Hope Springs Eternal

It seems that every year I am (once again!) surprised by the first signs of Spring. The timing somehow never seems “right” to me. We’re just barely past the middle of February and (here in Tokyo, at least) we can see the unmistakable first signs of spring.

First, it probably should be said that there isn’t really much of a winter in Tokyo. Temperatures do dip slightly below freezing (C), but only slightly, and not usually for long. Snowfalls with any kind of accumulation rarely number above two or three a season.

My wife’s sister travelled recently to Izu Kogen, not far from Tokyo, but typically a little warmer. She brought back a few branches of peach blossoms, and we’ve had some of the blossoms floating in a small vase on the dinner table here. They’re really quite spectacular.

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Momo (peach) blossoms.

The peach tree here in our yard will be a little while more, but the buds on the plum tree are visibly on the verge of blossoming.

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The ume (plum) buds are just about to burst.

Finally, my wife prepared something that is somewhat of a delicacy for our dinner this evening, called in Japanese fuki no tō. Fuki is a kind of butterbur, but if you’re anything like me you don’t know what butterbur is any more than you know what fuki is, so I offer this definition:

A Eurasian waterside plant of the daisy family, the rounded flowerheads of which are produced before the leaves. The large soft leaves (vaguely resembling rhubarb) were formerly used to wrap butter, and extracts of the plant have long been used medicinally as a powerful anticonvulsant.

The Japanese eat the stalk of the plant, especially in summer, but the flowerheads mentioned above (the of fuki no tō) are especially prized as a treat in early spring, and a sure sign that warmer weather is at hand. We have some fuki in our yard here, and we picked the flower heads today and cooked them up as tempura.

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Fuki no tō (butterbur) flowerheads in our garden.

For me, eating fuki no tō brings to mind the time I spent working in Oguni; the kozo field there is chockablock with fuki, and every year in early april, when the snow finally melts in the kozo field, it’s a veritable feast of fuki no tō. I found a video here, if you’re dying to know more!

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