As long as we’ve kept track of time, the day on which we reset the calendar has been celebrated as an occasion for reflection, for mental, physical, and spiritual renewal. Hemp fibers twisted into rope figures adorn the entryways to purify and protect the home. Inside decorations made of rice and boughs and bamboo, each with a meaning tied to agricultural rituals that pray for providence and abundance, are set out for display.
Drawing back a clump of desiccated fronds, I find an emerald trumpet of delicate leaves cradling a cluster of quilted button like buds. I raise the dirty, wet stem to my nose and drink in the earthy, pungent aroma of spring breaking from winter. This is fukinoto.
There is perhaps nothing more simple and divine at the Japanese table than a pristine bowl of snow white shinmai, new rice, to close an autumn meal. Like the wafer at mass, newly harvested rice speaks to the Japanese soul of the divine, of things both eternal and ephemeral.
After so many years living in this same rural corner of Kyushu, I still stumble upon sights I’ve never seen before. A wrong turn on a drive to a nearby town took me down a narrow country lane. Camel colored fields stretched into the distance lined with rows of ripe barley, their spiny heads like […]
I stand on the veranda outside Kuniko’s kitchen looking across the treetops towards the facing hillside. The viridescence of spring is deepening into a concentrated and uniform shade. Kuniko hovers in the doorway. The green is thickening, she says. Soon it will grow heavy, as opaque and oppressive as the heat, she concludes, turning back […]
Summer has felt slow to arrive, but that’s just my impatience speaking. Finally the first warm night of the year arrived on the eve of May. I opened the window to listen the humming crickets and felt the nighttime air on my skin void of chill for the first time. With the balm comes an […]
There has been no mandate here but we have decided to implement stay-at-home measures. On the one hand so much has changed. Travel programs and exhibitions are cancelled for the foreseeable future as well as our annual migration to Maine. And on the other hand very little has changed. Cooking, eating, and working at home […]
The sakura will bloom again next year. These were the words the mayor of Tokyo used to urge people not to congregate in revelry under full blooming cherry trees in parks over this past weekend. It was part of a plea to the residents of her city to stay home and avoid all non-essential outings […]
My father-in-law Takashi has very specific (and very good) taste in food. He is what his family members call urusai when it comes to flavor, a word that can mean noisy or fussy. He isn’t fussy in the I don’t like this or that kind of food, way but rather in the I don’t eat […]
I’ve been foraging sansai, mountain vegetables, all these many years that I’ve lived in Japan and I find it no less exciting for the repetition. In fact it’s thrilling, this stretch from February to May, following the micro seasons of wild mountain edibles from fukinoto (butterbur buds) to tsukushi (horsetail) to warabi (bracken ferns) to […]
Fukinoto season came so early this year. The new year had barely dawned and we were already harvesting. Now they are already on their way out and today we ate freshly foraged fukinoto for what is likely the last time. After a weekend that felt like a preview to summer I had a feeling the […]
This month marks a dozen years since I came to Japan. A full cycle of the Chinese zodiac has passed and a new decade begins. I’m inclined to consider it an auspicious moment and a good time for reflection. I still remember those first months vividly, that feeling of being thoroughly lost in a foreign […]
Japanese cuisine celebrates hazawari, the texture or literally tooth-feel of foods, to which the language is full of words to describe the textural aspect of flavor. Most are onomatopoetic, sounds that simulate physical sensations and the feelings they evoke. It speaks volumes to the sensual aspect of eating and to how wholly immersed and attentive […]
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