The days are growing longer and two doves coo in the evening air as I make my way down to gather a few fragrant fronds from our sansho tree. I fell in love with sansho on my first day in Japan, long before I knew I would come to call this place home. For years I have been dreaming of a little sansho orchard. Back in the kitchen I slap them between two palms to release the fragrance before laying them atop a steamed chawanmushi egg custard alongside preserved sakura buds.
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.
A kettle of water is set to boil. All dishes are cleared and rinsed and and then we set the table a second time with three dishes, a bowl of rice, a cup of houjicha roasted green tea, and a small plate for pickles. The evening’s tsukemono is presented in a serving bowl. I imagine […]
In the waning glow of autumn the rice fields yellow with age. Paddies are drained in preparation for the harvest and the seed grains begin to dry on the stalk. Flaxen tassels sway in the autumn breeze amidst fields of golden grasses, a sight as quintessentially fall-like as the blazing foliage of sugar maples in […]
Here in Karatsu the soundtrack to October is haunting, a simultaneously joyful and melancholy refrain practiced in pockets of darkness where boys gather to prepare for our grand festival. There is no written musical notation for these melodic refrains passed by ear from generation to generation over the last two hundred years. With flutes in […]
A storybook moon hangs low in the sky as though tethered by a thread to Venus. But only a sliver, its pure light shines unusually bright. These days mist crawls in overnight and morning grasses glisten in the slanting rays of the rising sun. Though summer insects still chatter, they are subdued. Chirps and cricks […]
I remember a decade back, when I still knew relatively little about Japanese cuisine, I asked Kuniko to describe a cha-kaiseki meal that precedes tea in the tea ceremony. She outlined the general styles of dishes. She described the first small portion of rice and miso soup served alongside mukozuke, a small arrangement of raw […]
In Japan Autumn begins in August with a hot, slow slide away from summer. The heat no longer builds but lingers like an oven that’s just been turned off. The cacophonous cry of cicadas crescendoes to a peak. The constant drone of their frenzied roar is as oppressive and aggressive as the suffocating sun. It […]
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