That’s some strong grass!

Tomorrow, the kadomatsu that have been adorning doorways from Japan to San Francisco Japantown will be removed. These traditional pine-and-bamboo arrangements (such as the one pictured here that has been gracing the east entrance to the Kintetsu Mall on the Peace Plaza) symbolize long life (the pine) and strength (the bamboo). At least, that’s what my mom told me, explaining why she attached sprigs of each to our door as a way of ushering in every new year. Wikipedia, of course, has its own take.

In any case, like that sad-looking Christmas tree in your living room, these arrangements will soon be out of season. Not, however, out of fashion—at least with respect to the bamboo part. Did you know that this amazing grass (yes, it’s technically a kind of grass) has become an environmentalist darling?

Due to its astoundingly fast rate of growth, bamboo has been tapped as a handy alternative to wood for those who’d rather not endorse the clear-cutting of old-growth timber for their construction needs. Certain varieties of bamboo can reach maturity within a matter of years, so harvesting it doesn’t mean depriving the planet of a plant that will take generations to rebound. And so people have been harvesting away, for all kinds of uses, from furniture and fences to flooring and futon frames (you know something’s got versatility when you can flaunt alliteration this easily). I happen to own a pair of bamboo chopsticks—and you can too. My friend says she gave bamboo diapers a whirl but doesn’t recommend them. She did, however, give me a bamboo cutting board as a gift, and I have to say, that’s working out pretty nicely.

Anyway, the point is, you might think twice about tossing out your kadomatsu tomorrow. Maybe don’t try to outfit the baby with it … But, if you think hard enough, I bet you can figure out a good way to recycle what turns out to be quite an amazing plant.

"This is a modified kadomatsu since the pine is part of a Christmas wreath and the bamboo is from our miniature bamboo plant now almost 40 years old!" — Alec's mom

About Alec Yoshio MacDonald

Alec Yoshio MacDonald is an associate editor at the Nichi Bei Weekly. His work has also appeared in Nikkei Heritage, the Pacific Citizen, Nikkei Family Magazine, the Chicago Shimpo, the East Bay Express and Hyphen Magazine. He lives in Oakland.

Comments

  1. Ruby MacDonald says

    Thanks, Al, for helping to spread appreciation and, hopefully, popularity of the kadomatsu! By the way, a tour guide in Japan told our group that bamboo can grow so fast that one can actually see growth of a bamboo shoot in a few hours if one has the time to observe it.

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