03 May 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 6

A version of this prompt appears on the Write Up You Street Writing Map illustrated by Andrew Carter.

Photo by Bérénice Blanc on Unsplash
Where I live in Kikuchi, I consider the neighborhood to be like a wonderland, full of trees that have branches jutting out at odd angles and round, trimmed puffs of bushes growing in perfect circles.  In Japan it's very common to reshape trees through pruning and refining, and this gives the trees in Japan a very characteristic shape, like you see with bonsai and Japanese black pine. The onsen (spa) and traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) next to me has a specific Alice-in-Wonderland tree that has the bushes trimmed so round and flat that I can picture the caterpillar from the story sitting on top of it like they were pillows, all the while smoking his hookah.

Across the street from me is a row of sakura (trees with cherry blossoms) that grow from behind the torii gate leading to Kikuchi Shrine. As you journey up the stairs you'll encounter many trees that look familiar that I can't name, and then bamboo trees mixed together. The Sugihara shrine that's a small offshoot of Kikuchi Shrine is particularly mystical-looking, surrounded on three sides by the dark bamboo forest, and then the sudden drop off from the hill overlooking the district of Waifu.


I live in teacher housing, and we don't have gardens, but we almost do given the random, sizeable weeds and grasses that grow through our pavement. There is also a tree and a flowering bush on the side closest to the ryokan and they both grow into the teacher's area. I believe the bush grows azalea flowers, and they are bright magenta and lovely.

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

My corner of teacher housing has a big grass problem and this year, a monster dandelion weed growing about as high as my hip. The housing situation isn't one like back home in America -- we don't have a groundskeeper or landlord doing regular maintenance, so if I want my back "yard" to look a certain way, I have to do the work myself.

I personally wouldn't mind letting things grow wild, but in the hot months (which start in May in Kyushu!) the insects get particularly crazy. Houses are not insulated and bugs find their way in easily, so I prefer to get rid of all plant growth near the doors and windows of my house to help dissuade bugs from nesting and finding their way inside. In my neck of the woods, we have to worry about gokiburi (giant-ass flying cockroaches) and mukade (centipedes) and Huntsman spiders and Asian giant hornets -- all of which are nightmare fuel.

Flowers grow abundantly in Japan, though, and I am someone who takes great joy in looking at flowers. Every late spring I always put some (like blue clematis) in a planter and display them on the low concrete wall surrounding my back door. Unfortunately when the punishing summer hits, I don't water the plants as much as I should -- they need so much more water than the flowers from back home -- so I also happen to kill my babies every year, too. I am not a good plant mother.


Illustration of a Brownie by Arthur Rackham. Source.
Have you heard the myths of fairies who come in and clean your house if you leave them an offering? They come in and do it while you sleep. Brownies, or broonies, are the magical creatures of Great Britain who are household sprites.

They must have transplanted to Japan because the parks, sakura, and even the prince's tree enshrined in front of Kikuchi High School is perfectly maintained -- but I've never seen anyone do the work.

Japan in general is a clean and well-maintained country full of invisible helpers, it seems.

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