Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Bloody good for you

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 24, 2012

FROM the front lines of scientific research in Japan comes some news that you can use for the holidays. Two pharmacologists, Oshima Shunji of the Asahi Lab Garden and Aizawa Koichi of Kagome, conducted a study that found the combination of alcohol and tomato juice stimulates the metabolism with the effect of accelerating sobriety and reducing or preventing hangover symptoms.

Dr. Oshima said the inspiration for the research came from his desire to enjoy after-work drinks with his colleagues and his knowledge that too much booze was bad for you. He wanted to discover what food consumed with alcohol had the most beneficial effects, and decided to start with vegetables.

After finding that vegetables didn’t do a whole lot, they said they thought of using tomatoes. Drinkers’ wisdom has it that tomatoes either prevent or quickly cure hangovers. Then there were the examples of the Bloody Mary and the Red Eye, which I had never heard of before reading this report.

The researchers started by giving the water-soluble constituents of tomatoes — i.e., tomato juice — and lycopene to mice, injected them with alcohol, and then measured the concentration of alcohol in their blood. The results inspired them to try a similar experiment with humans.

They give 12 healthy men tomato juice with 5% alcohol, and then shochu with 5% alcohol. Their measurements showed the tomatoes reduced the concentration of alcohol in the blood by 30%, accelerated the process of breaking up the alcohol in the body, and eliminated it from the system 50 minutes faster.

Those with the proper scientific detachment will be interested to learn that the water-soluble constituents of tomatoes activate the enzymes that break up the alcohol in the liver.

Everyone else will be interested to learn that Dr. Oshima’s employer makes Asahi beer, and Dr. Aizawa’s employer Kagome is a food product company whose primary products include tomato juice and catsup.

The two companies jointly sponsored the research. They were already very familiar with each other because they finalized a mutual shareholding agreement in February.

Now who says scientific research is dry!

Looks like these Tomato-chans knocked back a few Asahis before filming started.

Posted in Food, Science and technology | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

All you have to do is look (145)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 22, 2012

Nanbu senbei (rice crackers) a famous confection from the southern part of Aomori, each containing a New Year’s message.

(Photo: Sankei Shimbun)

Posted in Food, Holidays, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (142)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A festival for offering the uni, or sea urchin, back to the sea as a gesture of thanks, conducted by the Akama Jingu in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi, where a lot of them are caught. The local sea urchin cooperative is the sponsor. This year’s event was the 54th, and about 100 people in the industry participated.

Posted in Festivals, Food, Photographs and videos, Traditions | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Good eating

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 19, 2012


It’s been my experience that any animal that comes out of salty water is good eating.
– from the story The Black Clams in Old Man Flood, by Joseph Mitchell

HUGH Flood, the Old Man Flood of the story, was referring to gastropod pests called quarterdecks, a limpet that attaches itself to oysters and smothers them to death. He convinced the owner of an oyster bed the parasites had ruined to eat a few raw, and he thought they tasted like the tomalley of a lobster.

If Flood was willing to eat those, he’d have been more than ready to eat one of the delicacies of Ryugatake-machi on Amakusa island in Kumamoto — starfishes.

Actually, they don’t eat the starfish themselves but the eggs that fill up their body cavities. Stick them in a pot with water and salt, boil them for 30 minutes, and the Amakusans are set for some good eating.

They used to be plentiful and eaten mixed with sea urchins and clams, but the water isn’t as clean as it once was. Still, it’s not so dirty that the treat can’t be enjoyed from February to the beginning of May, when they’re in season.

Starfish eggs are said to taste like sea urchin, or uni in Japanese, which is a common seafood ingredient for sushi. I like that a lot myself and think the flavor resembles what Baltimoreans call mustard. That’s the yellow (and sometimes greenish) material that collects in the shells of crabs they eat from the Chesapeake Bay. If that’s what they taste like, they’re good eating indeed.

If you want to find out more about these funky epicurean delights, you can buy the Cooking Starfish in Japan e-book for JPY 980 and read and see all about it.

Or, you can watch this Youtube, which shows you everything from start to finish in just under five minutes.

Posted in Food | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 7, 2012

THE concept of Sinocentric culturalism — that China is the flower at the center of the world and Chinese behavior and etiquette is the correct form to which everyone else must be measured — is familiar to people outside of East Asia. Less well known is that the Koreans have their own version of it. That brand also involves looking down on the Chinese for being periodically corrupted by barbarian invasions, while the Korean brand remains pure.

One example of the manifestation of that belief is found in this previous post. It features an interview with Dankook University Prof. Kim Yong-un, who was born and grew up in Japan. He tells a story that is too infrequently heard: The overwhelming majority of Koreans who moved to Japan during the 1910-1945 period did so for the same reason most Europeans emigrated to the United States in past centuries. That was to seek a better life with a greater chance for affluence. Coercion was not a factor.

At the end of that post is a note that Prof. Kim planned to publish a book claiming that his research shows the Korean language is derived from the old Silla language, and that the Japanese language is derived from the old Baekche language.

Just before it was published, the Global Times of China ran an article that discussed the book and the professor’s research. His research subjects included the Samguk Sagi, or History of the Three Kingdoms (Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla), and a text in the old Goryeo language. The professor also claimed that Japan’s 26th emperor, Keitai (507-531), was also Konshi, the younger brother of the 22nd Baekje king.

The reaction of the Chinese public to the Global Times article was enlightening. They too are well aware of the claims of some Koreans that Confucius was Korean, the Koreans invented Chinese characters, and even that Christ was Korean. The Koreans have also registered the Dragon Boat Festival as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage, though it is widely thought to have originated in China. Thus the Chinese share with the Japanese the recognition that the Koreans distort history to place themselves at the center of events or to suit their own purposes.

The Japanese thought it was entertaining to read the comments to the article submitted by the Chinese readers. They included:

* After China, Japan. Which country will be next?

* The Koreans really are creative. This is probably making the Japanese dizzy too.

* God in heaven is also probably Korean.

* The solar system was also a Korean invention.

* After reading this, I realized the Japanese-Korean merger was the right thing to do.

The problem with Prof. Kim’s research is that serious linguists have covered this same ground and reached conclusions that were less ethnocentric. Scholars of East Asian languages are aware of the areas of similarity between the Japanese and Korean languages, both in structure and some vocabulary elements. Here are the opinions of Iksop Lee and S. Robert Ramsey, linguists who wrote The Korean Language, published in 2000.

(T)he general structural characteristics of Japanese are almost identical to that of Korean. Concrete lexical and grammatical correspondences may be thin compared to this strikingly close structural resemblance, but there continues to be optimism about the possibility that the two languages might share a common genetic origin. The probability that Japanese belongs to the Altaic family is believed to be somewhat less than that of Korean. Even G.J. Ramstedt and N. Poppe,, who were enthusiastic advocates of a genetic relationship between Korean and Altaic, hesitated when it came to placing Japanese in the Altaic family. Moreover, there are also those who advocate a relationship with Austronesian for Japanese — a “southern hypothesis” as it were.


The significance of the Goguryeo language is that it seems to share vocabulary not only with Silla, on the one hand, but with Japanese, on the other hand. Because of the Japanese-like vocabulary of Goguryeoan, some foreign scholars have thought it likely to be a close relative or ancestor of Japanese, but that idea ignores the fact that much of the vocabulary is clearly Korean. The relationship that Goguryeoan had with Japanese lies tantalizingly beyond our grasp.

In other words, the linguists have been there and done that. Those linguists also include Japanese scholars, many of whom also suspect their language might be Altaic.

But none of them feel the need to wave the flag about it.

At least Prof. Kim takes a stab at scholarship. Not all Joseon-centric culturalists do. For an example, try this article from the weekly Shukan Post for 18 November.

“A portmanteau word has been created to define the concept that Japanese culture originates in Korea. This word is urijinaru, a combination of the Korean word uri (our) and original. This extends to all aspects of Japanese culture. Now that Japanese cuisine has become popular around the world, it extends to that as well.

“One recent claim is that Japanese sake has its roots in magkeolli, which is being aggressively promoted by some Korean restaurants (in Japan). That seems plausible at a glance, but Japanese sake was created from doburoku, and the history and fermentation processes of magkeolli and doburoku are different.

“Also, the Korean-language Wikipedia page for wasabi states that it was originally grown in Korea and is now cultivated near rivers in Korea and Japan.

“Said the South Korean news site Digital Times:

South Korean wasabi has a fragrance that is far superior to Japanese wasabi, which is well-known among Japanese chefs.

“This is of course nonsense, and wasabi is a variety of the plant that originated in Japan. But the South Koreans also claim that sushi is urijinaru, so they had to create this story about wasabi to make their story consistent.”

Now try to imagine if someone with that sort of attitude lived in your neighborhood, and how it might be to associate with them on a regular basis.

Posted in China, Food, History, Language, South Korea | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (126)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 3, 2012

Handling and bidding on the potentially fatal fugu (blowfish) at the Haedomari Market in Shimonoseki, Yamagata. The market handles more fugu than any other in Japan. The auction is conducted by pulling the broker’s fingers in the black cuff. The highest price this day was JPY 11,000 per kilogram.

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All you have to do is look (123)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 30, 2012

Champagne crabs, known in Japanese as Matsuba crabs, in a market in Tottori City.

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Udon summit

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 20, 2012

ONE of the students in my university class this spring had a running joke with me about what kind of noodles we would eat at the school cafeteria for an après-class snack. She insisted on udon, but I went for the soba.

I like both, but prefer soba because it has more body. But that puts me in the minority in Japan; most people like both, but prefer udon. Quick classroom surveys of my students over the years reveal that 80-90% raise their hands for udon first. It’s also the preferred late-night snack of serious drinkers on their way home from the tavern.

Thus it wasn’t any surprise that despite bad weather and a shortened schedule due to an approaching typhoon, the Second National Local Udon Summit attracted 2,000 people in just 90 minutes in Higashiomi, Shiga. National local means that it was a nationwide contest to determine the best regional recipe. Whether it truly determined the national champion is open to question, as there were 11 entrants from six prefectures, but the event was only in its second year.

The noodle soup champion was determined by the visitor-diners at the site, as shown in the photo above. They sampled as many of the entries as they could and voted for their favorites. The winner was the Komatsu Niku (Beef) Udon from Komatsu, Ishikawa. There are several varieties of Komatsu udon, whose stock is made with a traditional recipe using local fish. The beef variety adds meat from local cows into the broth.

Second prize was awarded to the Toyohashi Curry Udon from Toyohashi, Aichi. You guys in the back row can cool it with the sniggering — if curry udon soup wasn’t a palate pleaser, it wouldn’t have won a prize. It also wouldn’t be enshrined in the Udon Museum. Besides, an Aichi company makes a commercial variety and sells it for JPY 400 a pack.

And here’s a short Youtube with a slide show of the cornucopia of Komatsu udon, including the summit champ. I’m not sure about the story behind the accompanying song, but I’m guessing it was an old tune about sumo with the lyrics changed to praise the delights of the local cuisine.

Posted in Food, Popular culture | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

All you have to do is look (82)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 20, 2012

Drying fish in Hirado, Nagasaki

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La vie en choco

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 16, 2012

THERE is an abundance of elegant and flavorful hors d’oervres and appetizers that make a perfect food companion for wine. In addition to the many varieties of cheese, one cannot fail to mention foie gras, caviar, spring rolls, vegetables with hummus, crab dab, artichoke and parmesan-filled wonton cups…

And Choco Pies!

Stay your condescending laughter, lest you contradict the opinions of the experts and professionals assembled by the Lotte Co. to celebrate their new Choco Pie product.

Lotte is a large multinational conglomerate with its business fingers in all sorts of pies. Named after the character Charlotte in The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, the company was founded by Shin Kyeok-ho in Tokyo in 1947, and now has more than 60 business units. One of their enterprises is the production and sale of mass market confections, and the slogan of that unit is, “Sweetheart of your mouth”.

Their Choco Pie product hit the market 30 years ago next year, and it quickly became a popular snack. The company decided to create a new pie recipe and enhance their brand image for the anniversary. To promote the improved Choco Pie, they held a trial tasting yesterday in Tokyo for 30 people. The large group of 30 was divided into sub-groups of five people each by occupation, and included patissiers, sommeliers, and female college students.

The experts were unanimously complimentary of the new product’s “refined flavor”. Said the representative of the sommelier group:

“There is an aroma of fragrant cacao, a light, puff-like texture that melts in the mouth, and a body resembling a hidden flavor in the sweetness.”

If that wasn’t enough incentive to head over to the nearest convenience store, he added:

“It is suited for pourriture noble wines (literally noble rot, meaning wine made from grapes with a deliberately cultivated gray mould), or, for red wines, an Amarone or other sweet variety.”

All five sommeliers agreed the Choco Pies had become more delicious. While reports did not include the discriminating judgment of the female college students, the sommeliers’ opinion was seconded by actress Kawashima Naomi, whose husband is patissier Yoroizuka Toshihiko. That’s the epicurean couple in the photo above.

Ms. Kawashima is something of a wine expert, or at least she is reputed to be so. She has said in public that her body is made out of wine, and that wine flows in her blood. Here’s a photo of her getting a transfusion, or perhaps a transmutation.

She also vouched for Choco Pies:

“I think this absolutely would be suited to wine, particularly champagne.”

I’m not sure even Lotte expected what came next:

“I think it also has a fragrance that makes it a perfect match for grain shochu.”

Then again, she also likes cigars.

Sales of the downmarket delicacy began on 21 August, and to this point Lotte has enjoyed a 117% year-on-year increase in shipment value since its release. The company has also created and is selling special seasonal Choco Pies. A videomaker named Shitemita introduces one here, which is advertised as having a slightly bitter taste. Shitemita is impressed that it’s made with vanilla beans from Madagascar.

So am I, come to think of it.

Posted in Food, I couldn't make this up if I tried, New products | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Red curtain

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 13, 2012

GREEN curtains are one traditional solution for keeping a cool house during sultry Japanese summers. People grow vines, often bearing vegetables, and suspend them from the eaves of traditional houses. It beats the heat and reduces the grocery bill at the same time. Here’s a previous post with a photo of a green curtain made from goya vines.

Every fall at a produce market in Nanao, Ichikawa, however, red curtains are the rage. Old folks from a nearby town hang bundles of hot peppers from a three-meter-long pole to tempt the eyes of shoppers and entice them into reaching for their wallets.

The jumbo peppers are called namba in the local dialect, and there are 40 to a rack. There’s also an old local belief that one of these red curtains will ward off evil. What the heck, it only costs JPY 450 to find out, and if evil slithers in through a gap in the namba, you can always console yourself by making a spicy curry and breathing on it. If you find yourself passing through Nanao, they’re on sale to the end of November.

Harakami Rei has a red curb instead.

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A feast fit for a shogun

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 8, 2012

RECORDS exist of a banquet Henry VIII of England gave on 25 February 1528 at Windsor Great Park. Here were some of the dainty dishes fit for a king:

The account includes beef, veal, bacon, oxen, calves, hens, kid goats and lambs and “conies” – an old word for rabbits. In addition to this, some unusual birds were ordered for the table, including 12 plovers, 48 pipers and no less than 96 larks. Two herons were also ordered. It was often the custom to roast birds whole, in some cases arranging the feathers back onto the bird after cooking to create a visual centrepiece for the table to amuse and impress the guests… the letter accounts for a total of 750 eggs, 90 dishes of butter and 5 gallons of cream. Along with these vast quantities of meat, this may help to explain Henry’s expanding waistline and later decline in health.

By expanding waistline, they refer to a suit of armor made for Henry in 1540 that measured 52 inches around the waist. The later decline in health is thought to have resulted from his dietary habits, and some people now think he had diabetes. Also, an ordinary person at the time consumed a gallon of ale daily, and historians assume Henry must have downed more — it’s good to be king, right? So some of that must have been a beer belly.

Records also exist of a meal eaten by the eighth Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, at Shakujo-ji, a Buddhist temple in what is now Kawaguchi, Saitama. Rather than a feast, it was a meal eaten while on the road for a 1728 visit to Nikko Tosho-gu, a Shinto shrine in Nikko, Tochigi. (Both of those institutions still exist. The temple was more than 250 years old when the Shogun ate lunch there, and the shrine more than 100 years old. The links will take you to photographs on Japanese-language websites.)

Looking for some PR, the city of Kawaguchi recreated the meal and served it for lunch last week to the man who would have been the 18th Tokugawa shogun, 72-year-old Tokugawa Tsunenari.

The temple records indicate only the foods that were served and not how they were prepared. Prof. Shimazaki Tomiko of the Kagawa Education Institute of Nutrition consulted some cookbooks from the Edo period and supervised the cooking at Ebiya Mikakumon, a local Japanese restaurant.

The meal they served the shogun is shown in the photo at the top. In addition to rice and miso soup, it included roasted tofu and steamed abalone. The desserts at Henry’s feast included a lot of sugar, but that was still a rarity in Japan at the time, so the food was lightly seasoned in soy sauce and (for the abalone) sake. Said Mr. Tokugawa:

“Lately, there’s a lot of food that’s much too sweet, but this was lightly seasoned and quite delicious.”

The Tokugawas don’t wear armor anymore, but he doesn’t need a suit with a 52-inch waist, either:

Modern epicures seldom have the opportunity to eat the plover, heron, or lark dishes favored by Henry and his wives, but if they’re in Kawaguchi in a party of five, they’ll be able to feast like a shogun for JPY 4,000 each at the same restaurant. The meal is called the Yoshimune Lunch on the menu. Would that be the red lacquer special?

Those who read Japanese and are interested in recreating Edo-period dishes themselves might try this cookbook . It was just reprinted as an affordable paperback.


I read two newspaper accounts of this meal in Japanese. One said there were 12 separate dishes in the meal, and the other said there were 14. Journalists!

Posted in Food, History, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Matsuri da! (132): Mugi, bakushu, and maekju

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 2, 2012

MOST Japanese festivals are several hundred years old and conducted at Shinto shrines that are usually much older.

But there are exceptions. One is a festival created this year and held for the first time last Saturday by the Koma Shinto shrine in Hidaka, Saitama. It’s called the Festival of Gratitude for Mugi and Prayer for Manju, and that’s a poster advertising it at the top. Mugi is the general term for barley, wheat, rye, oats, and other grains in the poaceae family. It’s been grown in Hidaka and the western part of Saitama for a long time. Manju are buns with a variety of fillings. Most often it’s bean paste, but there are many varieties, including those packed with meat and even cream custard. The first manju was brought to Japan from China in 1341, where they are also still eaten.

The priests offered a prayer for the bountiful sales of mugi products, and they gave a manju to everyone who came for good luck. To help promote those bountiful sales, there were booths offering a selection of delights, including the locally popular kinchakuda manju, made with wheat flour, Saitama’s own bean paste, and chestnuts. Inoue Hiroshi, the head of the Kawagoe (city) cultural treasure protection council, delivered a special address. Mr. Inoue spoke on Japan’s Wheat Manju, Past and Present.

The Mugi Culture Gratitude Festival Committee sponsored the event as one of the first activities to commemorate the 1,300th anniversary of the establishment of Koma-gun. (A gun is roughly equivalent to a county.)

Koma-gun was founded by refugees from Goguryeo on the Korean Peninsula. An ancient Korean kingdom, Goguryeo was the loser in a battle against an alliance of the Korean Silla Kingdom and Tang Dynasty China in 668. Koma is written as 高麗 in kanji, which are the same characters used for the Goryeo dynasty of Korea that lasted from 918 to 1392. Goryeo is the origin of the name of Korea, and is derived from Goguryeo. Koma was also used as a synonym for Korea long ago in Japan.

In fact, the Saitamanians think the newcomers established a Goguryeo court in exile there before giving it up and assimilating. One of the first to arrive was Koma no Jakko, an envoy from the court who showed up in 666. He might have been a member of the royal family known by a different name. His spirit is one of the three tutelary deities at the Koma shrine.

Goguryeo is said to have been a grain-producing area. The theme of the new festival is to celebrate the common food culture between the two areas and to remind everyone of the local grain-based foods.

The shared food culture hasn’t traveled on a one-way street. The Japanese introduced Koreans to another popular grain-based product in the first half of the 20th century: beer. Here’s an excerpt from Exploring Korea, a travel guide:

Beer is called Mekchu (맥주) in Korean. The Germans introduced beer to many Asian countries and helped countries such as China and Japan set up breweries and develop brewing techniques. When the Japanese colonized Korea they introduced beer and opened breweries to produce beer for the local elites.

Considering the wealth created on the peninsula and the increase in incomes over all social levels, I don’t know about that “elites” part, but let’s continue. The site has capsule summaries of the three South Korean mass market brewers. Here’s one:

Hite Brewing Company was founded in 1933 and was originally under Japanese ownership during the occupation of Korea. When the company began it was called Chosun Beer but later changed to Hite after gaining independence from Japan.

Chosun Beer was a subsidiary of Dainippon Beer (大日本麦酒株式会社), and was half-owned by local interests. Dainippon was created in Japan in 1906 through the mergers of the companies that made what are now Asahi, Sapporo, and Yebisu beers. It was split into separate units again after the war. Hite was founded in 1933, but didn’t start shipping until 1934.

The reason I provided the company name in characters was to show this part: 麦酒. That seems to have been pronounced biiru in the Dainippon name, and it literally means mugi liquor. The characters themselves were already in use for an older form of proto-beer in Japan and pronounced bakshu in that application.

The characters are also the source for the Korean word maekju, which is the Korean reading of bakushu. The Chinese call beer 啤酒, which is pijiu in Mandarin and bijiu in Cantonese. These days they often dispense with the second character. The first seems to have been a new creation/coinage when beer arrived in China. It’s a combination of 口, or mouth, which is used as a classifier, and another character also known in Japan that means low, base, or common.

OB is the second of the Big Three beer companies in South Korea. That brewery was founded in 1952 by what is now the Doosan conglomerate, but the company had already existed in a different form as Showa Beer, whose major shareholder was Kirin.

Koreans enjoy getting worked up over what they perceive as the faulty Japanese awareness of history and lack of recognition of their contributions to Japanese culture. The case could easily be made, however, that the opposite is closer to the truth. No one in Koma-gun, Saitama, is ignoring history, and one of the Korean county fathers is venerated in the local Shinto shrine. That’s not an isolated example, either: They do the same in Arita, Saga, to honor a key figure in the ceramics culture.

For contrast, allow me subject you to this Wikipedia article called Beer in Korea. Either some boy needs to do his homework, or his teachers gave him bad homework assignments. My guess is the latter.

The Japanese still make bakushu in special circumstances, such as proto-beer festivals at Shinto shrines. Here’s a look at one held annually at the Soja shrine in Koka, Shiga. They started in 1441. The shrine makes three types, and the captions in the video say they are sweet.

Posted in Agriculture, Festivals, Food, Foreigners in Japan, History, Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Tokyo harvest

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 25, 2012

THAT’S not just any old hayseed harvesting those rice plants — that’s the Emperor of Japan. He put on his boots, grabbed a sickle, and got right to work, cutting down about 100 plants. The man’s no stranger to farm chores. He planted the seeds, too.

Bet they don’t do that at Buckingham Palace.

He grew two kinds of rice, one a variety of mochi. Reports say this Palace harvest was that of a typical year. The crop will be used in ceremonies as well as eaten at the palace.

It’s a simple photo, but the combination of rice and the Emperor lies at the heart of the Japanese identity. Inose Naoki, a prolific non-fiction author who also serves as the Vice-Governor of Tokyo, briefly describes one of the ceremonies at which the rice will be used.

Many of Japan’s holidays have a rather complicated history. Labor Day is originally associated with the Niinamesai (Harvest Festival), which is connected to the Tenno (Emperor).

Even those people for whom the name Niinamesai does not register should recall seeing on television the Tenno cutting the rice in the paddy at the Fukiage-gyoen (gardens) at the Imperial Palace. The Niinamesai is a festival to celebrate the rice harvest and offer a prayer for an abundant harvest in the coming year.

The Tenno’s rice harvest is a symbolic performance. The Tenno, whose spiritual power has been strengthened to the maximum through the Chinkonsai (Shinto service for the repose of the dead) held the previous night, conducts a ceremony at the Imperial Palace for offering the harvested grain to the divinities. The Daijosai is conducted when the new Tenno ascends the throne, and is best understood as a version of the Niinamesai on a larger scale.

The Tenno system has continued even with the changes to the Constitution after the defeat in the war and the transfer of ultimate sovereignty from the Tenno to the people. When decisions were being made on new holidays, the Niinamesai was offered as a candidate, adapted as a day to give thanks for the new harvest. The associations between the name of the holiday and the Tenno gradually grew weaker, and the holiday was established as a day to honor work, celebrate production, and to have the citizens extend their thanks to each other for the work they do.

A poem in the Man’yoshu suggests the Niiname was once a ceremony conducted in the home. The name Niiname is not to be found among the harvest festivals held throughout the country in the early modern period, however. In short, it is best considered a ceremony restored under the Meiji Tenno system.

Here’s a previous post on ceremonial rice harvests by younger and prettier farmhands.

But the Imperial Palace doesn’t have the only paddy in central Tokyo. Here’s a plot in the Ginza district on the street right behind the Tiffany & Co. outlet.

The leader of the group that came up with the idea explained:

“The environment in which we can grow rice is Japan’s treasure. Nothing is possible without that environment. I want people to value this Japanese environment.”

There’s also a paddy on a rooftop in Akihabara, the consumer electronics district. The plot’s been managed since 2009 by an NPO whose slogan is, “You can even do it in the middle of Tokyo.” They plant the rice in June, so it shouldn’t be too much longer before it’s time to harvest their crop, too. Pressed into service as temporary agricultural workers are the maids in the district’s maid cafes, as well as voice actors.

Here are the pretty maids all in a row at last year’s harvest. They don’t swing a sickle, but they do approach the task with typical Japanese aplomb.

Posted in Agriculture, Food, Holidays, Imperial family, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (52)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The sanma (Pacific saury) catch earlier this month in Hokkaido.

Photo from the Mainichi Shimbun

Posted in Food, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »