雑草

Giant sidewalk weed is as tall as the shop behind it. Anyone know what it is?

giant_weed_sidewalk_shop_yoyogi_uehara

不便なところなのに、この背の高い雑草がお店の前に育っています。店のオーナは気にしていないようです。誰かこの植物の名前を知っていますか。

It seems that the shop owner has long accommodated herself and her shop to the annual giant weed that ‘s growing just in front. The leaves are enormous. What is this summer weed?

UPDATE: Thanks to my smart readers, I’ve learned it’s called キリ (kiri) in Japanese and Paulownia tomentosa in Latin.

Another abandoned lot teeming with life in Nakano

東京に、使われていないところはすぐにコインパーキングになります。この中野の空き地は、成長した木やアートや雑草でにぎやかです。

Most unused land in Tokyo quickly becomes automated coin parking for automobiles. I like this empty lot with a mature tree, art work, and amazing collection of weeds.

Tokyo waterfront infrastructure at Tatsumi: the beautiful and the ugly

東京湾のあたりは50年前に、高速道路と公園のようなインフラをたくさん作りました。全く使われていない不毛の空間ときれいな場所が同時に存在しています。雑草と偶然にできた緑の空間が生き残ります。

I often show images of the long cherry tree path that leads from Tatsumi’s subway to the municipal swimming pool. The 10 minute walk mixes all that’s both beautiful and dirty about 1960s infrastructure projects. There’s the amazing public sports facility, a now mature park with tall trees bordering the elevated freeway, and an odd mix of new construction, prior buildings, and informal green spaces that benefit from a lack of attention.

A very intricate weed grows on the concrete banks of the Shibuya River

渋谷川の端に、複雑な雑草を見ました。汚いところで、こんなきれいな植物が育ちます。

Next to crumbling concrete, trash, and a drainage pipe, I saw this beautiful weed with red and green flowers on the hard edge of the Shibuya River.

Weed in Kanji: The language of nature

Weed in Kanji: the Language of Plants

Kanji, the Japanese characters that borrows from Chinese, are not only ideographic but also modular. The secret to memorizing hundreds and thousands of kanji is to focus on their elements for meaning and sound. As an adult learner, I am struck by how many of these core kanji elements represent nature, such as water, tree, mountain, fire, stone, sun, valley, soil, tree, and so on.

As an example, the word zassou (雑草) or weed is composed of two characters– zatsu (雑) or miscellaneous and kusa (草) or grass– and a total of five elements, including three characters that represent life forms: tree, bird, and plant. That zatsu character’s use of the number “nine” is perhaps arbitrary, but there is also a meaning that can be inferred by the combination of nine, tree and bird. Many Japanese words and personal names have at least one character or element that represents nature.

I must clarify that the above image and explanations come from Daiki Kusuya’s wonderful Kanji Starter 2 (IBC Publishing, 5th edition, 2008). The book does a great job of presenting simple to complex kanji, offering memorable explanations, and cross-referencing by number. Still, the author warns that he created his explanations to help second-language learners, and that they should not be taken as true etymology. I like how the author privileges memory and imagination over historical accuracy.

“The pictographs or ideas explaining kanji characters in this book may not necessarily be based on their historical development. They may be alterations or even my own creations. Again, the purpose of this book is to know the meanings of kanji characters, not to study how they were derived.”

I am simultaneously studying Japanese language and why urban Japanese, like many global counterparts, want a greater connection with nature. To an outsider, it is curious how nature is so pervasive in Japanese language. Perhaps many Japanese do not reflect on this aspect of their language, much like no one considers it remarkable that so many Tokyoites tend  flowers outside their homes and shops. As an anthropologist, I view this lack of discourse, this invisibility of the everyday, as evidence that it is a key aspect of the culture.