Susuki Grass – Miscanthus sinensis
One of my favorite plants in Japan is the susuki grass (Miscanthus sinensis) which you can find growing wild just about anywhere in Japan (and many other parts of Asia), and due to eager gardeners, here and there in Europe and North America as well. The grass is very decorative and yellows beautifully in autumn, with a soft almost brush like head. There are few feelings that can match striding through a field of this beautiful grass, almost as tall as yourself.
In the old days the susuki was cultivated everywhere. Humans grew it in neat little fields near their houses in every village and villagers would take turns to harvest it and use it to thatch the roofs of everything from temples to castles to simple barns. Anything left over could be used as a simple ingredient for straw figures and as feed for the livestock. The susuki was also the perfect home for the tiny harvest mouse which in turn was preyed upon by the owls that lived near the villages.
In Japanese poetry and folk tradition there is something special about the susuki, it is thoroughly common and very plain looking yet there is a sense that we can find beauty even in something as common as this grass. I have often noted how many people stop and smile while looking at it, in parks and in the wild. Not everyone though. It can be quite tricky to control in smaller house gardens and I have had a few sad moments cutting it back when I volunteer to help friends with their gardening. For me the susuki is as essential to an elevated Japanese garden as the rock, the moss or the momiji.
The best place to see the gorgeous fields of susuki in the Kanto area is in Hakone, up until roughly Nobember. There is a guide to the sadly under appreciated art of susuki-watching here.
I found this gorgeous thicket of susuki growing on a ridge near the summit of Mount Takao a couple of weeks ago.