This post is dedicated to the day I spent with my then high-school classmate on Ponpon-yama, where the katakuri lilies were in full bloom, looking for eggs of the Japanese Luehdorfia on wild ginger plants.
One of the most charming poems in the first imperially-commissioned anthology—the 8th-Century Manyoshu— a tanka penned by Ōtomo no Yakamochi, one of the greatest and most innovative poets in Japanese history:
Mono no fu no/ yaso-otome-ra ga/ kumimagou/ terai no ue no/ katakago no hana.I regret that I do not have the literary skills to give you any sense of how Yakamochi deftly uses grammatical features of the Japanese language and the 5-7-5, 7-7 syllabic structure of the tanka (as well as its literary conventions) to create an visual and aural tableau of fleeting, timeless, beauty. It’s been so many years since I first came across the poem, but I can never remember it without seeing the dappled sunlight falling on the girls and the flowers and the well, hearing the chatter and splashing—all of it implied, in the best tradition of Japanese poetry. The sensations that come back to me are as vivid and real as any of my best (and worst) memories from my real life.
A bustling throng of young women drawing water from the temple well, where bloom the katakuri lilies. (my translation)
So what caused me to relive my memories of the katakuri lily? The fact that the katakuri-ko, a starch so convenient in making Chinese dishes (it soaks up the liquid escaping from the meat and vegetable and wraps it around the latter as a savory sauce of your preferred texture) and tatsuta-age, the Japanese-style fried chicken—it works for fish too—that retains its deliciousness long after it has cooled, is no longer produced for general consumption from the katakuri lily corm. Instead, the katakuri-ko sold in stores today consists solely of potato starch.
Of which I was reminded of when I read the news report to which I refer to in this post.