I love this flower. I love all flowers, but this one, ah, this one comes packaged with
the most wonderful stories. Its scientific name is
Lycoris radiata; in English it's red
spider lily; in Japanese it has several names including higanbana (ヒガンバナ), in other words, autumn equinox flower.
It's also referred to
as manjusaka (曼珠沙華), based on an old Chinese legend about two
elves: Manju guarded the flowers and Saka the leaves, but they could never meet,
because the plant never bears flowers and leaves at the same time. They were
curious about each other, so they defied the gods' instructions and arranged a
meeting. I assume it was not via Twitter. The gods promptly punished them, as
gods are wont to do, and separated them for all eternity.
To this day, the red lily
is associated with loss, longing, abandonment and lost memories in hanakotoba(花言葉), the language of flowers. It's believed that if you meet a person you'll never see again, these flowers
will grow along your…
Something out of memory walks toward us, something that refutes the dictionary, that won’t roost in the field guide. Something that once flew and now must trudge. Call it grief, trailing its wings like a shabby overcoat, like a burnt flag. Call it ghost. Call it aftermath. Call it remorse for its ability to bite and bite again. — Don McKay, from “Angel of Extinction,” Angular Unconformity: Collected Poems 1970-2014 (Icehouse Poetry, 2014)
Have you noticed that
Japan has a thing about bells?
Watch people's phones: every second phone charm has a little bell that jingles
with the slightest movement. There are bells on doors and bells at shrines and
bells at temples. There are bells on traditional hair ornaments called
bira-bira kanzashi, bamboo chimes tuned DFGA for your garden, bells are a
symbol of peace (link) and their sound echoes the impermanence of all things (link). From which one could
correctly deduce that peace is ever transient. Now, before I get
sidetracked down a thousand rabbit holes, let’s focus on the real topic: bells,
yes, but specifically wind chimes or fūrin(風鈴).
I would not to
mine own self be true if I didn't include a little history lesson. Here we go: The oldest wind chimes
found at archeological sites in South East Asia are 5000 years old. These early
versions were made from wood, bones and shells; and were probably used to keep
birds out of cultivated fields and/or to ward off evil spirits. C…
You would've been 100 years old today. I didn't do anything lawyerly on your birthday, but ... I've never told you ... but three years ago, when I was on holiday in the United Kingdom, I spent a day in the Temple area of London, visiting the Inns of Court and the Royal Courts of Justice. It was so easy to imagine you there. I would've enjoyed your company, and I wish we could've popped into a pub to talk. Or argue. Probably. Happy century, Dad. I hope you still have tennis, and rugby, and books, and a veld for a walk.
It's a modest plant,
easy to overlook, yet it used to be Japan's most beloved flower.
Bush clover (ハギ, hagi)
is mentioned in 141* poems in the Manyōshū (万葉集, Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves),
Japan's first anthology of poetry, compiled in the 8th century. That far
exceeds the 119 poems about the second-most popular flower, plum blossoms. The
latter was revered as an exotic import from China; the former was praised for
its rustic simplicity.
Bush clover grows about 3 m in height and has long, slender branches
that droop across paths. The branches represent feminine elegance, but it's also a symbol of vigour thanks to its ability to produce young shoots from old stock. It flowers in September, when summer's heat lingers,
but it's believed that if you can see dew drops on the plant's small green
leaves, you know that autumn is near.
Nowadays the flower attracts little attention. There aren't any good
bush clover viewing spots in Tokyo that I know of, apart…
I'm lying. Exaggerating. It's not hiking; it's
As a matter of fact,
the Mitake Valley Riverside Trail has given me a new definition of walking vs
hiking: if you encounter vending machines along the way, it's walking, not
I've done several hikes in Okutama, but I'm
going to start with this walk because anybody can do it. It's exceptionally beautiful, truly pleasant and
very easy. You don't need to be an experienced hiker, you don't need hiking
boots, you don't need energy drinks – or Scotch – to keep going.
It starts at Ikusabata
Station on the Ōme Line, follows the Tama River and ends
about 5 km upstream. It took me about two hours of slow walking, many photos,
frequent diversions and arbitrary stops to enjoy the autumn colours. Let's do this section by section. Warning: this post is photo-heavy! Ikusabata to Sawai It takes 90 minutes from Tokyo Station. Take the Chūō Line to Ōme, transfer to the Ōme Line and get off at Ikusab…
A while ago I promised I would do a post about Afrikaans songs. Oh dear. It's more work than I thought it would be, and it's aggravated by the fact that I've lost touch with contemporary culture in South Africa. (Please don't ask me about Die Antwoord. I don't get it. I don't want to get it.) So for now, while I continue my research, I've selected two golden oldies that are very natsukashii (that's a Japanese word for "dear" or "missed") to me. You'll notice the central themes that unite these songs: an abiding love for Africa, as well as loss and longing.
Quick recap: Afrikaans, my mother tongue, is a South African language developed from 17th century Dutch. It has adopted words from Malay, Khoisan and Bantu languages, but 90% of its vocabulary is of Dutch origin. Yes, I understand Dutch (with a bit of effort) and Flemish (easily). Afrikaans has about 6 million native speakers.
Tomorrow we return our focus to Japan. Tonight, son…
My blog gets so many search keyword hits about this particular topic that I've decided to update an old post about the Japenese story The Princess Who Loved Insects(虫めづる姫君Mushi Mezuru Himegimi). It's contained in Tales of the Riverside Middle Counselor (堤中納言物語Tsutsumi Chūnagon Monogatari), a collection of short stories written in the late Heian period. It focuses on the adventures of a young girl who refuses to make herself beautiful and play the courtship game. She doesn't blacken her teeth and pluck her eyebrows (as refined ladies did in those days); instead, she spends her time outdoors, playing with bugs and caterpillars.
I refer to her as Ms Mushi (Ms Insect). A girl this tough is definitely not a prim prissy Miss, she's a ballsy Ms. She's my favourite Japanese heroine. She's strong, she's rebellious, she refuses to pretend, she ignores society's stupid rules that fetter women. You go, girl! Long live caterpillar eyebrows!
I've written about this market before; this time I'm shamelessly copying an old post. The photos are new, though. ;)
Every year on 9 and 10 July a Chinese lantern market is held at Sensō-ji. "Chinese lantern" is a plant: scientific name Physalis alkekengi, Japanese namehōzuki. They have translucent orange pods that might remind you of Chinese lanterns, and they were used as a medicine for fever, gout and just about any ailment you can think of. The temple's precinct is packed with 200 hōzuki vendors selling plants for ¥2000 to ¥2500, and wind chimes (fūrin). This year my visit was brief, because Sensō-ji has become a rather unpleasant experience. Too many tourists. Sigh.