When I was 3-years-old, I used to follow my granddad around the garden pushing a plastic wheelbarrow. We worked as a team. He pulled out the weeds; I pulled out the flowers.
I still retain that 3 year-old knowledge of the difference between weeds and flowers. Mind you, I doubt I`m the only one unsure. Even the dictionary hedges its bets by suggesting the difference is a matter of preference.
Both the English word, weed and its most commonly translated form in Japanese, (zasso) mean undesirable plant. But while in English, the word weed also means weak or cowardly, the Japanese word, 雑草 zasso also has the meaning of strength, as in – 雑草のようなしたたかさ － as hard as a weed.
Now, hands up if you found that interesting. Go on, hands up high.
Thinking about it, the alternative Japanese definition makes more sense than the English one. Weeds are not weak or cowardly;they are adventurous and tenacious. And a nightmare to remove.
I was a wise 3-year-old to pull-out the flowers instead.
In recent weeks, peach-coloured petals have sprouted on pavement edges across the city. Instantly I identified them as flowers, only to discover they are nagamihinageshi, long-headed poppies (J), considered weeds introduced from overseas.
First identified in Tokyo in 1961, the peachy petals have rapidly spread across the country. This long-headed poppy plague shows no sign stopping. The fight against them (J) isn`t helped by fools like me who identify them as pretty flowers and plant them in their back garden.
But the long-heads are not all evil. Attracted to the alkaline soil on pavement edges, these poppies lead the frontline in the fight against concrete. Inch by inch, they are re-taking the streets. Good on them, in a city as big as Tokyo, a long fight lies ahead.