One morning, in late April, Boss Panda was reading the ‘Yokai News’, when he suddenly let out a loud cry of alarm. Miko was folding towels for the bathhouse and jumped in fright, dropping a towel on the floor. “What is it?” she squealed. It was unlike the gruff bear to make such a sound.
“The takenoko are sprouting” he said, quickly dropping the newspaper and hurrying to the bathhouse entrance. Miko and Kiku looked at each other, confused.
The bear began to mutter something to a crow perched on the vending machine outside the building. Miko turned to Kiku and asked shakily “Do you know what a takenoko is – a scary monster?”
Kiku laughed. “No. Miko-chan, takenoko means “bamboo children” and it normally means the new shoots of bamboo growing in the forest. When they start poking through the soil, humans go and dig them up to eat raw and cook in various dishes. I particularly like the sound of takenoko no nimono (たけのこの煮物), which is tender sliced shoots simmered in a dashi stock with mirin and sake. They sound delicious, but I don’t understand why Boss Panda would be so upset by this seasonal occurence.”
Kiku continued, “I’ve read about it in the seasonal almanac Boss Panda gave me, although they aren’t mentioned in there until May 15th and I was having trouble translating the text – it must mean that by that date they are well out above the ground and growing strong. Japanese people have a word which describes the sound of a bamboo shoot growing, because they grow so fast, you can hear them!
“How can a plant make a sound?” Miko giggled, “That’s silly!”
Kiku smiled. “Well, the sound is ‘nyokki-ki!’ (ニョッキッキー!), and children sometimes pretend to be bamboo shoots growing from the ground and make that sound”.
Boss Panda came striding back into the bathhouse. “Ordinary bamboo shoots are fine, but these are the spirits of baby shoots that were dug up and remained uneaten. When bamboo shoots come up in the wild, they do so where bamboo is growing normally, so it’s no problem. But the takenoko are mischievous little spirit babies, and come up in the most unexpected places, and need to be gathered up before they cause chaos.” He began to pace the floor, as if waiting for something, until they heard the sound of a crow outside the building. The large bear spoke quietly to the bird, and then shouted “Quick, we must get to Omotesando – they’ve been sighted coming up in the middle of the road!”
The trio travelled to Shibuya on the tramline, then switched to the Tokyo Metro Ginza line for one more stop to Omotesando station. Boss Panda gave them each a small tool and said “right, let’s find them and get digging!” As they walked along one side of the street, they began to hear a strange little high-pitched sound…”NYOKKI-KI!”
At a pedestrian crossing, the road surface began to crumble in different places, and small smiling bamboo babies began to appear! The three friends had to walk carefully out onto the crossing to begin prizing up the giggling little plants, before dashing back to the safety of the sidewalk.
“Why don’t the humans notice them?” asked Kiku. “They can’t see them like we can,” explained the bear. “But they can certainly feel them – watch carefully and you will see humans trip on the sidewalk and look around to see what made them stumble. When they can’t see anything obvious, they blame it on the paving, but invariably it was caused by one of the takenoko.”
They watched as a taxi narrowly missed driving over one shoot, and then when it was clear to walk, they rushed out and dug up the takenoko, putting it into a basket the panda had brought along. After about half an hour, they had collected a basketful, and Boss Panda declared “That looks like all for today. Let’s get them back to the bathhouse where they are out of harm’s way”.
Back in Nishi Taishido, Miko carried a basket of takenoko into the bathhouse building, wondering how long the little spirit plants would stay, and hoping they would not upset DokiDoki Daruma.