This is a very old Japanese legend that was told to me by my father, when we happened upon a Bleeding Heart flowerbush once, and today I will tell it to you. The really amazing thing about it is that the entire story, as happens in Japanese legends occasionally, can be illustrated in actual physical things—in this case, the anatomy of a flower.
There once was a young man who fell dearly in love with a beautiful and wealthy maiden. He made her lavish gifts to try to win her love. Firstly, he gave her a pair of the most luxorious rabbits to keep as pets.
These she took happily, but declared she could not love him. Still, he can’t bear to give up hope, and he makes her another gift of slippers made of the finest silk.
She also recieved these gifts, but told the young man her feelings would never change towards him. Desperate, he spends the rest of his small savings to send her the most beautiful pair of earrings he could purchase.
The maiden took the earrings, but still refused to marry the young man. Torn, and bereft, the young man knew finally that he had no more to give, and so he took his knife and pierced himself through the heart.
The first Bleeding Heart plant sprung from the place where he died.
Oh I was enchanted when my father told me this story, delicately taking the flower apart to show me the various parts of the legend. Never before have I seen science and fairy tales so closely intertwined. I can see why the story appealed to my father, who loves plants and has always seemed very well-versed in his own culture’s mythology, and it appeals to me for similar reasons. It is very indicative of the Japanese way of looking at things, close study combined with flightful imagination, building into a tragic romance. This is the newest addition to the small store of Japanese legends that I know myself, and I do believe that it is my very favorite.
Flower-part images courtesy of More Friends and a Blog.
August 27th, 2009 at 10:27 pm
That is so beautiful. I have never heard that story, but I agree, to see science and fairytale intertwine to create such touching imagery… wow.I’m left awed. I’d love to learn more about Japanese legends! I have never had the opportunity to research it.
August 31st, 2009 at 3:02 pm
Isn’t it beautiful? I love Japanese legends, even though the nicest ones are almost always sad!
September 1st, 2009 at 12:45 pm
That IS beautiful. I have a few of those plants around my house. I used to call them “Bloody Hearts” when I was a kid.haha
I’m going to be sharing this story. I’m so struck by the images and how people find the most beautiful things.
September 8th, 2009 at 2:51 pm
I’m so glad you liked it, Bridget! Sorry I missed your comment earlier. I really love this story, though!
April 30th, 2010 at 10:49 am
This is a pretty flower. It is one of my favorites.
May 5th, 2010 at 5:58 pm
I found this story very touching indeed. Isn’t it amazing how nature and science can be so very closely related, but yet so far apart in the world today? I know that I now must have some of these plants in my home.
March 14th, 2012 at 11:24 pm
beautiful heart touching legend..
what is the actual word for this flower in Japanese and how shall we pronounce it????
March 15th, 2012 at 10:45 am
A Google search says that it s “kemansou.” That would be pronounced “kay – mahn – soo”
March 15th, 2012 at 2:01 pm
Thanks Alot for helping me out.
April 15th, 2012 at 5:06 pm
I use to hear the story of the bleeding heart flower when I was a young girl, many many years ago, and the final item was a candle, but I don’t remember how it fit into the story. I love this spring time when they are in bloom and I can once again share the story with my grandchildren:)
April 16th, 2012 at 12:01 am
A candle sounds more romantic, though the suicide dagger is much more Japanese! haha I’m excited you’re sharing the story with your grandchildren.
April 24th, 2012 at 5:10 am
[…] most common folklore behind the bleeding heart is, of course, a tale of unrequited love. Here is one lovely variation of the story of the bleeding heart, told with parts of the flower […]
November 12th, 2012 at 12:32 am
[…] *I found an explanation of the legend of the Bleeding Heart, complete with how to use the flower petals to tell the story. You can read it here. […]
November 27th, 2012 at 6:26 am
lovely story and sweet message
March 16th, 2013 at 3:35 pm
I also grew up with this enchanting story, my grandmother had these beautiful flowers in her garden and my aunt softened the story to make it a happy ending (which is her beautiful spirit in life still). It was a prince and a princess in our version and the last piece was a sword, then prince killed a dragon to prove he loved her and then she agreed to marry him, because she didn’t want possessions, but someone brave enough to protect her.
March 22nd, 2013 at 5:32 pm
That is a lovely version! Thank you for sharing it with me.
April 12th, 2013 at 12:19 am
I want to purchase a bleeding heart plant for a friend whose son son died suddenly without any warning signs. I would like it already potted in a beautiful pot MD sent to her.
May 1st, 2013 at 1:36 pm
Reblogged this on Ancient Secrets For Health.
June 3rd, 2013 at 11:52 pm
Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility
issues. When I look at your blog in Safari,
it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer,
it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
Other then that, wonderful blog!
June 4th, 2013 at 12:14 am
Thank you for the heads up! I’ll look into it ASAP. 🙂
March 9th, 2014 at 4:27 pm
Reblogged this on karenlawrencephotography.
April 30th, 2014 at 1:51 am
Reblogged this on A Modern Ukrainian.
May 23rd, 2014 at 8:01 am
[…] Adapted from Story of Bleeding Hearts from Four Friends and a Blog and Forklore and the Bleeding Heart and Thursday Myths and Legends […]
December 27th, 2014 at 12:05 am
[…] Bleeding Heart Flower By Lisa Asanuma – a wonderful marriage of botany and fairy story […]
April 20th, 2015 at 11:08 am
[…] is the bleeding heart flower, which apparently has a short Japanese myth attached to it explaining its striking […]
May 1st, 2015 at 7:30 pm
This was the same story my grandmother would tell me but she was Scottish Canadian. I wonder where she heard it.
May 1st, 2015 at 7:39 pm
April 23rd, 2016 at 2:00 am
I will never look at bleeding hearts the same way again. 🙂 thank you.
July 11th, 2016 at 8:53 am
Thank you! 🙂
April 19th, 2017 at 1:22 pm
This is such a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing it. I have always been fascinated by the flower itself. By the way, in Swedish it is known as “lion’s heart.”
December 28th, 2017 at 3:10 pm
That is awesome. I didn’t know that! Thank for you for sharing that little nugget of information. That sounds like a story onto itself. 😉
April 20th, 2017 at 10:24 pm
[…] https://hollowtreetales.wordpress.com/2009/08/27/thursday-myths-legends-101-bleeding-heart-flower/ […]
May 14th, 2017 at 10:26 am
I heard the story too, but different, wasn’t rabbits (cause I don’t think they look like rabbits,) but slippers, if you turn flip them around they look like heels
June 6th, 2017 at 2:59 pm
[…] is stabbed by the stamen. You can see the flower parts that correspond to the story via the “Tales from the Hollow Tree” […]