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.