湯沢のさぁ なんとめんけぇ 花っこだぁ Blooming in Yuzawa / What a lovely and beautiful flower / Under May sky

I received news of flowers from relatives in Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture. The scenery is about half a month behind Kansai. Yuzawa City is a city located on the southeastern edge of Akita Prefecture, bordering Miyagi Prefecture and Yamagata Prefecture to the south. It lies in the Yokote Basin, nestled between the Ou Mountains to the east and the Dewa Mountains to the west, with a population of approximately 45,000. The city area is vast, covering about 6.8% of the entire Akita Prefecture.
The city boasts numerous hot spring areas scattered throughout, such as Akinomiya Onsen and Doroyu Onsen. It also hosts various seasonal festivals like the Inukko Festival, Komachi Festival, and Tanabata Edo Festival, attracting about 1.2 million tourists annually. Rich in nature, Yuzawa is known for producing rice, apples, cherries, and black-haired Wagyu beef. Local industries also thrive, producing goods such as local sake and Kawatsura lacquerware.
Among these, the nationally famous Inaniwa Udon stands out. Along with “Sanuki Udon” from Kagawa Prefecture and “Goto Udon” from Nagasaki Prefecture, it is counted among Japan’s top three udon varieties. Its history is long, having been presented to feudal lords since the Edo period. It’s surprising to learn that until Sato Yosuke disclosed its manufacturing techniques and flour blend to outsiders in 1972, it was not available to the general public. Yuzawa is also said to be the birthplace of Ono no Komachi, celebrated in the Heian period as a peerless beauty and one of the Six Immortal Poets, known for her exceptional talent and beauty.


風吹けば 命広がる タンポポよ When the wind blows / Life spreads out wide / Oh, dandelion

The sound of the word “tanpopo” (dandelion) is pleasant, isn’t it? There are various theories about the origin of the name “tanpopo,” but until the Edo period, it was called “tsuzumi-gusa” (drum grass). From there, it is believed that the name “tanpopo” derived from the “pon-pon” sound of drumming. There are two types of dandelions: the native Japanese dandelion, which has existed in Japan since ancient times, and the Western dandelion, which was introduced from abroad after the Meiji period. There are several varieties of Western dandelions, and similarly, there are Japanese dandelions named after various regions, such as Ezo dandelion, Kanto dandelion, Tokai dandelion, and Kansai dandelion, each with slightly different characteristics. The Western dandelion is said to have been brought in by a teacher from Sapporo Agricultural School during the Hokkaido development period as a salad ingredient, and it subsequently became wild. Initially, it was only found in Hokkaido, but Dr. Tomitaro Makino, who saw this dandelion, named it the Western dandelion, predicting that it would eventually spread throughout Japan. Today, a hundred years later, as predicted, Western dandelions have spread across Japan and seem to have overtaken the native Japanese dandelions. However, the Japanese dandelions have tenaciously survived, and now there is a situation where both Japanese and Western dandelions coexist.
By the way, did you know about dandelion coffee? When the roots of dandelions are ground into powder and roasted, it becomes a drink very similar to coffee. It is caffeine-free and rich in dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins essential for life activities, making it recommended for those who want to avoid caffeine.


卯の花を 歌えば還る 幼き日 Returning to childhood / When singing of unohana / Memories of youth

《In the Fragrant Hedge of Unohana Flowers, the Little Cuckoo Also Sings Early》
The season when the uno-hana (deutzia flower) bloom has arrived. It is called “uno-hana”  because it blooms in the fourth month of the old lunar calendar, or it might be that the month is called “uzuki” because uno-hana bloom during this month. Either way, the uno-hana has been familiar to Japanese people since ancient times. Indeed, the Manyoshu (a collection of ancient Japanese poems) contains 24 poems that mention uno-hana. Moreover, 18 of those poems are composed together with mentions of the hototogisu (little cuckoo). Since ancient times, both have been symbols of early summer. In The Pillow Book, there is a section called “Uno-hana-guruma” (Uno-hana Cart) that describes ladies decorating ox-drawn carriages with deutzia flowers, and here too the hototogisu makes an appearance.
The lyricist of “Natsu wa Kinu” (Summer Has Come) is Sasaki Nobutsuna, and as a scholar of Japanese literature, he was well aware of these circumstances and incorporated them into his poem. The plant name for uno-hana is “utsugi,” and its name comes from the fact that its stem is hollow, hence “utsugi” (empty tree). While uno-hana is an abbreviation of , there is also the theory that it blooms in the fourth lunar month. Dr. Tomitaro Makino stated this, and he also mentioned that uno-hana is an abbreviation of utsugi flowers.
Setting aside the complicated details, let’s listen to “Natsu wa Kinu (Summer Has Come).”

《卯の花の匂う垣根に ホトトギス早も来鳴きて》


猛暑避け ハマヒルガオが 花咲かせ Avoiding the scorching heat / The hamahirugao / Blooms its flowers

As if to escape the rainy season and summer, hamahirugao are blooming on the sandy beaches. In Japan, this perennial plant grows on sandy beaches across the country, except for the Ogasawara Islands, and is distributed across Asia, Europe, the Pacific islands, Australia, and the American Pacific coast. Occasionally, they can also be seen on the shores of lakes and rivers. Near “Niono-hama” in Lake Biwa, Otsu City, there are pink flowers spreading across the area, offering a refreshing view.
The stems of the hamahirugao lie on the sand and can climb up if they touch other objects. The leaves, which have long stalks, grow alternately and are thick, glossy, and round or broadly circular. Around May, before the rainy season, it blooms with pale pink flowers that have long stalks. The flowers are funnel-shaped with a diameter of 4-5 cm, and the strong underground stems extend long under the sand, often seen on sandy beaches near breakwaters in coastal parks.
Hamahirugao belong to the same family as morning glories. As their name suggests, they bloom during the day and wilt by evening. Additionally, the underground stems connect the flowers, which is a characteristic feature and the origin of the flower language “bond.”

梅雨と夏を避けるかの様にハマヒルガオが砂浜に花を咲かせています。日本では、小笠原を除く日本全土の海岸の砂地に生える多年草で、アジア、ヨーロッパ、太平洋諸島オーストラリア、アメリカ太平洋岸にまで分布しています。時には湖や川の岸でもみられます。大津市浜大津の琵琶湖「におの浜」にある「第1なぎさ公園」付近にはピンクの花が一面に広がり、爽やかな景色が楽しめます。ハマヒルガオノ茎は砂の上に横たわり、他のものに触れれば巻きついて上ることもあります。長い柄がある葉は互い違いにつき、円形または幅の広い円形で厚く光沢があります。梅雨前の5月ごろ、長い柄がある淡紅色の花を咲かせます。花は直径4~5㎝のろうと型で、強い地下茎を砂の中に長く伸ばし、海浜公園の突堤付近の砂浜などでもよく見かけます。ハマヒルガオは、アサガオと同じ仲間ですが、名前のとおり日中に花を咲かせ、夕方にはしぼんでしまいます。 また、地下に茎を伸ばし、花同士がつながっているのが特徴で、「絆」という花言葉の由来にもなっています。

梅雨近し 涼風運ぶ クレマチス The rainy season nears / Clematis brings to us / A cool breeze

On the fence of a house I passed by, white and purple clematis are beautifully blooming. The blooming season of clematis is long, from the end of spring to the beginning of autumn, but it is most noticeable around this time of year. Clematis is one of the garden plants that has been loved for a long time. In the UK, it is positioned as the ‘Queen of Climbing Plants’ and is cherished as a partner plant to roses. It is sometimes called ‘Tessen,’ but in reality, Tessen refers to a variety of clematis that is native to China. There are many wild and original species of clematis around the world, and as a result of crossbreeding over many centuries, it is said that there are now over 2000 hybrid varieties. The origin of the name ‘clematis’ comes from the Greek word for ‘vine’ = ‘klema.’ Because the vine of clematis is as hard as iron, it is also called ‘Tessen’ in Japan, including the native species. In Japan, it is also known by the name ‘Kazaguruma’ (windmill). Clematis does not have petals; its characteristic is that it has sepals that have transformed to look like petals. There are many examples such as hydrangeas and dogwoods, among others, where what appear to be petals are actually sepals or bracts.

通りがかりのお家のフェンスに白と紫のクレマチスが見事に花を咲かせています。クレマチスの花期は長く、春の終わりから秋の初めにかけて咲くのですが、いつも目につくのは今頃です。クレマチスは、古くから親しまれているガーデンプランツの一つです。英国では「つる性植物の女王」として位置づけられ、バラのパートナープランツとして親しまれています。テッセンと呼ばれることもありますが、じつはテッセンとは、中国に自生している、クレマチスの原種の一種です。クレマチスは、世界にたくさんの野生種、原種があり、これらのをもとに何世紀にも渡って交配が続けられて来た結果、現在では2000種を超える交配品種があると言われています。クレマチスの語源は、ギリシャ語の「つる」=クレマ(klema)からきています。クレマチスのつるが鉄のように固いということで日本では在来種も含めて「鉄線」 と呼ばれる様にもなりました。日本では「カザグルマ(風車)」という呼び名もありますね。クレマチスは花弁(花びら)をもたず、花弁のように変化した萼を持つ点が特徴です。アジサイやハナミズキ、その他たくさん例がありますが、花弁のように見えるけれど萼片とか、花弁のようだけど苞という植物の一つです。

花いっぱい 細木に背負って シャリンバイ Full of flowers / On a slender tree trunks / Sharinbai

An old lady is walking without even using a cane, carrying a load of flowers on her back. Sharinbai looks like that appearance. Written in kanji, it is 車輪梅. The name “sharinbai” (車輪梅) comes from the resemblance of its flowers to plum blossoms and its leaves and branches forming a wheel shape. The flower’s meaning is “the comfort of a gentle breeze.” True to this meaning, the flowers bloom fully and sway in the May wind. Each flower, upon closer inspection, is very beautiful and elegant. From spring to early summer, the old leaves at the bottom turn red as they are replaced by new leaves. The sharinbai is a hardy evergreen that withstands air pollution, heat, and even sea breezes. It is commonly planted in roadside green belts, parks, and along coastal roads. The bark and wood contain tannins, and the brown dye made from the bark is used in the famous Oshima Tsumugi silk fabric from Amami Oshima. Oshima Tsumugi, known for its deep black color and intricate dyeing and weaving techniques, is considered one of the world’s top three silk fabrics.


ランタナと 越すこの夏に 思い馳せ As lantanas blossom / Thinking about this summer / Here am I

Lantana has become noticeable here and there. Lantana is a charming plant with small flowers that gather and bloom round like a ball of hands. It begins to bloom around May, withstands the heat of summer, blooms many flowers, and continues to bloom until around November. When lantana begins to bloom, I am overwhelmed with the feeling that I will spend another hot summer with it. Its Japanese name is “Shichihenge” (Seven Changes), derived from the fact that the flowers change their bright colors. Lantana was brought to Japan in the late Edo period for ornamental purposes. The flowers attract many butterflies, and the beauty of the flowers themselves makes them popular among some enthusiasts.
Recently, lantana has become more noticeable because wild lantana has started to grow from small gaps in stone walls and roadsides, forming splendid clusters with lovely flowers in summer. In Japan’s outdoors, they often wither in winter without human management, but in tropical to subtropical climates, they can increase from self-seeding unless properly managed, becoming a “plant that should not be planted.” Lantana is selected as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species. In Japan, it can grow year-round in places like the Ogasawara Islands and Okinawa, and it can become wild around residential areas and ruins, designated as an invasive species to prevent ecological damage.


空高く 香りを放つ バラの花 A rose in full bloom / Its fragrance wafts high in the sky / A beacon of love

We learned about it in high school world history, but there was a conflict called the Wars of the Roses. The Wars of the Roses, from 1455 to 1485, were a civil war over the throne between the House of Lancaster and the House of York that erupted in England after the end of the Hundred Years’ War fought between England and France. The House of York, symbolized by the white rose, and the House of Lancaster, symbolized by the red rose, fought fiercely over the succession to the throne. However, as a result of the war, the House of Lancaster emerged victorious, and thus the red rose became the national flower of England. For England, the rose symbolizes the unification of the country after intense strife.
There is a rose variety called “York and Lancaster.” This rose blooms in various patterns on a single plant, sometimes striped with white and pink, sometimes half-and-half, or sometimes mixed. The name of this rose is inspired by the white rose of the House of York and the red rose of the House of Lancaster, named after the historical union of the two houses. Such is the deep relationship between roses and England that, in 1961, the “English Rose,” considered the masterpiece of roses, was born. The English Rose is a general term for roses developed by British breeder David Austin, combining the strengths of modern roses and old roses. It merges the longevity of modern roses with the fragrance of old roses and is beloved by rose enthusiasts around the world, as well as by many others, as a garden rose.

ドクダミの 花が咲いて 梅雨近し Dokudami flowers bloom / Its whiteness is beautiful / The rainy season is near

With the rainy season gradually approaching, it is the time when the white flowers of the dokudami bloom. It reminds me of my great-aunt, who lived with us when I was a child, picking the flowers and leaves of the dokudami to make dokudami tea and tincture. Whenever we got bitten by mosquitoes, applying the dokudami tincture was immediately effective, working better than today’s insect bite ointments. I have many memories of dokudami in various situations, and its flower language, “white recollection,” truly embodies this meaning.
Despite its rather ominous name, “dokudami” comes from the idea of being an antidote to poison, with “doku” meaning “poison” and “dami” meaning “to suppress.” Dokudami is commonly seen all over Japan and is also widely distributed in China and Southeast Asia. The stems and leaves have a unique odor, and the plant often grows in shady, damp places, giving it a somewhat negative impression. However, it has long been used under the name “juuyaku” (ten medicines) for its diuretic effects, prevention of arteriosclerosis, fever reduction, and detoxification, making it a versatile medicinal plant.
The pure white flowers of dokudami that bloom during the rainy season are delicate and charming. In the West, double-flowered varieties and variegated dokudami are cultivated as ornamental plants. In the UK, variegated varieties are known as “chameleon” and are very popular.


春の道 ラーメン店で ちょっと一服 Spring road / Taking a short break / At the ramen shop

The popularity of ramen shows no signs of stopping. Wherever you go in Japan, there are ramen shops, and each shop has its unique flavor, so there’s rarely a miss. Recently, it’s not uncommon to encounter foreigners at these shops. Ramen has become a popular dish worldwide, and the word ‘ramen’ is generally understood even in English.
Who was the first person to eat ramen, and when? There was an interesting article in the Yomiuri Shimbun. Traditionally, it was thought to be Tokugawa Mitsukuni, known as Mito Komon, during the Edo period. However, recent research has traced it back to a Zen monk, a prince of Emperor Go-Daigo, in the 1300s during the Nanboku-cho period. This discovery was made because the term ‘keitai-men,’ believed to be the root of Chinese noodles, was found in the monk’s poetry. This new insight is drawing attention as a fresh perspective in the study of the history of the nation’s food.
The term ‘keitai-men’ is quite intriguing. At first, I misunderstood it as ‘portable noodles,’ thinking it referred to modern instant ramen. Since I always thought that instant ramen was invented by Momofuku Ando, the founder of Nissin Foods, I considered this a major discovery. However, ‘keitai-men’ actually refers to noodles similar to today’s kishimen, indicating the form of the noodles.
Regarding the origin of the word ‘ramen,’ there are various theories, but it seems to come from the Chinese ‘lamian,’ meaning ‘pulled noodles.’ However, it is also said that the term ‘ramen’ became widespread with the release of the world’s first instant ramen, ‘Chicken Ramen,’ by Nissin Foods in 1958 (Showa 33). Instant ramen became a global hit as ‘magic ramen.’ Since then, the annual production of instant ramen in Japan has continued to increase, reaching about 5.723 billion servings in 2018. Invented in Japan and recognized worldwide, instant ramen has even found its way into space. In 2005, instant ramen developed with the participation of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) was carried aboard the space shuttle as the first ‘space ramen.