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Longing in the Language of Flowers


Longing in the Language of Flowers

“You made flowers bloom in my lungs and although they are beautiful, I can’t breathe.”Anonymous.

Flowers have been used to express emotion since the beginning of time. A red rose for love, white lilies for death, and the well-named forget-me-not. There is a flower for every emotion, but what if emotions were tied to flowers? The idea of flower sickness has been around in East Asia for a while, but there is currently no way to trace the true origins of this idea. But, in 2009, Naoko Matsuda published Hanahaki Otome and brought this idea to a larger audience.

Hanahaki Otome was serialized in Kiss Magazine which brought the fictional Hanahaki disease to the world. Hanahaki disease is a fictional sickness that only occurs when someone is suffering from unrequited love. The victim will cough up flower petals that symbolize their love. This disease is only cured when the victim’s feelings are romantically returned. The only other way that the disease is cured is surgically. This surgery removes the flowers that are growing in the victim’s lungs, roots and all. The surgery doesn’t only remove the flowers though, it also removes the victim’s romantic feelings. This means that once the victim is cured via surgery, they also lose their love for the person who caused the disease.

Hanahaki disease (花吐き病) comes from the Japanese hana (花), meaning flower and hakimasu (吐きます), which means to throw-up. The disease usually happens in stages, the first one being pain, though there are several stories where it’s stated that every person is born with seeds in their lungs waiting to bloom.  The disease progresses to a horrible cough which will eventually lead to the victim coughing up blood and flower petals. The victim usually doesn’t share the fact that they have the disease with anyone, instead trying to resolve their feelings on their own instead of worrying their friends and family. The effort to resolve their feelings never works and the disease progresses.

In the final stage, the victim will begin coughing up flowers in full bloom. Usually, someone will find them passed out on the floor or will see them coughing up full flowers alerting everyone not only that the victim has the disease but also that the victim has allowed it to progress so far. During this final stage, when the victim is close to death, they have to be hospitalized and they are faced with the ultimatum of going through with the surgery and losing their romantic feelings or by refusing the surgery and facing death but leaving their feelings intact.

There are three possible endings to this story and only one of them is happy. The happy ending is the most obvious but the least often used. This is where the victim finds out that their affections are returned, the victim is usually reluctant to believe that their feelings are returned, and there is a race to make the victim believe that their feelings are returned before the disease kills them.

The other endings are equally sad. The first where the victim chooses to die with their feeling intact believing that life would not be worth living if they did not have their unrequited feelings. They will usually pass away in a hospital room with their friends and family as well as the object of their affection.

The second being where the victim chooses to go through with the surgery and have the flowers removed from their lungs. The victim is put under anesthesia reluctant to go through with the surgery even if it will save their life. When the victim wakes up, they don’t sense that anything has changed, it was as if their feelings were never there in the first place but their friends and family, and most importantly, the subject of the affection notice how different the victim is after the surgery. This can sometimes result in the object of the victim’s affection realizing that they have had feelings for the victim all along but had never noticed and then they themselves will become a victim of the disease.

This disease became popularized by fandoms for the ability to show angst, longing, pining and hurt/comfort; where one character is sick or injured and the other character has to take care of them. This disease is not exclusively used by fandoms as it is often used for aesthetic purposes and often appears in artwork, YouTube videos, and aesthetic boards.

The flowers that are traditionally used are cherry blossoms, but red roses, daffodils and black dahlias are also popular choices as they represent love and unrequited love. The flowers can also be of significance to the victim or the object of their affection.

Flowers have always been a way to convey feelings, but this disease signifies love, longing and loss. There is something that is both beautiful and horrible about this disease. The victim feels the pain of their unrequited feelings in a very real way and only further signifies how painful love can be while the flowers signify that even at its most painful, love can still be beautiful.

published on June 24, 2020.
Photographs by Shannon Joyce.

About Author

SHANNON JOYCE is a recent graduate of UC Irvine where she concentrated in English. She has also studied at Korea University and the University of London.