Clusters of Long-Headed Poppies (papaver dubium) – NAGAMI HINAGESHI- Create Unfamiliar Roadside Landscapes This Year in Tsukuba
By Avi Landau
The annual procession of bloomings and blossomings in Tsukuba (and the rest of Japan, as well) is reassuringly regular. And though in a particular year one species might bloom a few days or even a couple of earlier than average – you can pretty much set your electronic calendar by them. And of course, you it is possible to accurately predict what a particular spot will look like at a particular time of year.
In some years, though, there are big surprises.
In late April 2016, along with the azalea, iris, dandelions and other regular bloomers of the season, many of of Tsukuba roadsides had turned orange – with clusters of swaying flowers that were clearly some sort of poppy.
I immediately remembered how back in 2008, authorites destroyed thousands of poppies along the Kokai River near Tsukuba – because among them were the variety used to produce either heroin or opium – I can`t remember which. This year`s surprise poppies are definitely not of the illicit sort (a completely different color) – but rather a species that was first verified as existing in Japan back in 1961 -the NAGAMI HINAGESHI (long headed poppy – popover dubium)
It is not known how exactly the first seeds arrived in Japan (the species originates somewhere around the Mediterranian), but it has apparently spread around Japan by road and rail, with rain-wettened seeds sticking to cars, trucks and rail-cars.
The reason we can assume this is that these flowers are usually found first growing along roads and railroad track in a particular area before they start proliferating in nearby fields.
There are several ways that poppies (in general) can be referred to in Japanese. The easiest to remember is simply popii (ポピー). The non-narcotic type of poppy which is usually enjoyed in spring is the hinageshi (雛罌粟) – and many of them – vast carpets, in fact, will bloom along the Kokai River in late may and June. From Chinese literature there is the term gubijinsou (虞美人草), which is also the title of a novel by the novelist Natume Soseki.
The Japanese also use two words derived from European languages to refer to poppies: amapora (アマポーラ) from the Spanish and kokuriko (コクリコ） from the French.
The poetess Yosano Akiko (1878-1942) has left us this poem:
Aa satsuki furansu no no wa hi no iro su
kimi mo kokuriko ware mo kokuriko
Aah! the fields of France in May, the color of fire!
Both you and I – POPPIES!