Friday, November 6, 2009

Relationships with Nature (2): Pine

The pine (matsu) signifies longevity since it is an ever-green tree, lives for a long time and grows beautifully weathered with age. It has been valued since ancient times and has been incorporated in over 100 family heraldic designs. The pine is also an essential part of any Japanese landscape. It is often drawn in the background of Japanese paintings.

The pine, bamboo, and plum (sho-chiku-bai) are an auspicious combination symbolizing long life, hardiness and vitality. The pine is for longevity and endurance, and the bamboo is for flexibility and strength, and the plum is for a young spirit. This trio is often used in restaurants as a name for the three levels of quality (and price) of its offerings. It is used instead of directly stating quality or price (e.g. the highest quality would be pine). Sho-chiku-bai is also used for the name of a sake (Japanese alcohol) brand.

Kadomatsu are decorations made with assembled pine branches enhanced by a stem of bamboo and spray of plum tree branches. During the New Year, they are placed in front of the house gate. Originally, kadomatsu were displayed to invite the gods in, but these days they are another New Year's decoration.

Matsutake (pine mushroom) is a highly fragrant and edible mushroom that grows naturally near Japanese red pines in autumn. Whether grilled or cooked with rice, the Japanese enjoy the unique aroma and flavor. Matsutake production has fallen dramatically in recent years and it has been turned into an expensive gourmet item

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