A Sip Of Matcha

Published: Monday August 18, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday August 19, 2014 MYT 11:56:26 AM

Bright and beautiful

Cheery sight: Sunflowers on a farmland in Japan.

Cheery sight: Sunflowers on a farmland in Japan.

Every summer, sunflowers burst into bloom across Japan, bringing cheer all around.

When my husband wanted to take me out to see himawari (sunflowers) recently, I was reluctant to go at first because of the sultry weather. After all, I could see himawari in some residents’ gardens, at playgrounds and along pavements in the vicinity.

Since Koji loves to play mind games with me, I got tired of asking him where we were going to see the himawari. So I just followed him to Kamiooka in Yokohama.

After a long walk that included climbing up and down slopes and flights of stairs in a residential area, I wondered where the sunflower garden was.

When we reached the destination, I had a surprise. What? The sunflowers were grown on a farmland!

A temporary staircase with a platform was built over a covered mound for visitors to have a panoramic view of the whole area which was covered with 30,000 blooms. The paths between the tracts of land were like a maze. Many sunflowers were taller than us. A light scent swept through the field. Ah, lovely!

The sunflower seeds were planted in May by Kamiooka Elementary School’s third graders. This is the fourth year the students have undertaken this project.

Posters and pictures on the notice board illustrated their project’s activities. The students prepared the flower beds before planting three to four seeds in each hole about 20cm apart. As the sunflowers effloresced, they pulled out the ones with smaller buds.

The students tied coloured strips of paper containing illustrations and well-wishes, to the stems. Around mid-July, they put up posters and distributed flyers to publicise the event.

Several visitors rested on a bench under a pergola near the entrance. A man, apparently a volunteer, was manning the shade. He chatted with visitors.

“Weekends are the most crowded. Last Saturday was very packed because of the sunflower fest held from 9.30am to noon. There were sunflower quizzes, a market selling local produce, and free sunflowers and drinks for a limited number of visitors,” he told us.

Curious, I queried: “Who supplied the seeds?”

“Four shopping street associations sponsored them and rented the farm for this purpose,” he replied.

Next I asked: “After the plants wither, are the seeds used as pet feed or snacks for humans?

He chuckled. “In our case, no.”

I inquired again: “Then they are kept for replanting next year?”

He then explained: “No, we buy new sunflower seeds next year. If we wait for our sunflowers to form seeds, the birds will eat them and defecate all over the place. After Aug 3, the plants are cut down, uprooted, and the flowers distributed to the students and residents. The owner of this land has to prepare the beds for growing eggplants, Chinese cabbage and radish.”

After the visit, I began to look up more news on sunflowers. In a report published online on Aug 7, among 20,000 sunflowers in a field in Tokyo were a number of sunflowers that were literally smiling! How the sunflowers came to have “smiley” faces was a puzzle, but they sure created a buzz and attracted visitors.

The sunflower is the official flower of Zama city in Kanagawa prefecture. Why, its manhole covers even feature sunflower motifs! From late July to around mid-August every year, approximately 550,000 sunflowers bloom at various venues.

Zama showcases 30 different species of sunflowers from around the world. An observation deck gives visitors an aerial view of the golden expanse. The ambience is enlivened by a sunflower festival with entertainment, tasty treats and an array of sunflower products.

Himawari-no-Sato (“Sunflower Village”) at Hokuryu (aka Sunflower Town) in Asahikawa city is the largest sunflower field in Hokkaido. About 1.5 million sunflowers are planted in the 23ha field. Although admission is free, you’ll have to pay if you want to go sightseeing on a tram or enter a sunflower maze.

The sunflower symbolises radiance and vitality. It seems to represent Japan’s summer. Stalks of plastic sunflowers brighten up shops and supermarkets. Floral arrangements of artificial himawari and other summer flowers adorn the shelves of many stores.

Cute sunflower motifs decorate wrappers for snacks, while sunflower designs enhance the beer cans of major brewers. Pictures of himawari are depicted on some calendars.

Indeed, sunflowers – real or fake – bring cheer to Japan’s muggy summer.

Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, resides in Japan.

Tags / Keywords: sarah mori, sunflowers

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