Thursday, March 29, 2012

Uguisu/Japanese bush warbler - audible but invisible

There is a bird on the branch of ume (Japanese apricot) tree. 
Some Japanese people might think he is a Japanese bush warbler.

Look at his eye which is barely visible among the flowers.   
Now some of you would know what he is.
He is a Japanese white-eye.

 He has the distinctive white eye ring, which gives its name.

Many Japanese people mistake Japanese white-eye (目白 mejiro) for Japanese bush warbler (鶯 uguisu).  There has been a confusion between the two birds among the Japanese people and there are a couple of reasons for that.  For one thing, 梅に鶯, Ume blossom and Japanese bush warbler, is one of certain traditional pairings of flowers and birds/animals like 松に鶴/pine tree and crane (an auspicious pair), 藤に不如帰/wisteria and cuckoo, 紅葉に鹿/maple leaves and deer, and so on.

Ume and Uguis of Hanafuda (Flower-cards)
image via here

48 cards of Hanafuda
image via here
For another, the two birds have the similar appearance, the color of olive green, either deep or pale.
mejiro-colored uguisu-mochi on the uguisu-colored plate

This is a traditional sweet “uguisu-mochi”.  It is slightly oval-shaped rice cakes, sprinkled with green tea powder and filled with bean-paste, which is meant to suggest uguisu, or Japanese bush warbler.  Actually, this is not the color of uguisu but that of mejiro, or Japanese white eye.  The color of uguisu is closer to that of the plate.

Uguisu/Japanese bush warbler, image via here
Japanese bush warblers are drab olive green.  They are cautious and usually remain deep in the shadow of foliage in the grove.

The olive-green birds which come for the nectar of ume blossoms are Japanese white-eyes, while Japanese bush warblers come to Ume trees for insects when they are thick with foliage.  Japanese white-eyes are not so cautious that are spotted out rather easily. 

Ume blossoms are thought to be a harbinger of spring as they bloom much earlier than other spring plants when air is still cold.  The cry of male Japanese bush warbler also heralds the arrival of spring with their distinctive chirps, Ho-Hokekyo, which is a pan to 法-法華経, the Lotus Sutra of Buddhism.  People hear the chirping of a Japanese bush warbler from nowhere and see the appearance of Japanese white-eye among ume blossoms, which caused misunderstanding and confusion about the two birds.

Bush warblers and Ume blossoms have been featured in haiku as seasonal words of spring and often the motif of paintings and other arts.   

song of Japanese bush warbler

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Umami Hills Park in early spring

There is a saying in Japan: "Neither heat nor cold lasts beyond the equinox."  
It is getting warmer little by little with three cold days
followed by four warm days, repeatedly.

Japanese Camellia is one of the most popular shrubs because of its long flowering period from January to March or April and appearance like winter roses.  These mountain camellias shed their heads as they fade while the commonly known variety clings to the shrub till the last moment.

Asiatic dogwoods, or Cronus officinalis (サンシュユ), look like yellow veil
when they are in full bloom.

"Asebi, 馬酔木", or Japanese Andromeda, have just started blooming. 
They  droop in clusters among glossy leaves.

Titmouse, 山雀

Pussy willow, 猫柳
Thunbery spirea, 雪柳
Pussy willow has the same name in Japanese Neko-yanagi which means cat-willow.
Thunbery spirea is Yuki-yanagi in Japanese meaning snow-willow. 

At this time of year, Ume (Japanese apricot) blossoms are the most vibrant in the park
and are the center of people's attention.


Japanese white-eyes come for the nectar of ume blossoms.  
They are often mistaken for “uguisu, 鶯”, or Japanese bush warbler.

Ume blossoms are blooming, radiating their scent to the cold air and to the blue sky,
which is encouraging and inspiring.


I used to collect white, pink, and red petals as meals
when playing house as a child.


Grasses are still grey at the pond
where most of the migratory ducks have already left.


Another pond is fringed by yellow Asiatic dogwoods and red Japanese quinces.
Japanese quice is called "boke, 木瓜" in Japanese. 

There is another word "boke, 呆け" meaning "senility". 
When I make a blunder, I say "Oh, the flower of boke has bloomed."
Boke is such a lovely flower.

While I walked, the feeling of joy overflowed within me.

- Our World Tuesday -

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tempted by the color and fragrance ...

Ume (Japanese apricot) blossoms are at last in bloom brightening up the pale wintry landscape about two weeks later than usual due to the severe cold this year. 

After hectic two weeks with emotional turbulence, I walked to Yamato Bunka-kan in my vicinity and found it was the right time for ume blossoms.  Isn't the view over the walls inviting?

Ume, which starts flowering in mid-winter, symbolizes strength, resilience, perseverance, and purity.   The aroma of the blossom and its pure white color has made it very popular with everyone since the ancient times.

There are also red and pink blossoms.

There are many buds yet to open. 

Sugawara Pond is said to be the site of the oldest dam in Japan in Nihon-shoki, the Chronicles of Japan.

Ume trees had been so favored by the ancient people since its entry from China. There are as many as 119 tanka poems about ume blossoms in Manyoshu Anthology compiled in the 8th century.

Ume was once called as “mume”. I suppose probably due to an euphonic change “mu” to “u” in the pronunciation, "mume" from its scientific name “prunus mume” became “ume”.

shidare-ume/weeping branches

Like sakura (cherry trees), ume come in many varieties.

Even if not so explicit like cherry blossoms, don't you feel enchanting aura?

winter-blooming iris near the pond

on the ground under the ume trees
Although air was so cold, I found spring had been already in my heart awaiting for this kind of scenery.  The season of warmth and fertility is around the corner.

Last year's ume post: Ume blossoms - harbinger of spring

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