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.
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 […]
The burgeoning green hillsides are draped in wild wisteria. The vines cascade from the forest canopy like lavender veils. People flock to see their more regal relatives trained on trellises in parks and public spaces. There you can hear the riotous buzzing of a thousand bees who swarm the violet blossoms dangling like so many […]
At the fist bite of cold in late fall, when all other flowers abandon us, the dear Camellia blooms and ushers us through a long winter. But with the dawn of summer on the horizon, the geese fly north and the Camellia bids us farewell. Gaping blossoms fall whole and heavy straight to the ground […]
I stood on the breakwater at the harbor in Minato, a hamlet along the coast of Karatsu, and watched as Sakamoto san swam towards me through cold March waters. I had come to meet the small band of free-divers who dive here. Karatsu is a coastal town on an outcropping of land in the northwest […]
Koo, my sister-in-law, lived in the south of France for many years and has always been our resident expert on all things deliciously French. She would bring us cheese, wine, cured meats, salt, bread, jams olive oil, and butter. Her soufflé on special occasions was always quickly devoured. But when she moved back to Japan […]
Strong night winds disturb the calm and through fitful sleep I hear rains begin in the dark of morning. I wake to a thick white curtain of mist that erases the view. Showers wash away the bland browns of winter. The soaked branches of the bud laden magnolia and delicate fingers of momiji maple flush, […]
On certain days, when the sun is highest and the air feels temperate, I throw open the glass doors and let the house drink in a deep fresh breath of noticeably warmer air. For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to the homestead. It may run in my blood as I was […]
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