A hot summer day in Miyazaki

In July, the sun rises before 5:30 in Miyazaki and my day starts early.

Momo (5-year-old Papillon) taking a morning bath

Momo loves her cool morning baths

By 7 o’clock, Momo (my 5-year-old Papillon) and Yuki (my 2-year-old Japanese Spitz) have had their morning stroll by a nearby pond and begin looking for a cool spot to rest.

This year, Japan has been in the grips of unusually hot weather. Maximum temperatures in Miyazaki have been nearing 40 °C, setting record highs.

Local restaurants are making brisk sales of summer favorites such as Hiyashi Somen (chilled noodles) and Kakigōri (flavored shaved ice). Uchiwa paper fans and colorful yukata summer kimonos are flying off store shelves!

Yuki (2-year-old Japanese Spitz) resting under chestnut tree

Yuki takes shady respite under a chestnut tree

While excessive heat poses a health risk for humans, it can be even more serious for pets.

These lovely creatures run around with their underbellies close to the ground.

Among other heat-related hazards, pavement temperatures can stay very hot for hours even after the sun has gone down.

I keep Momo and Yuki indoors during the hottest time of the day.

Their favorite to-go places are nearby Aoshima and Kisaki beaches after sunset. They get to run as much as they want, play in the water and search for little crabs.

By the time we get home around 9 pm, we are all exhausted! It’s time to get cleaned up, have a light supper and get comfortable on our futons (they have their own).

While asleep, Momo and Yuki make muffled woofs and wag their tails. I’d like to think they dream about their beach adventures.

It’ll be 5:30 am soon, and another glorious, albeit hot day will begin in Miyazaki.

I’ll be ready; so will Momo and Yuki.

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Gentle rains of early May

Shinto priestess ladies about to begin their work dayA sure sign of summer’s arrival in Japan is warm, pleasant rains of early May, called Samidare.

The picture above was taken in Miyazaki Shrine. The priestess ladies are about to begin their work day, which includes tasks such as sacred cleansing, ritual dances as well as running the Shrine’s shops.

In the traditional Japanese calendar summer begins on May 5. This all-important date is also the Children’s Day national holiday (Kodomo no hi) and Iris Day (Ayame no hi).

Among the oldest traditions observed on this day are preparing baths with iris leaves (shōbu-yu), and displaying potpourri decorations made from iris and yomogi leaves (kusudama).

It has been raining for the past two days. Rivers are full and their banks are covered with Yomogi and vivid-colored Ayame irises.

The following haiku was written by Issa Kobayashi (1763 – 1828) over two centuries ago.

After the rain
colors of a deep rainbow
irises
(Ama-agari / nanairo fukashi / hana-ayame)

Deep rainbow-colored after the rain

It still rings fresh today!

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What is the best season to visit Japan?

Ever-changing beauty of Japanese seasons

I often get asked about the best season to visit Japan. Such a seemingly simple question. However, there are more choices and more “seasons” than most people realize.

Japan is a land of ever-changing seasonal tapestries in urban and rural landscapes, food menus, festivals, wardrobe, home, and office decor, and store offerings, to name a few.

24 season-like periods in Japanese Almanac (Nijushi-Seki)

And, that’s where the story just begins.

The traditional Japanese almanac (Nijushi Sekki) divides the year into 24 seasons or season-like periods (you can read more about it here).

These 24 periods are observed on Japanese calendars. They are markers of equinoxes and solstices, weather patterns, and ecological phenomena such as migrations and hibernations.

Traditional Japanese cuisine, festivities, wardrobe, and decor are inextricably woven into the fabric of Japanese almanac.

Kisetsu-kan: Art of Sensing the Seasons

To experience Japan, it helps to know about Kisetsu-kan (literally, sense of season) — a methodical system of thought for appreciating the seasons — embedded in Japan’s collective psyche.

Kistesu-kan goes well beyond cherishing the “best” of what a season offers at its peak (called Shun). It also includes prizing early-season arrivals (Hashiri), as well as late-season offerings (Nagori).

Hashiri (early season)

"Hashiri" beauty of early-season budding cherry blossoms In Japanese cuisine, examples of Hashiri are things such as early-season fruits.

Think of season’s first arrival of melons or mangos. They are a bit small, a tad hard and not very sweet. Despite all these, they can fetch astronomical prices in Japan.

The value of Hashiri fruits is not in their taste; they are harbingers of good things to come.

Hashiri is not just about food. The beautiful cherry blossom buds which are about to bloom are also Hashiri.

Shun (season’s peak)

"Shun" beauty of cherry blossoms in full bloomShun is the majestic beauty of sakura in full blossom.

Other examples of Shun are foods and ingredients at the peak of their ripeness: tender bamboo shoots in spring; juicy melons and tomatoes in summer; chestnuts, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes in autumn; delicate mikan tangerines and ripe kaki persimmons in winter.

Nagori (late season)

"Nagori" beauty of falling cherry blossom petalsThings which are Nagori remind us that it is time to say thanks and bid farewell.

Overripe fruit is Nagori. The last snow of the season, bearing the promise of spring’s imminent arrival, is called Nagori-Yuki,

The beauty of falling cherry blossom petals in a gentle spring breeze is also Nagori.

So, what is the best season to visit Japan?

There are 24 seasonal periods in the Japanese calendar, each gracing us with Hashiri, Shun, and Nagori offerings.

This makes picking any one time of the year as “the best” a daunting, if not impossible, task.

My recommendation: Come any time!

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Reflections and Hopes

2017 winter solstice will be upon us soon. Days will begin to get longer and the promise of new beginnings is in the air

Winter solstice will be upon us soon. Days will begin to get longer and the promise of new beginnings is in the air.

As we put 2017 behind us, just as we do every year, we want to say thanks to our readers, our customers, our hard-working craft makers, our employees, and to every and all living things that touched our lives in 2017.

Our senior employees and craft makers are in their 60s, 70s and a few in their 80s. We owe a special debt of gratitude to each and every one of them. Seniority, which comes only with age, matters. The vigor and energy of youth is indispensable, but to bear fruit it needs to be nurtured and guided by experienced hands.

Efficiency. Alway a good thing?

In 2017, we continued our growth for the eight year in a row. Our main challenge has been, and continues to be managing the pace of our growth in light of our limits.

By its nature, hand-crafting Japanese traditional products is not geared for scalability and volume production. We beg forgiveness and ask for understanding for not being able to supply wholesale requests.

Plainly speaking, efficiency has never been among our most important goals. This might sound counter-intuitive coming from a business. However, workplace harmony and quality of life issues are prime objectives for us — goals which often times are diametrically opposed to the objectives of running affairs the fastest possible or most cost-efficient way.

Look at at this way, if nature prized efficiency more than harmony, it would have willed rivers to flow in straight lines to get to the oceans. That would be their most efficient route. But, what an utterly ugly vision! Instead, they run forward through soft soil, but circle around hard rocks, meandering to their destiny in harmony with what’s around.

A well-know Japanese saying goes: When in a hurry, take the long road (isoga-ba mawaré、急がば回れ). In essence, it means no short-cuts.

We take nature’s lessons to heart. We love what we do, and love to take time doing them the best way we know how — mindful of the fact that fastest does not always mean best.

Animals Are People Too

In 2017 we made our facility animal-friendly

Our employees have pets, whom they love and cherish. In 2017 we made our facility animal-friendly so that that they can bring their dear ones to work and be close to them.

They snack with us during tea breaks and join us for lunchtime. Two to three times per day, weather permitting, designated employees take them for an outing along the emerald green banks of Oyodo River, which runs through downtown Miyazaki a short walk from our office.

During winter, the Oyodo delta is a nesting site for magnificent migrating ducks from Hokkaido and as far as Siberia. The playful dogs in our group take special pleasure in trying to give chase to the winged beauties, who easily evade them!

The lovely creatures have brought nothing but joy to our office. It takes a bit of effort to accommodate them, but the rewards are priceless.

Looking Ahead

Japanese traditions have been around for a very long time. Yet, they don’t belong in museums; they are living art. Practicing them and offering our know-how is our joy, our way of life, and a humble contribution to making this world a better place, we hope.

Thank you again for making our success possible. We look forward to the opportunity and honor of being of service to you again in 2018.

 

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Easy Recipe for Japanese Rice with Mushrooms (Kinoko-Gohan)

For this recipe I use 2 tbsps of Japanese rice wine (sake). If you can't get sake, you can substitute it with a dry white wine.Kinoko-gohan (きのこご飯) is one of my autumn favorites. I have used a frying pan with a lid to cook the rice, since I often get asked for Japanese recipes from friends who don’t have a Japanese rice cooker.

My basic ingredients are mushrooms and rice. I have selected three mushrooms: shiitake, shimeji and maitake. They are commonly available in markets outside Japan. However, you can substitute them with any mushroom you like and can find in your local market.

For this recipe, I use 2 tbsps of Japanese rice wine (sake). If you can’t get sake, you can substitute it with a dry white wine. I also use 2 tbsp of mirin, which is similar to sake, but sweet. You can substitute mirin by adding a bit of sugar to dry white wine or sherry.

Before I start, let me tell you more about my choice of mushrooms:

Shiitakes are soft, with a meaty, chewy texture. The flavor is very rich with earthy, pine and smoky overtones.

Shiitake Perhaps the most popular type of mushroom in Japan. Soft, with a meaty, chewy texture. The flavor is very rich with earthy, pine and smoky overtones.

Shimeji mushrooms are firm with a slightly crunchy texture and mildly nutty flavor.

Shimeji – Firm with a slightly crunchy texture and somewhat nutty flavor. Shimeji is a good choice for all types of stir-fries, soups, stews, and any seafood.

Maitakes are curious looking mushrooms, but they are quite a treat.

Maitake Tender, semi-firm body with a luscious flavor which ranges from fruity to earthy and slightly spicy. Maitakes are curious looking mushrooms, but they are quite a treat.

 Ingredients (Serves 4~6)

  • Rice (short grain): 400 ml (use your measuring cup)
  • Water: 450 ml
  • Mushrooms: 250 grams (Shiitake 50 grams, Maitake and Shimeji 100 grams each)
  • Garlic: 1 clove
  • Fresh ginger: A chunk (to taste)
  • Olive oil: 1~2 tablespoons
  • Soy sauce: 2 tablespoons
  • Mirin: 2 tablespoons
  • Sake: 2 tablespoons
  • Salt: A pinch

How to Prepare

  1. Rinse rice and drain well. Leave it for at least 10 minutes. Then, soak in plenty of water for at least 30 minutes (this is important!)
  2. Mix water, soy sauce, mirin and sake in a jar.
  3. Separate or slice the mushrooms into small pieces.
  4. Mince garlic, and slice ginger very thin.
  5. In a frying pan, put olive oil, garlic, ginger, and mushroom mix and then turn the heat on. Stir over medium heat and sprinkle a pinch of salt. Sauté mushrooms mix until wilted.
  6. Drain rice well and add it to the mushroom mixture. Sauté over medium-low heat until rice becomes semi-transparent.
  7. Add the liquid mixture (water, soy sauce, sake, and mirin) into the pan.
  8. Cover the frying pan with a lid. Simmer over low to medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Do not open the lid!
  9. Turn heat off and wait for 5-10 minutes (with the lid still closed).
  10. Serve.

Tips

  • I usually add fresh Japanese parsley (mistuba) as a topping. You can also use a sprinkle of green onions or similar.
  • If you can get powdered kombu or bonito, add a dash to the mixture of water, soy sauce and mirin. Your kinoko-gohan will taste richer.
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