Koi in Nogawa River


posted in: Journal, Living Things, Nature | 5


Koi in Nogawa River
Carp in the Nogawa River, Tokyo, in March Carp in the Noh River, March 2004


The magnolia outside my window is bursting forth with clouds of white blossums. This is the fourth time to witness the joy of its vitality, though, in typical Japanese gardening mentality, the gardeners have chopped it down to but a fraction of its former glory. It is a pruning philosophy that I can’t understand; most of the time trees in Japanese gardens are so manicured of their natural form and grace that half the year the trees stand around like dejected sticks. A huge zelkova along the way to work, last year towering 30 meters over the corner, with a massive umbrella of swaying leaves, was lopped of all its branches a few days ago, so that now it looks like a naked pair of legs sticking out of the sidewalk. This kind of chopping up occurs all over Japan, and while I appreciate a well done traditional Japanese garden, I also think there is a time and place for the gardening practices to be employed. When you randomly reduce an entire neighborhood to matchsticks, not only do you get a pretty stark looking place, but you rob people and the soil of shade. Tokyo, without all the trees it once had, must surely have heated up quite a bit since neighborhoods went concrete. And besides, I just love the sound of wind in the leaves.

For all that, nature is popping up everywhere. The barrel cactus on my window sill started flowering for the first time since I got it 8 years ago. Twenty buds a’ringing the crown of the bulb. The flower is supposed to turn bright magenta, but perhaps the cactus is testing my ability to appreciate things that cook slowly.

On the trains passengers sit with tears in their eyes and white cotton face masks while suffering under the pall of Japanese cedar and cypress pollen. It sounds like a chorus as one person lets go a volley of sneezes, and is promptly backed up by another person across the car, and repeated further down the train in rapid succession.

Yearly the hay fever epidemic grows worse, all due the thoughtless plans of the government right after the war, when they decided, in an effort to reestablish the country’s lumber sources, to plant the entire country’s denuded hills and mountains with one vast crop of cedar and cypress. No thought was given to the effects this would have on the future, in terms of allergies; loss of topsoil (cedar and cypress, while able to cling to the steep, rocky slopes of Japan, put down shallow roots and fail to hold the soil down), with the resulting landslides, mudslides, and silting up of the rivers; and devastation to the endemic animals and plants. Now, forty years later, the trees have matured, and while most of Japan’s wood is raped from other countries, the cedars and cypress have started to reproduce in one giant, pollen exchanging orgy. When I lived in Shizuoka Prefecture umber clouds of pollen would writhe through the air like swarms of locusts, all being blown, gathering in size as the swarms from other prefectures accumulated, toward the catchall basin of the Kanto Plain, which Tokyo has basically overrun.

My hay fever isn’t so bad, but I know many who hate Spring because of it. What a strange world when all the life around us is hopping for joy at the coming of warm weather and rebirth, while so many of us cover ourselves up in misery.

But I intend to enjoy this Spring. My body agrees. I feel like dancing! Like dashing along the river. Like climbing a tree, or singing at the top of my lungs!

In fact, I think that’s what I’ll go do right now. I’ll leave it to your imagination which one I decide to do!

5 Responses

  1. Daisy-Winifred

    You mean you’re not climbing AND singing – though thinking about that given the state of pollen you’d probably have a very furry toungue mouth and lungs maybe an umbrella whilst you climb :0)

  2. Steve

    Ah, the Mokuren.
    The coming of the Magnolias is something that I look forward to each year, as a reminder of a fundamental shift in my life. It was three years ago this spring that my son was born. Each day that he stayed in that small country hospital, I would travel this small road lined with white magnolias. The morning that we rushed to the hospital, they were silent and waiting. Later in the day, when I returned to see my newborn son, they seemed to have magically bloomed in a matter of hours. The lane was lined with full magnolia blossoms, without a hint of leaves.
    We named our son Taiga, or “Big Bud”, in part due to these blossoms.
    The Magnolia will always be his tree, and we have planted one in the backyard just for him…

  3. Steve

    As to the pruning philosophy…
    I have dubbed the roads to my university as Upper Coatrack, and Lower Coatrack lanes due to the vicious hacking that the poor trees that line the road get each year. Nonetheless, each spring they seem to thrive from the punishment and produce a bounty of green leaves in defiance.
    Kinda gives you a bit of faith in nature…

  4. nobbog

    Your photos no longer load up. I wonder why? They did, without problem, in t he not too distant past.