Thursday 18 May 2017

Dandelions, Tampopo, and Noodles

A yellow Kantō-Tampopo showing the tightly closed ring of leaves under the flowerhead
Kantō-Tampopo found in Japan in the spring
I was recently asked by a Japanese if we had dandelions in the UK and certainly we do. The picture on the left shows a close-up of a local dandelion which has the delightful name of tampopo in Japanese. Tampopo is the child's word for a small hand-drum (tsuzumi) and came to be the general word for the flower during the Edo period. On a recent visit to Sayama Park in Higashiyama City, I learned an interesting difference between the Japanese and Western versions from the park pamphlet. Two kinds of dandelion are illustrated in the pamphlet (below): Kantō-Tampopo (Taraxacum platycarpum or Korean dandelion common in the spring months) and the Seiyō-Tampopo (Taraxacum officinale or common dandelion - literally Western dandelion - seen in Japan in the summer). The illustration in the pamphlet highlights the fact that on the former the ring of leaves under the flower-head is tightly closed (tojiteimasu = 閉じています), while on the latter they are turned downwards/bent backwards (sorikaeteimasu = そり返っています, literally "thrown back", as in to throw back the head, shoulders etc).

As a final aside, one of the all time classic Japanese films is also called Tampopo (1985). Directed by the legendary director Itami Juzo, it is difficult to categorise but is basically a comedy not about flowers but (Japanese) food, especially ramen (Chinese noodles). Tampopo is the name of the female noodle restaurant owner. The film was restored and re-released last year in spectacular 4K - check out the trailer here.

An illustration showing the two kinds of dandelion common in Japan: one with a tightly closed ring of leaves under the flowerhead, the other with the same leaves thrown back
Description of Kantō and Common Dandelions in the Sayama Park pamphlet, "Ikimono no Mappu" (Map of Living Things) .Illustration by Yaguchi Nao  (NPO birth)