• SHARE

“I had come at nineteen to think myself a misfit, an orphan by nature, and it was depression that had sent me forth on this Izu journey. Now I was able to think of myself as a ‘nice’ person in the ordinary sense of the expression. I find no way to describe what this meant to me. The mountains grew brighter. We were approaching Shimoda and the sea. I swung at the heads of autumn grasses with my walking-stick.”

From “The Izu Dancer” by Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1971) Translated by Edward Seidensticker in “Japanese Short Stories” (Oxford University Press)

Japan has many lovely grasses in autumn to tempt a happy walker with a stick. One is the furry fountain grass, or Pennisetum alopecuroides. This grows 30-80 cm high, and mature plants form handsome sprays of slender leaves and seed heads. The deep-purple hairs, as long as 2 cm, help the seeds disperse. In Japanese, its name means “power grass” because it has good roots, and it takes a lot of strength to pull it out of the ground. This plant is widespread through East Asia, from Hokkaido to Indonesia. It is classified in the ine , or rice family of plants, and if you have ever seen “red” or “black” rice, you may notice some similarities.