Iris Flower in Japan: Symbolism, History, and Traditions

I have always been captivated by the beauty of the Japanese iris since I am a fan of Japanese art and flowers. The symbolism of these beautiful flowers is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and has a vital position in Japanese history and customs. I’ll take you on a tour through the world of the Japanese iris in this post, covering everything from its symbolism to its history to its numerous species.

What does the iris flower mean in Japan?

The iris flower (Hanashobu or Kakitsubata) in Japan is a symbol of hope, bravery, elegance, adoration, health, trust, valor, and knowledge. The blue iris primarily denotes optimism and faith, while the purple iris specifically communicates knowledge and dignity. The iris is also related to beauty, purity, and tranquillity and is said to fend off bad spirits.

What is Japanese iris called?

The Japanese iris is referred to as a “flower flag” or “hanashobu” in Japan. In addition to appearing in Japanese watercolor paintings, the flower is often used in floral arrangements in Japan. Three distinct species of irises that grow wild or are produced in gardens in Japan are collectively referred to as “Japanese iris” in order to avoid confusion.

These three species are Iris sanguinea (Ayame), Iris laevigata (Kakitsubata), and Hanashbu (Iris ensata). I. ensata is the one of these three species that is most often known to as “Japanese iris” outside of Japan.

Iris ensata is a perennial rhizomatous beardless iris that develops into clumps that steadily grow to a height of 2-4 feet. It is indigenous to Japan and other East Asian countries. Japanese irises have gorgeous, huge flowers that come in a range of hues, including blue, lavender, pink, and white. Japanese irises are linked to both wild and widely farmed irises, including the bearded iris (Iris germanica).

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Japanese irises are reasonably simple to grow, however they have certain requirements. Japanese irises need wet soil, however they prefer a sunny location with well-draining soil. Avoid placing Japanese irises in locations that are prone to fast evaporation. They should be split every few years to promote good development, and they also need frequent feeding and mulching.

A Brief History of the Japanese Iris

The Origins

Iris ensata, sometimes known as the Japanese iris, has a long history in Japan. With more than 2,000 kinds now in existence, the plant is thought to be native to the nation. These irises were first selectively bred in earnest during the Edo era (1603–1868), and their appeal has only increased since then.

The Three Species of Japanese Iris

In reality, there are three different species of iris known as “Japanese iris”: hanashbu (Iris ensata), kakitsubata (Iris laevigata), and ayame (Iris sanguinea). Iris ensata is the species of these three that is most often referred to as “Japanese iris” outside of Japan.

Hanashōbu (Iris ensata)

Of the three, this species is the most well-known and well-liked. Large, colorful flowers that bloom in a range of hues, including blue, lavender, pink, and white, are what make it distinctive.

Kakitsubata (Iris laevigata)

Water-loving iris called Kakitsubata blooms more quickly than the other two species. In Japan, these flowers are often seen close to bodies of water and normally bloom from mid- to late-May.

Ayame (Iris sanguinea)

The ayame is a species of iris that is smaller and more delicate, with narrow leaves and a smaller bloom. These flowers have a shorter bloom time than the hanashbu and are often seen growing wild in Japan.

What does the iris flower symbolize in Japan?

The iris flower (Hanashobu or Kakitsubata) in Japan is a symbol of hope, bravery, elegance, adoration, health, trust, valor, and knowledge. The blue iris primarily denotes optimism and faith, while the purple iris specifically communicates knowledge and dignity. The iris is also related to beauty, purity, and tranquillity and is said to fend off bad spirits.

The iris flower has significant cultural value and symbolism in Japan. Depending on its hue, the iris, also known as hanashobu, ayame, or kakitsubata in Japanese, stands for a variety of attributes. For instance, the blue iris signifies optimism and trust, while the purple iris stands for knowledge and dignity.

In Japanese culture, the iris has a variety of connotations in addition to these color correlations. For instance, it is said that the plant may fend off bad spirits and shield users from harmful energy. Strength, elegance, adoration, bravery, and health are further characteristics.

Irises have a prominent role in Japan’s annual Boys’ Day event, which takes place on May 5. Iris leaves are typically used in baths for boys on this day because they are said to signify strength and fend off bad spirits. In Japan, the iris is a significant summer flower that blooms to signal the beginning of the growing season.

The iris has also been seen as a flower of healing in Japanese culture, having cleansing properties that help fight off harmful energy. The iris is a popular tool among Japanese people for self-defense against evil spirits and other bad influences.

Symbolism of the Japanese Iris

Elegance and Admiration

Due of its elegant beauty, the Japanese iris is frequently linked with elegance and adoration. It is a well-liked option for both conventional and contemporary flower arrangements because of its vivid colors and delicate petals, which exude a feeling of elegance and sophistication.

Strength and Courage

The iris is another symbol of bravery and strength in Japan. This is partially due to the flower’s Japanese name, shbu, which sounds a lot like the term for “martial arts.” Because of this, the iris has come to represent the spirit of the warrior and is often used to commemorate Boys’ Day, a customary Japanese celebration that celebrates the courage and strength of young boys.

Hope, Health, and Protection

The connection of the Japanese iris with hope, health, and protection is another significant component of its symbolism. The flowers are said to have the ability to drive away bad spirits and cleanse the body and soul. Because of this, irises are often seen on display at the Tango no Sekku festival, which is held on the fifth day of the fifth month to honor children’s health and wellbeing.

Iris Flower in Japan

The Role of the Japanese Iris in Traditional Celebrations

Boys’ Day (Children’s Day) and the Iris Festival

As was already indicated, Boys’ Day, now known as Children’s Day, is celebrated in large part with Japanese iris. It is usual for families to display iris flowers and leaves in their homes to bring luck and protection to their children since the iris is a symbol of strength and fortitude.

The Itako Iris Festival, which takes place every year in Itako City, Ibaraki Prefecture, is one of the most well-known iris festivals in Japan. Over a million iris flowers are in full bloom during the festival, presenting an astounding display of color and beauty. While admiring the breathtaking floral backdrop, guests may partake in boat cruises, local foods, and traditional Japanese entertainment.

Tango no Sekku: The Iris Bathing Ritual

The Iris Festival, sometimes referred to as Tango no Sekku, is observed on the fifth day of the fifth month. In this customary holiday, which is dedicated to children’s health and happiness, the iris is a central element. The “iris bathing” ritual, in which iris leaves are introduced to bathwater, is one of the most well-known customs connected to Tango no Sekku.

The practice is said to protect against bad spirits and advance good health. Iris leaves are said to have a sweet aroma that cleanses the body and spirit, and their sword-like form is a symbol of strength and protection. Families all around Japan continue to follow this custom, guaranteeing that the Japanese iris will always be a significant part of the nation’s cultural legacy.

Growing and Caring for Japanese Iris

Ideal Growing Conditions

The Japanese iris enjoys full to partial sun exposure and grows best in wet, well-drained soil. The plant is a flexible alternative for gardeners since it tolerates a range of soil types, including loamy, clay, and sandy soils.

Planting and Maintenance

Japanese irises may grow to be rather huge, therefore it’s important to provide enough space between plants when planting them. The soil has to be watered often to stay wet, and mulch may aid in moisture retention.

To promote new development and keep the plant healthy, prune wasted blossoms and get rid of dead foliage. Additionally, early spring fertilization of the iris with a low-nitrogen fertilizer may encourage robust growth and a profusion of flowers.

Common Pests and Diseases

Japanese irises are not as susceptible to illnesses and pests. However, iris borers, aphids, and thrips may harm them. These pests may be managed by keeping an eye on the plants and using insecticidal soap or neem oil as needed. When it comes to ailments, the Japanese iris might be vulnerable to fungi that cause root rot and leaf spot. These problems may be avoided by making sure there is enough drainage and airflow around the plants.

Visiting Iris Gardens in Japan

The best way to appreciate the beauty of Japanese irises if you’re a fan is to go to one of the numerous iris gardens spread out over the country. For those who love flowers, visiting these gardens will be an amazing experience as they display the magnificent variety of Japanese irises in all of their splendor.

Here are the 10 most popular iris gardens to visit in Japan:

  1. Suigo Sawara Ayame Park, Ibaraki
  2. Meiji Jingu Iris GardenTokyo
  3. Yokosuka Iris GardenKanagawa
  4. Fukiage Iris Park, Tokyo
  5. Nezu Museum, Tokyo
  6. Horikiri Iris Garden, Tokyo
  7. Katori Jingu ShrineChiba
  8. Ayame Park, Saitama
  9. Oshino Hakkai, Yamanashi
  10. Kasai Rinkai Park, Tokyo

Irises in a variety of hues, from purple to blue to white, are on exhibit in these gardens in a magnificent show. While wandering around the gardens or taking part in different events and activities, visitors may admire the beauty of these flowers. These iris gardens are certainly worth a visit, whether you’re a nature enthusiast or just seeking some peace and quiet.

May through July, when the irises are in full bloom, is the ideal time to explore these iris gardens in Japan. However, other gardens, like the Hakko Gakuen Iris Garden, whose flowering season begins in early July, could have various blooming times. The Horikiri Iris Garden and other stunning flower festivals in Tokyo are best experienced during the rainy season in June. To prevent overcrowding, visitors are encouraged to come early. It’s important to keep in mind that certain gardens have an entrance price, including the Meiji Jingu Iris Garden, which has a 500 yen entrance fee.

What does blue iris mean in Japan?

Giving a bouquet of blue iris flowers is a great way to thank a good friend since the blue iris in particular stands for optimism and trust. The blue iris is also said to possess a protecting quality that may drive away bad spirits and outside influences.

The iris flower is a typical symbol in traditional Japanese art and literature. Its elegance and beauty make it a favorite option for flower arrangements and gardens, and because of its restorative and protecting qualities, it is a central figure in Japanese mythology and customs.


A beautiful flower with a long history and significant cultural value in Japan is the Japanese iris. The Japanese iris has been ingrained in Japanese society, playing a part in rituals and representing strength, elegance, and safety via its symbolism. We can appreciate the distinctive beauty of the Japanese iris and its continuing presence in the hearts of the Japanese people by comprehending its history, symbolism, and involvement in numerous traditions.

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Amelia Clark

I'm Amelia Clark , a seasoned florist and gardening specialist with more than 15 years of practical expertise. Following the completion of my formal education, I dedicated myself to a flourishing career in floristry, acquiring extensive understanding of diverse flower species and their ideal cultivation requirements. Additionally, I possess exceptional skills as a writer and public speaker, having successfully published numerous works and delivered engaging presentations at various local garden clubs and conferences. Check our Social media Profiles: Facebook Page, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Youtube, Instagram Tumblr

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