A Month of Impatience

IMG_1383I’m currently reading Japanese Garden Design by Marc P. Keane. And what a fascinating read it is. Although I’m the last person who anyone would consider someone capable of following the tenets of Zen, a practice which involves deep introspection and a patient, reserved nature, I’ve learned a few things or two from Keane’s descriptions of gardening throughout Japan’s most notable periods and my own exploratory bouts about Koriyama.

While I’m primarily interested in the specific plants used in Japanese gardens – Japanese maple trees, ferns, etc. – I’ve begun to grasp the use of rocks as well as sand in said enclosed areas.

IMG_2241Perhaps most importantly, however, is the principle of patience. Something of which I have little. A book such as Keane’s is difficult for me to read without smirking or consciously rejecting upon first perusal. The notion of exploring the world of the garden mentally and the long and drawn-out routine of cleansing—or combing—the sand of leaves and debris for the purpose of contemplation, detailed in Keane’s book, made me scoff at first.

IMG_2274I’m a thing of reactions and actions. With Japanese gardens, it’s careful, forethought placement. The islands of rock symbolizing an ancient legend while also being aesthetically pleasing. The rocks that at first glance are casually and oft haphazardly placed atop one another to create the illusion of a waterfall which could allow for carp to ascend through wrought determination to become a dragon. The two-poled entrances and plants themselves, symbolizing not grand entrances but reminders of humbleness.

IMG_2284Despite my frustratingly unreignable nature, the nature of Japanese gardens demands incredible detail, patience, and knowledge. I understand this when designing gardens online; I may know what plants to consider for drainage, soil retention, etc., but when it comes to aesthetics, I still have so much to learn.

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Black Ginkgo Nuts

 

Collected ginkgo nuts in their fleshy fruit form

Collected ginkgo nuts in their fleshy fruit form

Last week, I tried my first sautéed gingko nut. A very, very sautéed ginkgo nut. My coworker and I spent the better part of an hour boiling, picking apart, washing, and simmering the nuts I’d collected that week; after our efforts of tediously removing the thin outer covering, we set the range on low and retired to the study (aka my room) and drank wine and talked about everything under the sun.

Ginkgo Nuts with hard shells

Ginkgo Nuts with hard shells

Whether it was the wine or the chatting, I do not know, but after hearing a few pops and noticing the smoke beginning to billow in small furls from the pot, we rushed to the kitchen and snapped off the burner.

Beautiful ginkgo nuts lining a sunny street in Koriyama

Beautiful ginkgo nuts lining a sunny street in Koriyama

And so it is, my first attempt at cooking ginkgo nuts failed. Sort of. We tried one each, hoping we wouldn’t be found two days later foamy mouthed and lying cold on my kitchen floor. They were rock hard – the nuts, that is – and tasted a bit like popcorn. Not entirely a failure, and we survived to boot.

Since that night, I’ve gone on many runs to try and forage for more nuts, but it looks as though the old ladies have beaten me to it. And those that do remain have been smooshed by pedestrians or turned rotten in the cold air.

Nevertheless, it was great fun in the kitchen with my coworker, and I’ll now be better prepared for next year!

Positive Thoughts & Ginkgo Nuts

Ginkgo biloba fruits

Ginkgo biloba fruits

This week is an exciting week. Although the weather’s turning nasty, with threats of sleet and flurries, I’ll join the old ladies of Koriyama in the age-old tradition of Ginkgo nut foraging.

If you’re not familiar with Gingko biloba, it’s a strange and beautiful tree. A living fossil (e.g., old as hell), the Ginkgo has veined, fan-shaped leaves with varying sized lobes and which sometimes look like chubby, poorly drawn cartoon hands. In Spring and Summer, the rough leaves are a gorgeous emerald, whereas in the Fall, they become pleasantly soft and turn to a striking golden yellow.

Tricky dicky

Tricky dicky

After reading about its potential yet-entirely-refuted-by-many-scientific-studies health effects, I began combining my morning runs with Gingko leaf foraging, picking them up along the way and afterward steeping them in hot water with green tea and the questionable mint I found down by the nearby Sasahara River.

While these trees are shedding their foliage for the winter months, the female species in particular are also shedding their nuts. And girl, do their nuts smell awful. People have described the odor of crushed Gingko nuts as rancid butter, dog poop, hot garbage, bad cheese, rank body odor, etc. I personally agree with the declaration that they do, undeniably, smell of an accumulation of college-years’ vomit.

BbdUzw4CIAAoFB5This will not be my first time collecting these nuts; I went on a short foray some weeks ago that ended stupidly. After my run, I washed off the globular, orange fruit and popped it into my mouth. Unfortunately, I had chosen the only article to have incorrectly advised just how to prepare a Ginkgo nut, which was not at all – just pluck and pop.

How to prepare Gingko nuts

Luckily, this mishap wasn’t fatal, and I had a good laugh about it with some of the students.

Alas, my mistake of cutting this marimo ball in half may well have cost its life. That is, if it's real...

Alas, my mistake of cutting this marimo ball in half may well have cost its life. That is, if it’s real…

Making mistakes is a beautiful thing, as long as it’s not fatal, of course. In the classroom, I try to be a positive teacher, encouraging students to try using the language creatively. Sometimes, though, it comes down to the students themselves. There must be a willingness to slip up, go wrong, goof, make a boo-boo or a hash of things.

During my Japanese courses in New York, I was incredibly nervous to use the language in front of my peers, but they and the teacher were kind and nonjudgmental. I made countless blunders and my pronunciation was doubtless horrible, but the fact is that I tried and had fun while doing so. Not putting forth the effort or at least trying to join in on the classroom frivolity would’ve been a detriment not only to me but my classmates and teacher as well.

With my knowledge now of how to properly eat Ginkgo nuts, I’ll try again this week and see how it goes.

Mystery ‘Round the Corner

Cyathea lepifera & Bougainvillea

Cyathea lepifera & Bougainvillea

Yumenoshima Botanical Garden is impressively set off on its own on a former landfill in Tokyo Bay. To its right, a sharp pillar – the chimney of the Shin-Koto incineration plant – shoots out over the trees of the sprawling park surrounding the tri-domed botanical garden. The path leading to its wrought-iron gate entrance is contoured by the massive, hangar-like, hilariously named sports facility BumB.

Under the main dome’s windows dripping with condensation, towering, slightly drunk-looking Cyathea lepifera (the better common name being Flying Spider-monkey Tree Ferns) soar up to the tallest panes, pink Bougainvilleas spilling over their leafy aerial fronds.

Cattleya

Cattleya

Along the path, proudly displayed, are vibrant and incredibly fragrant Cattleya orchids, stringy Caesalpinia pulcherrimas of orange and red, and unbelievably purple and pink Tillandsia cyaneas.

Yumenoshima Botanical Garden Entrance

Yumenoshima Botanical Garden Entrance

On the outside, Yumenoshima looks like a promising adventure. And although I spent a solid three-and-a-half hours strolling back and forth among the three domes, the experience, for some reason, paled compared to my nearly half-day excursion to Shinjuku Imperial Botanical Garden.

Caesalpinia pulcherrima

Caesalpinia pulcherrima

Although there’s no grand dome nor a remarkable pathway leading to the building’s rather simple, Tulip Tree–lined entrance, there’s something inviting and appealing about its spiral, latticed design, a design that seems to be inspired by the very Crassula succulents it holds inside. In its second dome, Yumenoshima allows visitors to climb up stone steps that take them into the thicket, with leaves and flowers drooping into the path. An adventure. The explorer, obstructed by the thick palms, can’t see what’s coming next.

Drosera Capensis

Drosera Capensis

Each garden has its strong point, Yumenoshima its interactive layout and Shinjuku its overwhelming and aesthetically placed plants.

I’ve been studying and thinking a lot about garden design lately, visiting as many small parks in the Tokyo center as possible, taking photos, and reimagining them with improved landscape, better plants, and a more inviting look to entice passersby to come in and explore.

Pitcher Plants!

Pitcher Plants!

One of my favorite things about Japanese gardens, especially here in Koriyama, are the trellises of wisteria suspended over garden and house entrances; these and expertly trained pine branches create an air of mystery and an invitation to explore more inside.

That being said, old Japanese women, in my experience, do not particularly enjoy curious foreigners traipsing through their backyard lawns and greenhouses.