Infernal Proteus

Infernal Proteus
/ V.A.
(Ajna [USA]/ 4CD + Book/ 2002)

  1. Why You Are Here? (Kawabata)
  • Kawabata Makoto: sarangi

The compilation is spread over four disks and include a deluxe, full-colour 96 page book. Each participating artist was asked to come up with a track based on one particular plant, and to include a photograph and some text about their chosen plant. Kawabata’s chosen plant was the Japanese cluster-amaryllis flower (Lycoris radiata).

“Higanbana / Equinox Flower (Lycoris radiata)”

The higanbana, or equinox flower, is so named because it blooms at the time of the autumn equinox, seeming to herald the equinox itself. In Japanese, the word higan also refers to the opposite bank of a river. In Buddhism, since the world of men is referred to as ‘this bank’, by extension higan also indicates the other world, the world of enlightenment. During the seven days around the spring and autumn equinoxes, special Buddhist ceremonies are performed and Japanese go to visit the graves of their ancestors.

This flower is also known by the name manjushage in Japanese. In Buddhist iconography, manjushage are one of the four varieties of heavenly flowers (the others are mandarake, makamandarake, and makamanjushake). Those that see them immediately abandon evil and come to realise the joys of Heaven. The flower has several popular names as well, including the dead-man’s flower and the rosary flower. These names with their clear connection to death arose because the flower can frequently be found in graveyards.

The higanbana produces beautiful red flowers for four or five days in autumn. At this period, the plant has no leaves, and after it has flowered the colors rapidly fade and wither, and the stalk collapses. The leaves finally appear in late autumn, in preparation for winter, though again they wither in the following spring. Because of this, an ancient poem says that the flowers die for love of the leaves, and the leaves die for love of the flowers.
Although the red flowers look fresh and pretty, the black roots contain the strongly poisonous alkaloid lycorin. This poison can be removed by soaking the roots in water, so in the past in times of famine people used to eat these roots.

In Japan, the higanbana is shunned as unlucky. Once I picked some and brought them home, but my mother scolded me for bringing such a detestable flower into the house. Parents tell their children that this flower is unlucky because the roots are poisonous, but as a result both children and adults avoid coming near to or touching them. The reason why the equinox flower is often found in graveyards is that in the past Japanese used to bury their dead. In order to prevent wild dogs from disturbing the graves, the poisonous equinox flower would be planted in abundance. For similar reasons, the equinox flower can often be found on dykes and embankments, to prevent moles and fieldmice from burrowing into them.

From my childhood I was bewitched by these red flowers with their uncanny beauty. But because I was warned that they were unlucky and poisonous I rarely got to pick or even touch them. All I could do was gaze upon the red clumps as they blossomed briefly in autumn. I imagined that because of their name these flowers didn’t just herald the equinox, they were in fact flowers that bloom in the other world. By some mistake they had appeared in our world, and they were made poisonous in order to stop humans touching them.

Kawabata Makoto

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