The Legend of Satsue Mito In Memoriam

Satsue Mito in Kojma, MiyazakiApril 7th will mark the 102nd birthday of Satsue Mito.

Mito-sensei, as everybody lovingly called her, was a gentle woman. And like Dian Fossey, she is one of the greatest primatologists the world has ever known.

Early Life

Mito-sensei was born in Hiroshima in 1914. She married in 1934 and moved to Korea where they had three daughters.

Her husband died of a sudden illness in 1940. World War II was raging at time, and life was not easy. At 26 years of age, she took her daughters and went to Dalian, China where she found work as a school teacher.

The war ended in 1945 and Dalian was occupied by the Russians. Barely surviving and longing for home, Mito-sensei took her daughters and moved back to Hiroshima in 1947.

And then things went from bad to worse.

Story of Survival

I had the good fortune on meeting Mito-sensei in 2007, when I took a group visiting Miyazaki to her house, walking distance away from Kōjima island in southern Miyazaki.

Mito sensei in her house

She gave us a tour of the island and her amazing workshop, chock-full of books and a station where she administered urgent care to monkeys in need of medical attention.

It was there that she told us about her amazing life story.

1947 Hirsohima was nothing like she had ever known. The city had been obliterated by nuclear bombing and there was wide-spread misery.

People told her to move as far south as she could. Mito-sensei packed her meager belongings, took hare daughters and left for the relative safety of south Kyushu where she got a little place next to the tiny Kōjima island.

Kōjima Primates

Mito sensei in 1948 feeding kojima Nihonzaru monkeyKōjima, since the time anybody could remember, had been populated by a species of monkeys called Nihon-zaru (Japanese macaque).

The island was declared protected by the government in 1934. However, during the war most of the monkey population was wiped out by people hunting for food.

The few remaining ones looked miserable. They were all in poor health and in imminent danger of extinction.

The sight of the desperate monkeys was too much for Mito-sensei to bear. She began to care for them, shared what little food she had and nursed the sick ones back to health in her humble adobe.

Little by little, things got better, and the monkey population bounced back.

By 2007, she told me there were about 400 monkeys on the island, the maximum the island’s ecology would naturally sustain.

And she know every single one of them by name!

Academic Life

Mito-sensei dedicated her life to her (as she called them) monkeys. Her research and publications have made enormous contributions to the science of primatology.

She has published several books and closely cooperated with the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University. Her work is heavily cited by the researchers in the field (see a few references below).

We miss Mito-sensei; so do the grateful primates of Kōjima, I’m sure.

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Kumquat Preserve with Kudzu Syrup

Kinkan kumquat preserve with kudzu syrup

Here is a recipe for making a delightful preserve using whole Kumquats and a delicious Kudzu syrup.

As an added benefit, they both are used in traditional medicine to soothe coughs, sore throats and common colds.

About Kumquats

Kumquats are a member of the citrus family. Their scientific name is Citrus japonica. In Japan they are called kinkan (金柑, literally “golden citrus”).

They are a favorite in winter and early spring when they are considered to be in shun (you can read more about shun and importance of seasonality in the Japanese diet here).

Kumquats are small (the size of a big olive), fleshy, delicious, sweet and yet tangy.

What makes them unique is that you eat them along with their thin rind (skin), which is packed with essential oils and anti-oxidants.

Ingredients :

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Kumquats: 2kg (4 1/2 LB)
Cane sugar: 800g (1 3/4 LB)
Water: 1 cup
Lemon juice: 1 tablespoon
Kudzu powder: 2 tablespoon

How to Prepare:

  1. poke holes in kinkanWash Kumquats. Remove stem-ends and poke a few holes with a toothpick.
  2. Soak Kumquats in a large pan. Heat to just before boiling over medium heat. Drain.
  3. Mix water and cane sugar in a pan.
  4. Add Kumquats and lemon juice into the pan and cook over medium-low heat for about 20-30 minutes. Add Kudzu (dissolved with 2tbs water) and mix VERY gently just before you turn off the heat. DO NOT boil!
  5. Let the pan cool down.
  6. Sterilize your favorite jars and lids
  7. Gently scoop out Kumquats and syrup into sterilized jars. Keep one jar for just the syrup.

Tips:

Do not use high heat. If you heat Kumquats rapidly, their inside will expand and break (more like explode!) the skin.

After you transfer Kumquats and syrup into jars, close the lids and boil the jars in a big pan so that air will escape from the jars and you can keep the jars for a longer period.

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A Moment of Serenity in Midst of Busy Affairs

Incense and a moment of serenityAppreciating aroma of incense is a classical Japanese art form called Kōdō (the Way of Aroma), codified in 15th century in a set of ten principles (see below). “Brings a moment of serenity in midst of busy affairs” is the sixth principle of Kōdō.

Having a moment of serenity is more than a respite. Serenity soothes the mind. It also clarifies and helps one see things as they are. Serenity provides mental clarity, and allows insights to emerge.

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Traditional Japanese incenses are distinctly subtle and mild. They do not have a perfumy character and are made from natural materials without using chemicals or harmful fillers or binders.

Ten Virtues of Aroma

Ten Virtues of AromaKōdō, the Way of Aroma
Muromachi period (15th century)

  • Opens a window onto beyond material existence
  • Refines body and soul
  • Purifies surroundings
  • Keeps one alert
  • Is a companion in solitude
  • Brings a moment of serenity in midst of busy affairs
  • When plentiful, one never grows tired of it
  • Satisfies even when there is little
  • Soothes young and old alike
  • Does no harm when used every day

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Roasted Petite Black Soybean Tea Cake

Here is a recipe for a quick and easy cake using wholesome petite black soybeans and pancake mix.

Roasted Petite Black Soybean Tea CakeI recommend using unrefined sugar. I use good quality vegetable oil instead of butter.

For the batter, I use whole-wheat pancake mix. You can also try using a gluten-free mix available off-the-shelf in most markets.

About Petite Black Soybeans

Petite black soybeans are a flavorful and nutritious variety of the soy family.

Roasted Petite Black SoybeanTheir dark skin color is due to Anthocyanin, the same antioxidant which gives the deep, dark color to red wine and pomegranates.

They contain 2 times the polyphenol content of regular black soybeans and 5 times more compared to the yellow variety.


Ingredients

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Brown sugar: 3 Tablespoons
Vegetable oil: 2 Tablespoons
Egg: 1
Roasted petite black soybeans: 2 Tablespoons
Whole-wheat pancake mix: 200g (about 2 cups)
Cinnamon powder: 1/4 teaspoon

How to Prepare

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F).
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of roasted petite black soybeans to a teapot. Pour 2 cups boiling hot water. Let the tea brew for 10 minutes.
  3. Set 4 tablespoons of the tea aside and let it cool down (enjoy drinking the rest of the tea while preparing this recipe!)
  4. Take out all the beans from your tea and chop (coarse).
  5. Line your favorite baking pan or mold with parchment paper.
  6. Using a whisk, mix egg, brown sugar and vegetable oil in a bowl until the mixture is smooth.
  7. Add the 4 tablespoons of tea, the chopped beans and cinnamon to the mixture and stir. Add the pancake mix. Mix lightly.
  8. Pour the mixture into the pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 180°C (355°F) in the preheated oven. To check, insert a skewer into the cake; if it comes out clean, then it’s done!
  9. Remove from oven and unmold. Let cool on a rack and serve.

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Traditions and New Year Wishes

Japanese ladies and Ema wishing plaques

New year in Japan is filled with a variety of traditional activities. The picture above shows shrine visitors during the very first visit of their favorite shrine in the new year (called hatsumōde), in front of a display of colorful wooden wishing plaques, called Ema.

Ema wishing plaquesThe Eclectic ‘Ema’

These colorful plaques are made from flat pieces of wood in a variety of shapes and sizes.

They are decorated on one side with an eclectic range of images of things such as animals, flowers or symbols of the particular shrine they come from.

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Japanes children and Ema wishing plaqueThe back of an Ema is left blank. This is where people of all ages write their wishes and make drawings before hanging it on a special wall in the shrine.

Origin

The Ema tradition goes back a long time, though its origin is somewhat unclear.

The ones that look like what we have today have been around since the 14th century Muromachi period, but the custom itself has been around in various forms since the 8th century Nara period.

Final Journey

Ema wishing plaques and sacred pyreOnce an Ema is complete with its owner’s wishes, it is left where it is placed until collected by the shrine priests on a special day (usually once or twice a year) and burned in a sacred pyre for its final journey to the heavens.

 

 

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Winter is Half Over! Heralding Spring's Arrival in January

 

Winter-is-half-gone

A typical Japanese New Year greeting goes like this: I humbly congratulate you in this early spring (Hatsu-haru no o-yorokobi o mōshiagemasu).

Japanese New-Year Card

Typical Japanese New Year card referring to January 1st as “early spring” (hatsuharu).

Seeing the Glass Half Full

Thinking of January as early spring seems a bit counterintuitive, but the logic is simple: Continue reading

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Crustless Japanese Pumpkin Pie With Kudzu Root Powder

Japanese Kabocha pieHere is a low-calorie, gluten-free recipe for an alternative to western pumpkin pie using Kabocha (“Japanese pumpkin”, available in most supermarkets) and Kudzu root powder (instead of flour).

Serve as is, or sprinkle with your favorite toppings such as roasted almonds, pecans, chestnuts or sesame seeds (as commonly done in Japan). Goes particularly well served with Japanese green teas.

Mold for crustless Japanese pumpkin pieYou can prepare the recipe in about 20 minutes. There is no baking involved. Continue reading

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When Myth Becomes Reality

Japanese girls with kimono at the procession

Japanese mythological storytelling often weaves tales of great gods and goddesses with real-life historical events which people can relate to.

Perhaps because of this reason, celebrations of Japanese myths and legends have always been a part of everyday life, and young and old alike eagerly anticipate their arrival every year. Continue reading

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Japanese Autumn

autumn-foliage-in-JapanIt’s October, and the sights, smells, textures, and tastes of autumn are everywhere here in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japanese main islands.

You can even notice the packaging in local food stores adorned with seasonal patterns such as falling leaves, and autumn colors splashed all over the outside of gas stations.

Awareness of Seasons

In Japan, awareness of seasons is manifested in the refined traditions of kisetsu-kan (sensing of the season). Continue reading

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The Beauty in Odd Table Settings

Japanese-table-setting
A proper table setting is undoubtedly an important aspect of enjoying a meal. While the highly-evolved Western arrangements emphasize an even number of matched place settings, traditional Japanese settings include both even and odd as well as unmatched pieces.

To Match or Not

Japanese-odd-tableware2It can be strikingly beautiful to display settings which were created to look not only pleasing, but also identical. However, unmatched settings can still look beautiful together, if they are in harmony.

Take a look around. Nature, in all its glory, does not usually create perfectly identical things. Every tree is unique. So is every flower, river or a rock. They are all different, yet there is beauty in their harmony.

You can of course set a Japanese table with matching tableware designed to express formality and sophistication. You can also choose to set up a table in which each piece is individual, and make your guests feel more relaxed and give each a unique space.

Being comfortable with unmatched (or odd number) place settings also has the advantage of not letting any of your guests feel left out, whether you have an even or odd number of guests.

Traditions of Odd Numbers

Japanese-odd-serving-setsJapanese have an affinity for odd numbers which goes well beyond the numbers in a table setting (where most sets are sold in fives). Numbers “three”, “five”, and “seven”, are particular favorites, as in

  • Shichi-go-san (Seven-Five-Three) Festival, celebrating their children as they turn three, five and seven years of age.
  • The third day of the third month (March 3) is the day for Girl’s Festival.
  • The fifth day of the fifth month (May 5) is for the Boy’s Festival. It is also the day of Iris Festival (Tango no sekku)
  • The seventh day of the seventh month is the “Tanabata” Festival of Forlorn Lovers.

And there are many other examples.

In contrast, even numbers can be troublesome. For example, at wedding
ceremonies it is customary to give an odd number of money bills as a gift, because it is believed that an even number is easier to divide and can cause trouble!

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