Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Dwarf Bamboo and Confusing Kanji

A picture of the ubiquitious dwarf bamboo plant with green leaves and white edges
Kuma-zasa (Sasa veitchii or dwarf bamboo)
This is dwarf bamboo (Sasa veitchii) which is known as kuma-zasa in Japanese. It is one of hundreds of kinds of bamboo and a plant that is very familiar to the Japanese - it is all over. Interestingly, this specific species is not found in China and the kanji for sasa (bamboo grass) itself (笹) is a Japanese invention. It still contains the kanji for take or bamboo (竹) though which is one of the easiest to remember as it looks like two leafed twigs of bamboo! Many Japanese assume that the kuma in kuma-zasa means bear (because bears are thought to eat it?) but it is actually a different kanji () which means corner or nook, though in this case edge. This is because the edge turns white in winter, as the picture shows! [My thanks to Professor Takatsuki Seiki for help with this entry: see his homepage at and his nature blog at]


Picture showing old white-edged dwarf bamboo from winter and the new spring leaves with no white edge
Dwarf bamboo pictured in May - notice how the new leaves have no white edge