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Advanced Japanese Lesson:オニユリ





A lily with orange petals and black spots starts blooming in July. The lily is a lovely looking flower, but this orange lily has a terrible name of Oniyuri or “demon lily”.

For those of you who know Japanese folk tales or the tradition to close winter will know what an 鬼 oni or “demon” is.  An oni is a monster beyond the imagination, with horns on the head and fangs in its mouth.  Besides that, they are depicted with a close resemblance to a human, but are very strong and violent, and so often bear the part of the “villain”.

So what connection does such a demon and this lily have?  Actually, when the word oni is used for living things, it has the meaning of “big”, or “different shape from others in the same variety.” It’s been named “demon lily” because it’s big, and it has a different appearance from the other lilies.

Although imaginary, the oni is a familiar existence to the Japanese. It’s interesting how the image of an oni being “large, appearing similar to a human but different” is skillfully used.  Within the same group of naming, there are, oniazami or “bull thistle” (flower), oniyanma or “Cordulegasteridae” (dragonfly) and onihitode or acanthaster (starfish).

Now, what kind of word would you use to express that something is small? That would be hime or “princess” and hina or “chick”. The Himeyuri or “princess lily” blooms in May~June and is the same orange color as the oniyuri, but contrary to the scary image the oniyuri has, a cute flower image is imagined. The power a name hold is very big.