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Mizu-basho (Asian skunk cabbage)

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“When summer comes, I think of Oze Under distant skies. Midst rising mists and shadowed ways Marsh lilies are blooming, And dreams are flowering, too. Where evening tints, azalea pink, Those far-off, distant skies.”

“I Remember Summer” by Shoko Ema

Largely because of this lovely, nostalgic children’s song, written in the early 20th century, the Japanese are very fond of the mizu-basho. Many people visit the upland marshes of Oze in May to admire these plants rising from the snowmelt. The actual flowers are yellow specks clustered on the rodlike spadix, protected from freezing by a pure-white sheath, or spathe. In the United States, a similar arum plant is called skunk cabbage, due to its foul smell. A literal translation of mizu-basho would be “water plantain,” but perhaps my translation of “marsh lily” is an acceptable poetic compromise.