Black Pine Beach on Awaji Island

catching moon jellyfish

Numerous moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) were floating near the Keino Matsubara beach on Awaji island yesterday. In the video, Oliver is holding one. The four purple circles are the gonads. The tentacles of the moon jellyfish are so fine that they cannot penetrate human skin so as you can see, they are safe to touch. They are found all over the world and I’ve seen them in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and now the Seto Inland Sea.


One of my favorite trees in Japan is the black pine (Pinus thunbergii). They can grow in the harsh region of a beach and provide a stark contrast to the sun, sand and sea. The Keino matsubara beach features a stand of 50,000 trees, planted as a wind break and beach preserver against erosion. The light is so beautiful under the trees and Ocean, Oliver and I spent a delightful afternoon among them. We noticed the long needles are in bundles of two.


There was a small group of Oriental Greenfinches (Carduelis sinica) feeding on the ground underneath the trees. They were quite active and looked to be feasting up some type of seed.



Winter Walk in the Minoh hills


A setting sun hits the sugi trees

I went for a walk yesterday in the hills of the Minoh national park. I scrambled up through a ravine to a trail and ended up at an overlook above the suburb of Ikeda, the municipality adjacent to our suburb of Minoh

Northern Shovelers Feeding

This pair of Northern Shoveler ducks look to be in a feeding frenzy. They are “dabbling” ducks and one meaning of the word is to “immerse one’s hands or feet in water and move them around gently”. Dabbling ducks put dunk their bills in the water instead of diving and going deeper for food. This male/female pair are moving in a circle which differs from Cornell University’s video of the feeding behavior. There must have been a school of invertebrates in the vicinity. There is a pond in my neighborhood literally right next to a busy 4-lane road where there are always lots of water fowl. The northern shovelers were not bothered by the cars or me filming them.


Two windmill palms in a ravine

The Chusan or Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is commonly found all throughout the city’s gardens and parks. It snows in Osaka and I was surprised to see palm trees here, but the windmill palm is one of the hardiest species of palms. It does not grow well in hot climates. They are native to central China and Kyushu island here in Japan. Chusan is the incorrectly Romanized spelling of Zhoushan island located off the coast of central China. The species name comes from the British botanist Robert Fortune. He is famous for sneaking into China and stealing tea plants to introduce them to India. He also smuggled some windmill palms out and took them to Kew Botanical Garden.

I would love to plant one in our garden.

Lipstick Palm Tree


This is one of the first new palm trees I discovered in my travels in south east Asia. The lipstick palm (Cyrtostachys renda) is a common garden plant here. I photographed stands of them in my sister-in-law’s apartment complex. The bright red crown shaft (a technical term for leaf base in some palm tree species) is distinctive and hence the name after red lipstick. They are native to Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra, but due to their striking appearance, they are an ornamental. I never noticed them in Latin America, but they may have been there.


They are beautiful as a mature tree (above) or as a young plant (below). They are also known as Red Sealing Wax Palm, because the red color resembles the sealing wax used for letters by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century. Also note that “renda” is a Malay indigenous word for palm. It is my favorite Asian palm so far!


Crepe Myrtles in Bloom


The Crepe Myrtle tree (Lagerstroemia sp.) in our garden is in full bloom this week. Lagerstroemia is a genus of 50 species that are native to Asia and Oceania. They are a common ornamental in Osaka with trees in parks and gardens all over. It is nice to have a late blooming ornamental and have flowers in late September. It is like a last gasp of summer!

The bark is really nice too, peeling like a Eucalypt. It is a common tree in the American south, as the hybrids are hardy, does well in tight spaces and they are beautiful. They were brought to America by a French botanist and this Asian species is now a signature plant of the south east USA. Osaka is most similar to the city of Atlanta because of the azaleias and other southern plants that thrive here.


The genus is named after a Dutch friend of Carl Linnaeus who supplied him plants. It is a bush or small three here in Osaka.


Joshua Tree


The striking Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) stood out in the desert landscapes of Nevada, Arizona and Utah. In the lower elevation dry areas it is the only plant reaching any sort of height at all. It was named by the Mormons who were reminded of the Biblical story of Joshua raising his arms up to heaven. The Spanish called them the izote de desierto or the desert daggers, referring to the sharp ends of the modified leaves. The 49 species of the genus Yucca belong to the Agave family. The Joshua Tree was made famous to my generation by U2, who as most Europeans, are fascinated by the deserts of the American southwest. The album Joshua Tree (1990) was their take on American music and they took a lot of photos in the desert.


I loved the openness and lack of people of this part of the American southwest after living in Japan for two years. One can walk a long way before seeing any signs of humanity. We found many nice Joshua tree specimens near the Virgin River Canyon recreation area just over the Arizona border between Nevada and Utah. It was a camping area, but on a scorching (108 F) weekday afternoon, we had the river to ourselves.


Sadly I was reading that the climate change will reduce 90% of their range. They are already confined to the Mojave desert, and due to the loss of their seed disperser, the Giant Shasta Ground Sloth), they have difficulty in migrating to a more favorable habitat. It would be a shame to lose the iconic Mojave tree.



Momoyama (Mountain Peach)


The latest fruit in season is known in Japanese as the Yamamomo (Myrica rubra) which is also known as the Japanese Bayberry. It is native to east Asia and has been cultivated for thousands of years alongside the Yangtze River in China. They are a common urban tree in Japan and we see the fallen fruit on the sidewalks and bike lanes throughout our neighborhood. We also see it in stores for sale. The fruit is sweet and tangy at the same time and reminds me of the “gooseberries” I used to eat as a child. These have one large seed in the middle. Yamamomo literally means in Japanese, yama – wild, mountain momo – peach. “Momo” is the best word I’ve heard for peach in any language.


Above is the tree hanging over the street in a house near the school. Nadia loves eating them and we are enjoying them while they are in season, during the hot, humid and rainy summer of Japan.


Pink Silk & Lapwings


The early morning sun is shown reflecting through the distinctive flower of the Pink Silk tree (Albizia julibrissin). This is one of the most conspicuous trees in flower this week around the city. They are abundant and I’ve seen plenty along the rivers, in parks and on the streets. It has a huge natural range, from Iran to Japan. The tree is known as nemunoki “the sleeping tree” in Japanese because its leaves close at night.


On my way home from the mall this evening, I heard the loud, distinctive call of a lapwing. When I looked around, my daughter Ocean and I spotted a pair of Grey-headed lapwings (Vanellus cinereus) . I think they must be nesting in a flooded rice paddy near the 171 highway because this is the second time I’ve seen them together in that area. This is the first time I’ve seen them, although they are resident to this part of Honshu. They breed in northern China, Siberia and Hokkaido. The rice paddies are currently flooded for the growth of the young rice shoots and this may be a good habitat for them to breed. They would not let Ocean and me get close to them and they took off together out of the neighborhood.