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Iris worker Meiji Shrine

Irises at Horikiri Shoubuen

Irises at Horikiri Shoubuen

Irises at Horikiri Shoubuen

Irises at Horikiri Shoubuen

Irises at Horikiri Shoubuen

Irises at Horikiri Shoubuen

Irises at Horikiri Shoubuen

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Saturday evening, the Tokyo Sake Meetup invaded Shimane-kan, a store in Nihonbashi devoted to promoting Shimane Prefecture, or as the staff said, “the least known prefecture in Japan.” Shimane-kan sells Shimane food and craft specialties and runs a travel agency devoted to getting you there. The Meetup started with a lecture about Shimane: tourist sites, food, and culture.

Tokyo Sake Meetup at Shimane-kan
Photo: Shimane geography lesson.

Tidbits: “Thank you” in Shimane-ben (Shimane dialect) is dan-dan. Matsue is one of three main tea ceremony centers in Japan; the other two are Kyoto and Kanazawa. Matsudaira Fumai, a daimyo of the Matsue clan in Izumo, was a famous Edo-era tea master. Matsue Castle is one of the few original castles remaining in Japan. Even though October is kannazuki (the month without gods) everywhere else in Japan, the Izumo Grand Shrine enjoys the patronage of eight million gods that month. That’s right, once a year the gods forsake you to hold a convention in Izumo. The Iwami-Ginzan Silver Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; at their Edo-era peak, the mines produced up to one-third of the world’s silver. Oh, there was so much more, like why the soba there is extra dark in color, and the origins of kagura dance, but let’s move on…

Lecture over, we did the obligatory matcha and sweets.

Making tea at Shimane-kan
Photo: Making tea.

Then the group moved next door to Mondo, a restaurant serving Shimane specialties and, more importantly, sake. The dinner included an appetizer, an interesting cod and hot pepper kamaboko (fish paste), anago, a glorious sashimi course, an excellent chawanmushi, a braise of shinjiko shijimi (small Shimane clams) which made a clam broth we drank down like hungry ghosts, and gainadon (gai being Shimane-ben for “big”), a mixed rice dish with egg, ikura, shiso, nori, tofu, saba, myoga, and mitsuba, which you then garnished with a rich clam broth. Absolutely delicious.

Shinjiko shijimi
Photo: Shinjiko shijimi, with their elixir.

We tasted five Shimane sakes. With plenty of time to enjoy the sakes, we got all Brideshead Revisited on them, a group effort finding “ginger and white pepper” in one, the specific taste of a McIntosh apple in another, and “the metallic edge of canned pineapple juice” in one that was roundly dismissed. See notes below.

Rihaku tokubetsu junmai
Photo: Rihaku tokubetsu junmai. Soft and gentle, sweet with not much mouthfeel, no nose. We felt this was extremely quaffable, but not particularly distinctive.

Juji Asahi junmai ginjo genshu
Photo: Juji Asahi junmai ginjo genshu. Aged one year. This is from a tiny kura by the Izumo Shrine. Great umami, nice mouthfeel, smoky with a long tail, layers of taste. The hit of the evening. Delish.

Kaishun junmai murioka nama
Photo: Kaishun junmai muroka nama. Honeydew nose, not much body, a huge alcohol fireball on the exhale, but clean tasting. Sweet aftertaste with hints of ginger and white pepper. Made from Kami no Mai, a local Shimane rice.

Kokki junmai
Photo: Kokki junmai, mukaatsu funeshibori. Rice nose, medium body, McIntosh apple sweet/tartness. Tasty. There was an amusing discussion about the label and the name Kokki which is written in archaic kanji, and which means “this country shines” (with the requisite ultranationalistic overtones).

Not pictured: Nanaganba (7 Crowned Horses) junmai. Honey, cotton candy, perhaps even a canned pineapple juice edge (Thanks Todd!). Not a favorite, too sweet.

Et-chan and Te-chan: Dan-dan for another great evening!

Carlos has a few days left in port, and then his ship leaves for good, never to return to Japan. The USS Kitty Hawk will be decommissioned after 47 years of service. I will remain in Japan for several more weeks.

Even though Carlos has been home only two weeks, we’ve attended many bittersweet sayōnara dinners. We shared meals with friends. The Yokosuka Chamber of Commerce held a big bash to bid the USS Kitty Hawk farewell. The JMSDF gave a party on its rescue boat/pleasure barge. In Hayama, we ate an elegant kaiseki meal at Hikage Chaya, a 350-year-old restaurant, so Carlos could say goodbye to Japan itself. The past week has been devoted to memorializing our excellent life here.

Red flowers
Photo: Flower pots in Taura.

Today we had a different kind of Memorial Day. We headed into the early summer sunshine and walked through the old streets of Taura. After Chozenji Temple, we turned left and walked up steep steps to the ridge road leading up the next valley.

Farm stall

We climbed up and up, finding small farm plots with little stands offering potatoes, lettuce, onions, and sugar peas: 100 yen per bag on the honor system (change goes in the wooden box).

View of Yokosuka

The top of the hill offered views of Yokosuka and the sea beyond.

Soon we came to Tsukayama Park, which is the site of the tomb of William Adams (or Miura Anjin, in Japanese). You may have read James Clavell’s Shogun, or perhaps you are ancient enough to have watched the mini-series on TV in 1980. The story is based on the life of William Adams, an Englishman who was shipwrecked in Kyushu in 1600.

After Adams was shipwrecked, the first shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa, made him teach ship building and other military technologies. Adams built the shogun an English-style sailing ship in 1604, and then completed a 120-ton ocean-going ship. In return, Ieyasu gave Adams a fief in Hemi (now in Yokosuka City). Adams married a Japanese woman and had two children with her. He chose to stay in Japan, often acting as a diplomat between Japan and other nations attempting to trade with Japan in Nagasaki. He had some trade and exploration adventures in China and Okinawa before he died in Nagasaki in 1620. There are several monuments to the “blue-eyed samurai”: one where he was shipwrecked in Kyushu, one in Nagasaki, one where he lived in Tokyo, and one near Anjinzuka Station (on the Keikyu line).

Anjinzuka
Photo: Anjinzuka, the memorial to William Adams and his wife in Tsukayama Park.

Anjinzuka means “burial mound of the pilot” (pilot as in nautical piloting). As I wrote before, Aoi me no samurai (Blue-eyed Samurai) is the local sake named after Adams. Look for it in the Yokosuka area.

Anjinzuka angle

In April, there is an annual festival (usually coinciding with the cherry blossoms) in honor of Adams in Hemi and Tsukashima Park. The park has at least four different kinds of cherry trees.

We walked down along forest paths, surrounded by birdsong and the flickering of white butterflies in the trees. Then we passed neighborhoods built on steep slopes and enjoyed the familiar views of Japanese gardens and lines of laundry. At the Anjinzuka station, we were lured into a restaurant by the aroma of curry and meat.

Buranco lunch
Photo: One of two daily specials at Buranko (“Swing”) Restaurant, next to Anjinzuka Station.

We shared a daily lunch special: menchi (fried minced pork and onion patties breaded with panko flakes, shredded raw cabbage, braised bamboo shoots, potato, and a touch of beef, gobo (burdock root) and carrot kimpira with black sesame seeds, soft poached egg in dashi, and mixed salt pickle of carrot and cucumber. Not pictured: white miso soup with tofu (served in a mug) and a huge bowl of rice. The meal came with a drink and cost 850 yen (about $8.22). The other special was a curry rice set.

(I’m not letting myself think about Carlos’s departure. It’s sometime in the future, but not today.)

Postscript: Well hello! It’s the first anniversary of You, madam, are no Sei Shonagon. Last Memorial Day I wrote my first post on this blog. Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s been fun.

An occasional student of mine has a family affiliation with Engakuji Rinzai Zen temple in Kamakura, which entitles her to the annual lunch and behind the scenes tour. All my random comments about Buddhism and Japanese culture finally paid off and I was invited along.

Lunch

Lunch featured requests to scarf our food down with alacrity. Monks touched their foreheads to the tatami mats after we were served, after they explained the menu, after they offered us tea, and when we finally got our asses up and out the door.

Speeding monk

The monks were moving fast when they weren’t bowing. In the kitchen they had their sleeves tied up and they were washing dishes and wiping bowls. My super-deluxe polite Japanese request to take a photo of the kitchen was forwarded up the chain of command to a guy in gray samue. He sucked his teeth, said something about work being done, and bowed. Which meant no.

Shariden

All the normal tourists got tsk-tsked away from the gate of the Shariden complex, inside of which is the zendo (meditation hall) and the Shariden building. “Shariden” actually refers to the gold reliquary, but the building housing it is also called the Shariden.

Shariden

The building is a Japanese National Treasure because of its age (around 1563) and the fact that it once held or was supposed to have held a relic of the Buddha. Our tour guide (a monk with an orange bullhorn) told us it was a wisdom tooth, but when you do a Internet search for “Shariden” the sources say there are no relics left. Or the relics are from some venerable Japanese monk.

Monk

I wanted photos for my 2008 Hot Young Engakuji Monks calendar. Mr. May, the monk I most wanted a photo of, declined my request with sweetly pursed lips and a gorgeous bow. We got stuck with Bullhorn Fred instead.

Bucket and sandals

Luckily my hostess shares my enjoyment of what is NOT on the tour: we peeled off the main group and poked our heads in the back hall behind the zendo. Buddha’s wisdom tooth, yea, whatever—I can’t get enough of buckets and perfectly aligned sandals.

Zendo Engakuji

From the heart
of my sweet peony
a drunken bee

—Basho

Pink peony

White peonies

White peony

Pink close

Pink peony

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