Of rocks and weed Posted on May 29, 2019

More news from Japan. I happened to mention that I love oysters, the smaller and sweeter the better, and best of all the curiously-named Kumamoto. Curious because these days they come, I understand, from Puget Sound.

Where, then, is Kumamoto? It is a prefecture in the Kyushu archipelago in south-west Japan, important as the prime source of the Nori seaweed essential for making sushi. We had been discussing rocks, and how the Japanese choose them for their gardens. We have granite outcrops in the Welsh woods that split to make splendid ten-foot splinters. There is one deeply embedded (and much regretted) still in our former Essex garden. Wales, said my penfriend, has connections, and not only rocky ones, with Japan.

Laver is not quite as essential to the Welsh diet as Nori is to the Japanese, but it is the same plant. Its unpredictable life-cycle had baffled botanists in both countries until Dr. Kathleen Drew-Baker, at Bangor University, discovered that at its ‘seed’ stage, as a single-celled alga, it relies on vacant seashells as shelter. In the 1950s Japan was suffering a critical shortage of nori; here was the solution. And to this day the people of Uto, a town in Kumamoto, celebrate an annual ‘Drew Day’ around a monument to the Welsh doctor on the shore.

And à propos of rocks and the acknowledged twentieth century master of the Japanese garden, Mirei Shigimori. His parents were admirers of French painters of the Barbizon School – in particular, Millet. Hence their son’s name. Another of their children was named Bairon after the author of Childe Harold.

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