meanings (only one of which is actually mentioned in the novel). In that sense, the flower is a kind of “easter egg” – a hidden message for people who understand the language of flowers and flower arranging. 

My recent research trip to Japan took place in prime hydrangea season, which gave me the chance to see these lovely flowers in full bloom in their native land. 

Hakone Hydrangea Purple

Regardless of the meaning you ascribe to them, the vibrant colors and giant blooms make hydrangeas a lovely part of the Japanese summer – and if you find yourself planning a trip to Japan in June or July, be sure to look for the hydrangeas. You’ll find them blooming everywhere!

Are you fond of hydrangeas? Which flowers are your favorites?