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Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012
Hold the plastic grass — I want the real stuff
By AMY CHAVEZ
Holding the kama (scythe) at the hilt, I tore into the grass. This is the way we cut grass on the island. Not many people actually have grass, and I cherish my small 2 sq. meter patch. My neighbor Kazu-chan, who was watching me in the distance, calmly walked over and said, "Amy, you're doing it all wrong."
What, attacking the grass with a kama and an evil grin?
"First of all, that kama is too dull," she said, referring to my 30-year-old implement that came with the house when I bought it. "True," I acknowledged. She went into her tool shed and brought out a newer one. "Try this."
"Oh, much better, thanks," I said, tearing into the grass again.
"You're still doing it wrong," she said. She took up my old kama and started deftly cutting the grass, each pull resulting in a handful of grass the size a horse would grab in a mouthful.
Within a minute, she had grazed the entire area into a nice little patch of short grass. "But, but, how did you do that?!" I marveled.
"You're just not very good at it," she said. "Look. Grab the grass down near the roots with your hand and pull on the kama near the dirt." No wonder she could cut the grass so short.
Perhaps they cut golf courses this way too, which would explain why playing golf in Japan is so expensive.
"And this old kama isn't so bad after all," she said, using my last excuse.
I had failed at Beginning Kama Usage, a huge embarrassment after having lived in the Japanese countryside for so long. Not only that, but imagine a Japanese person teaching me how to cut grass! Japanese people don't have lawns and I have never even seen a lawn mower in Japan outside of the big hotels. The only other place you see grass in Japan is on a golf course or in your bento box lunch.
Plastic bento grass is made by slicing paper-thin green plastic sheets into rectangles, leaving a crinkly cut edge on the top to denote the blades (you really do have to use your imagination to recognize it as grass). This is then used as a decoration to add color to bento lunches. But to me, it's more like a diversion — like the toy in a McDonald's Happy Meal.
Bento grass is a staple, and probably replaces original edible leaves and sprigs that were used as decoration in the old days, such as mitsuba and shiso leaves. You still find real plants (though not always edible) such as maple leaves and dandelions perched upon food in restaurants. How this concept morphed into plastic grass is a mystery. I can't imagine the Japanese ever ate grass, nor admitted its blades on their plate.
Yet somehow, people get a yearning for a bit of the turf when it comes to eating a bento lunch.
While we Westerners tend to think of plastic bento grass as a waste of resources, to the Japanese, it is surely a sign of the care and attention to detail added to the meal. And some say it helps "divide" the food into compartments. Uh-huh.
I understand the appeal of bento grass (my God, did I really just say that?), but why stop there? If you're going to scatter pieces of decorative wisdom onto your food in the form of plastic, why not use plastic flowers or insects instead? Who wouldn't want a large black ant on their sandwich or a spider on their bean curd? How about dragonflies and butterflies? Even some weeds would be better than that bleak bento grass! After all, what are we, cows?
If we are cows we should demand a variety of bento grass: Timothy, Kentucky Blue Grass or Perennial Ryegrass. Even beef farmers rotate their cows to different pastures so they get a variety of nutritious grasses year-round.
As for myself, I'd prefer plastic ferns on my food. At least I could reuse the decorations then. But bento grass just doesn't recycle very well. Until someone can figure out how to play golf on it, I just don't see the use.
I don't know about you, but I miss the real stuff. I miss walking barefoot in the grass, the prickly little blades peeking up between my toes and foot fungus.
I love lying down in a grassy lawn, contemplating the clouds running across the sky. Don't you?
I treasure the shades of green in pastures, where the grass becomes richer and greener around each cow patty, only months later returning to celadon. I delight in a walk through the meadow and I abhor signs that say "Do not walk on the grass."
I love the smell of cut grass and I love cutting it, even with a kama, no matter how bad at it I may be. But please, do not put grass in my bento.
Whenever I go home to the U.S., I always take time to lie in the real stuff. It's just so refreshing. So it was much to my surprise that, on a recent trip to Australia, I visited some friends who lived in a new housing development that used fake grass on the lawns. (Do you think they have fake grass hoppers too?) Then later, in Melbourne's Federation Square, I spotted fake grass again. Even in Australia, nature is going the way of the bento.
I just found out that bento grass is also available in yellow and pink. But please, don't tell Australia.