“The heavier the head of rice, the deeper it bows.”
She carried with her a bundle of unremarkable weeds, which resembled those of a maple tree, only narrower and a bit on the pale side. I could see even before we stopped to ask directions that she knew these four tourists, with two gaijin — or “foreiginers” in Japanese — were looking for the way to the windmills, just a left, right, and nauseous hillside zigzag away from the stretch of paddy fields she was currently plodding across.
After our host in the passenger seat thanked the wizened woman, I watched her shuffle on with her collection of yomogi, wondering where she was going. An hour or so later, we would pass her again; I recognized the same dull patterned bonnet tightly knotted under her chin as she tilled in a small, neatly lined garden at the base of the slope as we made our way back into Koriyama.
At the top, as the car sickness ebbed and a pleasant breeze rose from the crystal blue of Lake Inawashiro, which extended impressively to lesser hills in the distance. A tall carpet of bird’s rape – or, less offensively, wild mustard flowers — smeared the Hollandesque canvas of field and exclamating windmill, punctuated with sunny dandelions and crisp yet thriving yellow-green bamboo.
This brightly colored scene seems like a distant memory now, if not something straight out of a Miyazaki film. Strange to think that over a year ago, I sat piano-side, reflecting on my dynamic – more volatile than anything – time spent in Budapest, Hungary. Those days, it was all residency permits, unstable class loads, and day-long, thought-purging hikes. In New York, it was rent payments, electricity and Wi-Fi issues, and dangerous solo nights in seedy lower east side bars.
Fukushima in comparison is work, wine, and hobbies. On a recent business trip to Tokyo, I realized how much I missed my new home town of Koriyama, a veritable paradise of plants. Weekly forays/runs (foruns, as I will call them from here on out) bring in a constant supply of wild mint (regrettably counting in the misfortunate mix-up with the one poisonous species), thyme, oregano, basil, ginkgo biloba leaves and fruits, and more.
That’s not to say Tokyo is entirely devoid of vegetation. On its eastern walls, Tokyo station sprouts all kinds of hardy grasses and vines, known as the Heuchera Rainbow Wall. All cultivars of the heuchera genus belong to the family Saxifragaceae, many kinds of which can be recognized with their trailing red roots in many streams flowing through Koriyama.
A few minutes’ walk north of the station is the renowned Pasona Group building, which appears to be bursting with flora from every side. According to this article, the interior sounds like the dreamworld of the Willy Wonka of botany:
“Tomato vines are suspended above conference tables, lemon and passion fruit trees are used as partitions for meeting spaces, salad leaves are grown inside seminar rooms and bean sprouts are grown under benches. The main lobby also features a rice paddy and a broccoli field.”
On my recent trip to Tokyo, my hotel was situation directly across from a building with tiered levels of numerous liriope. A few blocks away, I could make out the vast cover of tulip trees, gingkos, and Japanese maples rooted in the Shinjuku Botanical Garden, which I blissfully visited on my previous stay in Tokyo.
Soon, the company I work for will construct a new building in Koriyama. I can only hope the building incorporates some of these clever botanical designs. Based on my year here so far and despite the dizzying number of (fantastic) students and internal changes, I’d say, coda sustained, there’s room to grow.