“There flashed before Kazu’s eyes an unvisited grave in some desolate cemetery, belonging to someone who had died without a family. This vision of the end of a life of solitary activity — ‘a lonely abandoned grave covered with weeds, leaning over, beginning to rot’ — sent a fathomless dark fear stabbing into Kazu’s heart.”
From “After the Banquet” by Yukio Mishima, translated by Donald Keene (Charles E Tuttle)
No grave is lonely that is blessed by nature’s changing seasons, and the spider lily always visits at this time of year. Its striking heads of curling red flowers are held on long stems that spring straight from the ground, several weeks ahead of the leaves. The spring and autumn equinoxes are important occasions for families to visit ancestral graves, and this flower is so strongly associated with the latter that its name in Japanese, higanbana, means “equinox flower.” Buddhists believe that the flower blooms in paradise.
The plant is a Chinese member of the narcissus family, with close relatives in the pink nerines that grow in the mountains of South Africa. Since its flowers are sterile, the spider lily spreads slowly through bulbs, and Japanese people have been helping them gain a foothold in holy places and along the banks of rice paddies for at least 2,000 years.