Good by “Heisei” and see you new seasonal stories soon!
Heisei era, which lasted around 30 years, is coming to an end on 30th April 2019 in Japan, that is Emperor Akihito of Japan is set to abdicate on the day. A new era called Reiwa (令和) begins under his son Naruhito on May 1st 2019. Looking back, how would you describe your past 30 years?
My life has changed a lot in the past these years. One of biggest event was moving to New York 18 years ago. Simply put that I came here because just wanted to see another world and other cultures. Right now I can see the world from a different viewpoint than before. And I can see my country from a different perspective. I started to appreciate my culture more and want to share it with you, so I began to write seasonal stories. It has been more than 4 years now. It has been wonderful time to prepare Japanese dishes or sweets, and write their episodes with tracing my memories. Right now I am excited for planning a new project of seasonal stories. So this monthly newsletter is terminating today. If you want, you can see past seasonal stories the below.
Thank you very much for your support and see you soon. Hope the period “ Reiwa” will be really the great time for all over the world.
A story in March 2019
In Japan, March 3rd is the Doll’s Festival (雛祭り), which is the day to wish, for girls, healthy growth and happiness. It is also called Girl’s Day or Peach festival. When a girl is born, parents buy the dolls called Hina-ningyo, which depict the imperial court, and decorate them for this festival every year. Originally people had thrown paper dolls into rivers or sea to drive the evil sprits away, and from the Edo period on they began decorating the dolls. When I was a child, my mother always decorated the dolls when the Doll’s Festival was coming. I remember I was always more interested in three colors diamond-shaped rice cake, and the dolls’ belongings such as paper lanterns, furniture, chest of drawers and court carriages than the dolls. It was like a fancy playhouse for me. Of course I could not touch them, but seeing them was beautiful. Remembering back, I think it was a lot of work for my mother to take out the dolls and their things carefully from the boxes and to decorate and display, and put them back to store for next year. I think all mothers work hard wishing their daughters happiness. Now I feel nostalgic about the Doll’s Festival in my childhood.
I found the Kaishi paper with the emperor and empress printed this year. I use it for serving three colors Japanese rice crackers to remember the Doll’s festival of my childhood. Around this time peach flowers start to bloom which is a sign of the arrival of spring. I hope spring will come very soon to NYC.
A story in February 2019
“Setsubun” (節分) is a Japanese festival held one day before the beginning of spring, according to the Japanese lunar calendar. It takes place on February 3rd this year. On this day, people throw roasted soybeans inside and outside of their house, while saying, "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" meaning, "Demons out! Happiness in!" When I was a kid, I did this fun ritual every year.
When it gets close to setsubun, masks of a demon and a smiling, plump woman are sometimes sold with soybeans. Some people perform wearing these masks. Who is this smiling, plump woman? She is called "Otafuku" (お多福), which literally means much good fortune.
They say otafuku was originally from a character of “Kyogen” (狂言), which is one of the Japanese classical performing arts. In one of the stories, people tried to drive out demons from the house by throwing soybeans. However, when the soybeans were used up, the demons always came back.
At the end of the story, Otafuku appeared as a savior. Her joyful smile calmed the demon’s anger, and her kindness healed him. Eventually the demon went out quietly from the house. How powerful a smile can be! The cheerful smiling face is a symbol of good luck. It is really wonderful to see happiness and joy expressed on our faces, just like her. Our life must be getting easier, much like the Kyogen story. Let’s smile everyday like Otafuku, so that we can bring plenty of happiness.
A Happy New Year 2019
Rat (子) 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960, 1948, 1936, 1924, 1912
Ox (丑) 2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949, 1937, 1925, 1913
Tiger (寅) 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938, 1926, 1914
Rabbit (卯) 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, 1927, 1915
Dragon (辰) 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952, 1940, 1928, 1916
Snake (巳) 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, 1929, 1917
Horse (午) 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1942, 1930, 1918, 1906
Sheep (未) 2015, 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1956, 1943, 1931, 1919, 1907
Monkey (申) 2016, 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956, 1944, 1932, 1920, 1908
Rooster (酉) 2017, 2005, 1993,1981, 1969, 1957, 1945, 1933, 1921, 1909
Dog (戌) 2018, 2006, 1994,1982, 1970, 1958, 1946, 1934, 1922, 1910
Boar (亥) 2019, 2007, 1995,1983, 1971, 1959, 1947, 1935, 1923, 1911
A story in December 2018
Camellia japonica, which is called “tsubaki”(椿) in Japanese, is one of the most famous flowering trees in Japan. Camellias have a lot of hybrids whose colors are red, white, and pink sometimes they are a mixture of these colors. Their flowering happens over a long period, from December through April. Among them, I think the vivid red blooming tsubaki is very outstanding and impressive in winter gardens. It has a dignified beauty which is so picturesque, even though it is arranged with just one flower. So it is very often used for tea ceremony flower arrangements during winter. Tsubaki-shaped Japanese confectioneries are often served with matcha in this season. I personally like the pretty red tsubaki in December, because red is a Christmas color which puts me in a cheerful mood during the holiday season. So I made a Japanese confectionery shaped like tubaki.
By the way, “La Traviata,” which is one of the most popular operas, is known as “Lady of Camellias” (椿姫) in Japan. This is the direct translation from the original novel title. The heroine of the novel is called "Lady of Camellias," because she wears Camellias every day. Her nickname became the novel's title. When I hear the word "camellia," I associate it with La Traviata. One characteristic of tsubaki is that when it scatters, the individual petals do not fall from the tree, but rather the whole flower. It sounds much like the life of the Lady of Camellias. There are currently many interesting art exhibitions and music performances going on in NYC. This is a really joyful season, and I hope everybody has wonderful holidays. Thank you very much for 2018. See you in the great year of 2019!
A story in October 2018
Whenever I see something orange around this time of year, I naturally think it is a pumpkin. This is probably because I see many pumpkins in various places in NYC. When this season comes around, Halloween decorations are everywhere in America. The weather is also very nice in October, so it's a fun time to walk in the city.
Around this time last year, I stayed at a traditional Japanese inn called "ryokan" in Kyoto. Usually at a traditional ryokan, seasonal meals are included during the stay, and served in the guest room. At dinner, one of the appetizers was placed in a small orange ceramic bowl with a lid. At first, I thought that it was a Halloween pumpkin. Of course it was not a pumpkin, but a rather a persimmon. It seems I've lived in New York long enough that my perception has become more American.
Persimmon is in season in Japan from October through November, and it is one of the symbols of fall in Japan. Speaking of persimmons, it reminds me of one of the famous haiku poems by Shiki Masaoka, which is “as I eat a persimmon the bell starts ringing at the Horyu-ji Temple.” I don’t remember many traditional poems. However, when I learned this poem at school for the first time, I pictured a scene in my mind using all five senses. The evening sky turning from yellow to red is spread out behind a silhouette of the five-storied Horyu-ji Temple pagoda in Nara. The bell is resounding in the beautiful autumn sky. It is hard to say in words, but when eating persimmons, I always picture this nostalgic scene in my mind.
What does fall remind you of? Which past experiences do you associate with the season? Does it bring back some memories of Halloween, or something else?
A story in September 2018
When September comes around, I feel fall in the air even on the hot days. It’s getting cool and comfortable. The air becomes so clear and the sky looks different. The clouds tend to spread out like the scales of a fish during the day, and the beautiful moon shines at night.
When I look at the moon around this season, I always remember my grandmother. When I was a small kid, she told me “Look at the beautiful rounded moon. Can you see that a rabbit is pounding mochi (the ingredient for rice cake)?” It's funny but they say that on the moon’s surface these shadows look like a rabbit making rice cake. The story about the moon rabbit in Japan has been told since long ago. There is a Buddhist tale which also tells about it. As the oldest example of the story, there is a moon rabbit which was drawn on a mandala in the 7th century. Since Japanese people have been told this story for a long time, they can easily see the moon in that way. I have heard that in other countries people can see various images in the moon, such as a crab, a lion, and an old lady reading a book. The human imagination is very interesting.
In fall, Japanese people have a custom to enjoy viewing the full moon called otukimi（お月見), literally "moon-viewing," with offerings of rice dumplings to the full moon in appreciation of the harvest of grains. Otukimi includes decorating with silver grass as a charm against evil. You will find the moon rabbit in many places. It is also referred to as the Harvest Moon (中秋の名月). This year, the harvest moon is on September 24th. I hope we can all enjoy the beautiful full moon on that evening. Let’s see if the moon rabbit will be there.
A story in August 2018
In NYC, many Japanese ingredients can be found easily, if you don’t mind the prices which can be high, or the quality which tends to vary. But I sometimes hesitate to buy these ingredients, which can be a bit pricy if they are only for myself. And then I started to think of growing the plants for these ingredients myself, because they will be much fresher and cheaper.I tried to grow a myoga plant, which is one of my favorite summer ingredients.
Myoga（茗荷）which is sometime called "myoga ginger" or "Japanese ginger," has a slender shallot shape. Its color is a bit purplish with shiny pink, and its taste is like a mild ginger. Its refreshing aroma, and light, crunchy texture complement the taste. It has not been as popular as shiso or yuzu in New York, but for me it is one of the essential ingredients to enjoy Japanese summer flavor.
Myoga ginger is usually sliced very thinly and eaten as a garnish on top of cold tofu called "hiyayakko," or with thin wheat flour noodles called "somen."Both of these dishes are typical summer meals, of which we enjoy the very smooth texture. So garnishes are important for giving accents to the meals, and to stimulate the appetite. The harvest season for myoga is from June through October in Japan. It seems to be consumed most during the hottest months, such as the current one.
By the way, unfortunately my myoga plant project did not succeed. So these photos are not of myoga from my garden, but rather from a Japanese supermarket. If you have a myoga plant or have harvested myoga, please share with me, and I will be happy to share with you something that you like. Let’s enjoy the rest of summer!
A story in July 2018
The other day, I found a very cute bear-shaped ice shaving machine at the MoMA design store, which really brings back me to my childhood. Shaved ice was one of the most popular summer desserts at home when I was a child. I don’t think I am the only one who craves shaved ice when seeing this machine.
Uji Kintoki（宇治金時）is the most traditional flavor of Japanese shaved ice, which is made with sweetened matcha, sweet azuki beans, and glutinous rice balls called shiratama. Uji（宇治） is a town in Kyoto, which is famous for top-quality green tea production. Kintoki（金時）is another name for azuki beans. Both are typical ingredients of Japanese confectioneries.
If you like matcha flavor, you should try Uji Kintoki, which is one of the best Japanese summer desserts for a very hot day. Shaved ice melts very fast, so you have to eat it very quickly. After eating this dessert, you will cool off even without an air conditioner.
These days, you can have matcha ice cream any time you'd like. But Uji Kintoki is a Japanese seasonal dessert, which you can definitely eat only in summertime. There are not many places that serve this sweet in NYC. So if you find Uji Kintoki, please try it. If you eat it too fast, you might get brain freeze. But I am sure that you will love it.
A story in June 2018
The weather in June is generally very pleasant in NYC. It is not too hot, and the sky is sunny and clear. The pleasant air makes me feel like the summer is about to begin. To the contrary, in Japan, June is the time of the gloomy rainy season called “tsuyu”(梅雨). In Japanese, “梅” means plum, and “雨” means rain. “Plum rain” sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? There are several reasons why it is called “tsuyu,” but my favorite is that the rainy season is associated with the Japanese ume plum.
The Japanese ume plum is often used as a seasonal symbol. For example, in February, the fragrant blossoms are the first signal of spring. In June, plum trees bear a lot of fruit. The color of the Japanese ume plum during harvest time is lush like a green apple, and is a sign of early summer. We simply call it “ao ume,” which means plain green plum.
Ao ume is typically made into pickled plums called “umeboshi,” as well as plum liquor called “umeshu." These are commonly consumed in Japan. However, ao ume by itself is a little toxic, though not as much as the poisoned apple Snow White had eaten. So we don’t eat this raw fruit by itself.
Besides making “umeboshi” or “umeshu,” we can enjoy eating a Japanese confectionery shaped like ao ume, as an early summer symbol. The light green color tells us that we can expect a beautiful season. Summer in New York is short. What are you going to do this summer?
A story in May 2018
It seems like just a couple of weeks ago, the color green didn’t exist outdoors in NYC. However, at the moment I can see fresh tender green everywhere. It has suddenly changed the palette of the city of New York. I didn't notice the existence of a small, oasis-like garden near me until the trees had grown beautiful new green foliage. Everybody has been waiting for this season. The real springtime in NYC takes place in May!
When speaking about May, the first thing that comes to mind is the season of shincha (新茶), which literally means “new tea." Shincha is made from leaf buds picked during the first green tea harvest in the spring, usually from April to May. It is considered the most delicious because of its mild taste and the aroma of its young green leaves. I recommend that you try shincha around this season, because the more fresh it is, the more flavorful it will be.
When inhaling the soft fragrance of tea leaves, you are released from any tension, and will discover more of the beautiful existence around you. Happy spring!
A story in April 2018
It has been a really cold winter in NYC this year, but now we are finally seeing some flowers start to bloom here. Spring has finally arrived.
When this season comes around, I begin to crave Sakura Mochi (桜餅), which is a Japanese confectionery wrapped in a salty pickled sakura leaf. Its subtle aroma makes me picture fully-bloomed cherry blossoms. There are actually two kinds of Sakura Mochi from different regions. Because I made Kansai-style Sakura Mochi last year, this year I made a Kanto-style variety called "Chomeiji Mochi," which is from the Eastern part of Japan.
Today I'd like to introduce a story about the origin of the Kanto-style Sakura Mochi. In 1717, a gatekeeper at Chomeiji Temple (長命寺) near the Sumida River in Tokyo came up with an idea to salt a sakura leaf, and to cover a flat pancake filled with red bean paste with the leaf. This was because he had a hard time cleaning up a lot of fallen cherry blossoms’ leaves. After it started being sold, this sweet became really popular in Edo (Tokyo), and came to be called “Chomeiji Mochi,” named after Chomeiji Temple.
Whenever I have Sakura Mochi, I start to dream about blooming cherry blossoms. If you find any Sakura Mochi, please try it, because it is one of the most popular seasonal sweets in spring. I hope we can enjoy the lovely cherry blossoms in NYC very soon!
A story in March 2018
Every year in the month of March, we are expecting spring's arrival. However, March can actually be a bit rough in NYC, because the weather changes drastically. One day is a very sunny day, and another is a Nor’easter.
Today, March 20th in the Northern Hemisphere, is the Vernal Equinox Day, the time when day and night are equal. This day is the official beginning of spring. I hope that the warm days are here to stay. As you must know, March in Japan is the season of the cherry blossom. Several important events are held during this month, such as graduation ceremonies. Many Japanese people visit their family graves during the vernal equinoctial week, in which Buddhist memorial services are held.
NYC is still cold at this time, so we may still need to wear heavy jackets for a little while longer. But how about enjoying spring, at least on your plate?
A story in February 2018
It has been very cold this winter in New York. I hear that it has snowed a lot, and that there were some negative Celsius temperatures, even in Tokyo.
Most people must be spending a lot of time at home during these cold days. Making a cup of tea makes your hands and heart a little bit warmer. In the Japanese tea ceremony, there is a special matcha tea bowl for the cold season. It is called "tsutsujyawan" (筒茶碗), and it is usually used in February. It has a cylindrical shape, straight body line, and greater depth than other bowls. The deep, cylinder-shaped tea bowl keeps tea warm longer than bowls which are shallow and have wider openings. The tsutsujyawan was created with our ancestors' wisdom a long time ago, when there was no materialistic affluence. Modern life has become more and more convenient, so that we have almost everything we need. However, it may have caused us to forget the things most important to human life. Time set aside for carefully making tea might remind you of what makes your life rich in true meaning. It may be a good chance to think of such things at home during the cold season. Please stay warm.
A story in January 2018
A story in December 2017
The year 2017 is coming to a close. How was your year in 2017? In Japan, we call December “shiwasu”（師走). “Shi”（師）means a priest or monk at the temples and “wasu” （師走）means running. They say that a priest or monk usually doesn’t run, even though they are very busy. However, there are so many Buddhist events in December that even a priest or monk has to run around. It has been told like that for a long time, even though no one knows the real reason. But it makes sense for us because we are so busy with wrapping up work, going shopping for Christmas presents, attending lots of holiday parties, and catching up with friends. So December may very well be the busiest month in the year, as “shiwasu” means.
I would like to finish up everything by the end of year, and to relax and prepare to see this year out. I will follow one of the Japanese customs of eating toshikoshi soba to wish longevity on the night of New Years Eve. Toshikoshi means “a year-crossing,” and soba is a thin buckwheat noodle. How will you spend time on New Years Eve? Wishing you good health, a lot of happiness, great success and much love in the coming year. Happy New Year!
A story in November 2017
Which kind of sweets do you start thinking of when fall comes around? I crave chestnut sweets in the fall because it is one of my favorite autumn flavors. A chestnut has a soft and smooth texture like a potato and subtle sweet aroma, so it’s very tasty. Traditional Japanese confectionary shops in Japan sell various sweets made from chestnuts during this season. When I find any chestnut sweets, I always want to eat them. And Japanese confectioneries are not my only favorites, but also French pastries such as Mont-Blanc. How about you?
When speaking about November in the US, one thinks of the Thanksgiving celebration. So I am guessing that you will want to eat a pecan or pumpkin pie around this time. How about it? It is becoming very cold, but this is a beautiful and rich harvest season. It is always wonderful to spend time with family and friends during the holiday season. Enjoy some great festive food! Happy Thanksgiving.
A story in September 2017
The autumnal equinox（秋分) in the Northern Hemisphere is considered the first day of fall. This year, it is September 22nd. When fall comes, a lot of seas onal ingredients such as chestnuts, mushrooms, persimmon, sweet potato, etc., will soon come to mind. Fall is a season in which it becomes more enjoyable to eat.
The other day, my friend brought back very fresh mushrooms from upstate New York, and she cooked them simply for us. It was incredibly delicious. Once I eat something very tasty, I always want to eat again. Have you ever felt like that?
Today I cooked a Japanese rice dish called Takikomi gohan, which incorporates seasonal ingredients and seasonings. Of course, I chose mushrooms as seasonal ingredients for enjoying autumn with this dish.
During autumn, the sky is very high and beautiful. It is neither hot nor cold, and the temperature is just perfect. In Japan they say it is the season in which your appetite increases, because a lot of rich, fresh ingredients are harvested this season. Be careful notto eat too much, and enjoy the beautiful fall season!
A story in August 2017
When receiving guests in the summertime, I always like to welcome them with something that will refresh them. With this in mind, I made a clear cube-shaped summer confectionery called “kin gyoku”（錦玉). It is made with agar, and is reminiscent of the cold river water which I enjoyed on my vacations a long time ago in my childhood. When you take a bite, a subtle mint flavor fills your mouth and the cold, soft texture goes down smoothly. I hope to enjoy this summery dessert both visually and taste-wise. Summer in New York lasts only three months and it goes fast so let's find more pleasure in this season!
A story in July 2017
The other day, my friend brought me a gift from Japan. I opened the box, and inside were Japanese dry confectioneries formed into shapes evocative of summer.
Summer in Japan is very hot and humid. So Japanese culture has many features designed by our ancestors throughout history which provide the mind with a sense of refreshment. These help us to stay cool while enjoying the hot season.
The Japanese sweets in the box are one of these thoughtful creations. Their shapes are associated with the cool aspects of summer. The prevalent shape is called Kanze water (観世水), which appears to be making a whirlpool pattern. The water's movement makes it appear cool and soothing. Combined with the motif of young green maple leaves, it leads us to imagine a scene of leaves floating serenely on water.
Modern technology such as air conditioning is a really convenient tool, but sometimes it is nice to use your imagination to experience a sense of coolness. It might remind you of pleasant delights in the high summer season.
A story in June 2017
This spring had been very cold, and all of a sudden it became summer in New York. I miss the slow Japanese seasonal transition, but I am very happy to be here. This is a great season to get fresh fruits and vegetables.
One of my favorite early summer ingredients is the fava bean. It is called "sora mame" (空豆) in Japanese. It literally means "sky bean." It is so named because the fava bean bears pods on the tree, which point toward the sky. It is a cute name and sounds like it came from a fairy tale.
Fava beans are encased in puffy pods, and the size is much bigger than edamame. The texture is a bit like a potato - a little moist, soft, and smooth. If you find fava beans this season, please try them. Usually, I simply boil the beans. Today I tried a recipe, which is a bit more fancy. I cooked fava bean tofu using arrowroot starch, and added sea urchin on the top. When cooking with any seasonal ingredients, I am always inspired. Limited time always makes me think of when, how, and with whom to eat. I hope you'll enjoy this season with fresh ingredients!
A story in May 2017
The 5th of May is a Japanese national holiday, which is called "children’s day" or "boy’s festival." When a boy is born into the family in Japan, a samurai helmet is purchased and given to the baby boy. It is displayed at home every year on May 5th. Since the helmet used to play a role in protecting men in battle in the past, it is decorated much like an amulet. When I think of this tradition now, it is amazing that families still decorate the samurai helmet at home this season, even though it is much smaller than an actual size helmet.
Since moving to New York, I have not seen this decoration at all. I have tried to make helmets in origami, which is the art of paper folding. The helmet is probably the second most popular origami design, after the crane. I realize that origami requires a lot of concentration, because it is not easy to fold properly and match one corner to another. I always feel a small satisfaction and a little happiness after an origami is beautifully completed.
It is also the beginning of summer, a season of fresh, new green tea. When you make and drink a cup of tea, concentrate on the moment as if folding origami. You will feel a little happiness. Finally, the beautiful season begins!
A story in April 2017
When speaking about spring in Japan, most of people think of "Sakura" (桜) which is Japanese for "cherry blossom." Many people are currently following the Sakura as they bloom all across Japan this season.
Sakura-mochi is one of the most popular spring-season Japanese confections. It consists of rice cake made from sticky rice flour, with red bean paste inside. It’s wrapped in a salted leaf picked from cherry blossoms tree. Japanese people enjoy not only seeing the cherry blossoms, but also having some of the flavor of the leaf. So it is probably impossible to talk about the Japanese spring without mentioning cherry blossoms. If you eat Sakura-mochi once, you may crave it again this time next year. I think that enjoying a seasonal sweet means enjoying it with some pleasant memories. Please enjoy this spring with the flavor of the cherry blossom.
A story in March 2017
Imagine transparent pink cherry blossom petals opening in a teacup, revealing their flowery aroma. This is called Sakura Tea, which is made by preserving cherry blossoms in salt and plum vinegar. It is mostly served at celebrations such as traditional engagement ceremonies and weddings because it is believed to represent new beginnings. It is also such a pretty idea, expressing visually a cheerful feeling. When it feels like spring is just around the corner, I always start to want something related to cherry blossoms. This winter in New York has been really mild and easy. But still if March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb. Although it is not a special occasion, I am making Sakura Tea and wondering how many days we will need to wait for the arrival of the real spring season.
A story in February 2017
Last week, my friend in Tokyo sent me a picture of a plum blossom there, which is an early sign that spring is on the way, though the cold winter continues. Plum blossoms are blooming modestly and gracefully, with their beautiful scant flowers in the chilly early spring. They are not dramatically gorgeous like Sakura (cherry blossom), but are lovely in that they are likely to show subtle signs of spring. I think these flowers should be treaded as an important part of nature which reflect our yearning for spring. How many of you are waiting for spring? I hope spring will come soon!
Happy New Year 2017
A story in December 2016
“Yuzu” (柚子) is a Japanese citrus fruit. These days, this Japanese ingredient is becoming popular, so you may have heard about it. In Japanese cuisine, the aromatic yuzu zest is used to garnish some dishes to enrich their flavor. Its juice is also used as a seasoning. Once you taste yuzu, you may never forget such a refreshing aroma.
In Japan, we use yuzu not only for meals, but also at bath time on one particular day. The longest night of the year is the winter solstice. In Japanese, it is called "Toji" (冬至). Traditionally, on this night Japanese people put yuzu in the hot water and soak in the yuzu citrus bath (柚子湯) to purify ourselves with the aroma. This year, Toji is on December 21st. From this day on, the daytime becomes longer little by little, as the cold winter continues.
There are very limited places to find yuzu in NYC. Even Japanese supermarkets don't sell yuzu all the time. So it might be a little bit too luxurious to soak in an aromatic yuzu bath. But sometimes it may be worth it to relax, purify ourselves and prepare to see the old year out and the New Year in!
A story in November 2016
Daylight saving time is over and the leaves on the trees are turning red and yellow. Fall season deepens, and it is getting cold now. It is hard for our bodies to adjust to the changing season. It is good to eat something to warm your body up. At night when I am getting cold, I suddenly start craving chawanmushi, which is steamed egg custard. It makes my body warm up nicely. Ginko-nut is a seasonal food. Chawanmushi without Ginko-nut does not make sense to me. I think its slightly bitter taste complements the other mild ingredients and the egg custard's soft texture. If you have not had it yet, please try chawanmushi on a cold night and discover the ginko-nut flavor within. Stay warm.
A story in September 2016
After Labor Day, summer has ended and fall is starting. It is the beginning of a new season for cultural events in the US. In Japan, fall is kind of a melancholic season, but at the same time a great harvest season, which really excites us. There are a lot of rich ingredients in Japan. For Japanese people, one of the most treasured fresh ingredients is a new-harvest rice called "shinmai” (新米). The new-harvest rice contains more moisture than usual. It is very simple but the rice itself is very delicious. The best way to enjoy the new-harvest rice is to eat simply.
Do you know what onigiri is? It is made from white rice formed into triangular shapes, and usually wrapped in seaweed. Traditionally, it is filled with umeboshi (pickled plum) but there are many other varieties. Onigiri is very simple, but I believe that almost 100% of Japanese people like onigiri because it is made using both hands with love from the heart. How can anyone dislike it? People can be filled and satisfied with this heartfelt meal. If it is made with new-harvest rice, it would be especially tasty!
If you find the label “new crop” on a package when shopping for rice, please choose to buy it. And if you have Japanese friends, please ask how to make onigiri! I am sure they will be able to share their knowledge with you. Enjoy this beautiful and delicious fall season.
A story in August 2016
This August in New York is very hot. It reminds me of the humid Japanese summers. In Japan, August is called "hazuki" (葉月) in the lunar calendar. "Ha" (葉) means leaf, and "tsuki" (月) means month. I thought that this was such a summery name, but the lunar calendar is almost a month ahead of the modern solar calendar currently used. It means that it is fall already, so the leaves are falling. However, the origin of the word "hazuki" is clearly unknown.
I would like to talk about "shiso" leaves this month. A lot of Japanese may not feel that this is a seasonal ingredient anymore, because these days many shiso are grown in greenhouses. I believe you have heard of "shiso," which is a basil-like, minty-tasting Japanese herb. It is eaten with sashimi. And it is very often chopped up and used as a condiment for an assortment of dishes such as cold noodles and tofu. I believe that when you use shiso in any dish, it takes on a Japanese taste. It is similar to how basil is used in Italian food. You can currently find very fresh shiso at farmers markets, and use them for flavor. They come from local farms, and are definitely seasonal! I hope you enjoy the rest of the summer!
A story in July 2016
Ramen is surprisingly popular in NYC. But have you heard of somen noodles? It does not have a strong taste like ramen. In fact, it has a very plain taste, but this is a perfect meal for a very hot summer day. We just enjoy the very smooth texture of the somen noodles. It is swallowed without a lot of chewing, so that we may enjoy the sensation of swallowing the noodles and enjoying their freshness. If you try it, you will surely be refreshed!
July 7th is a special day: the day of the “Tanabata” Star Festival. There is a very romantic story, which goes that two lovers can see each other only once a year across the Milky Way, if the sky is clear on that day. When prepared and presented, somen noodles can resemble the Milky Way. They say it is a perfect meal for the night of July 7th, and that if you eat somen on this day, you will keep good health for a whole year. I had not known this story prior to now. So I will eat somen tonight, and really wish for a clear sky!
A story in June 2016
When speaking about June in Japan, most of people think of the rainy season first. The next thing that comes to mind is the hydrangea, blooming richly and colorfully in the gloomy weather. Hydrangea is planted in some temples in Japan. Many people visit temples to see the beautiful flowers even in the rain.
The hydrangea is a very old flower in Japan. It is used in the Manyoshu (万葉集), which is the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry compiled in the mid 8th century.
They say it was brought to China and then brought to Europe via the Silk Road. Nowadays we can find hydrangea in many places in New York. The month of June here is part of our beautiful summer season. We don't associate it with rain at all. It might be only for the Japanese people that hydrangea is reminiscent of the rainy season.
A story in May 2016
Shincha (新茶) is the first Japanese green tea harvest of the year from the middle of April through the middle of May. It literally means “new tea.” (新＝new茶＝tea).
This is the best season for Japanese green tea. You can drink the most delicious green tea during this season.
Tea plants store nutrients during the cold winter. The first tender leaves picked are very fresh and nutrient-rich, and have a delicate grassy flavor. The taste is slightly sweet and very flavorful.
Cold-brewed green tea is also a nice way to enjoy the color and freshness of green tea. Just put green tea leaves and water into a nice glass and wait 20 to 30 minutes, then add ice cubes. Please try shincha in May. You will savor the most fresh and delicious green tea, whether cold or hot!
A story in April 2016
Cherry blossoms have been in full bloom in Tokyo since yesterday. Weather news shows a map of cherry blossom projections. They started blooming from the south in the middle of March up through the north in the end of April.
In this season, everyone in the whole country talks about cherry blossoms. At night cherry trees are lit up for flower viewing. People drink sake under the trees in the day and night. How crazy Japanese people are for Sakura! Something like this may not exist anywhere else in the world!
When sakura blooms, it shows utmost beauty. Then the blossoms fall to the ground within a week. People want to see the beauty of that moment when the flowers are perfect. At the same time they may like to feel a gentle sadness for sakura because they project their life to sakura, which shows impermanence of life.
I think gentle sadness is a part of Japanese beauty. If everything could be permanent, it would make me feel faint. So let’s enjoy this season and this moment wherever you are.
A story in March 2016
We celebrate Girls' Festival in Japan on March 3rd to wish for girls' sound growth and happiness. Families display a set of dolls dressed in beautiful Heian era court costumes. When their first girl baby is born, parents buy the dolls and then decorate them for this festival every year.
Chirashi sushi, meaning “ scattered sushi,” is a typical meal for celebrating Girls Festival. Various toppings such as sashimi and vegetables are arranged over sushi rice. It is a popular festive meal at home because it is easy to make and there are no rules for the toppings. Each family has a different style.
When girls grow up, they might not be interested in dolls any more but they miss their family’s chirashi sushi. In Japan, there are traditional events every month and we eat a special meal for each celebration. These foods always remind me of my childhood. The more time goes by, the stronger these memories are.
A story in February 2016
The 3rd of February 2016 is the start of spring on the Luna calendar in Japan. This day is called “Setsubun.” It literally means "division of the seasons.” There is a Setsubun custom called “Mame-maki," in which people throw roasted soybeans and scatter them inside and outside of their house. We say, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uti!” meaning, "Demons get out of the house and invite happiness into our homes.” After that, we eat the number of years of our age in roasted beans, with wishes for good health and happiness throughout the year. The reason people roast soybeans and eat them is that they say the beans contain the evils of the previous year. They are roasted to prevent evil from sprouting.
After growing up, I stopped practicing these customs. Instead, I started eating a meal with soybeans around this season. In recent years, I have cooked a regional dish called “shimotsukare” using soybeans, several vegetables and other ingredients. This small dish requires a lot of preparation. It can’t be a main dish, but rather is an appetizer. But if you cook any meal for somebody you love, you can more enjoy the process. After all, cooking itself is a heartfelt act. It can make someone feel very warm and happy. Sharing with somebody is the best way to enjoy any dish. Why don't you cook meals for loved ones or friends and invite warmth, good feelings, and good spirit into the home?
Happy New Year 2016
A story in December 2015
The year 2015 is ending now. Most likely in December everybody feels that “time flies,” and starts to think about new hopes for next year.
On the night of New Years Eve, everybody eats toshikoshi soba in Japan. Toshikoshi means year-crossing, and soba is a thin noodle made from buckwheat flour. There are several stories about toshikoshi soba. The most famous one is that the long soba noodles symbolized a long life. People eat toshikoshi soba to wish longevity. When I was young, I did not understand why I needed to eat toshikoshi soba, even though I was told the reason by my mother. But I now realize how important it is to eat it. There are a lot of traditional customs related to Japanese foods. I think each one is important, because they define my way of life and myself.
Now I live in NYC as a Japanese, and at the same time a cosmopolitan. There are people here from all over the world, which means that there exist foods here from all over the world. This is because the food we ate in our childhood stays with us forever, no matter where we live at present. I think food is like a gateway to knowing the cultures of countries. This is one of the greatest things about NYC. So I am very happy to share our food culture, and I would like to introduce more things to help you enjoy Japanese dining. Thank you very much for 2015. May the New Year bring you good health, lots of happiness, and much love!
A story in November 2015
Leaves are turning autumn colors such as red and yellow. The richest color palette in nature can be found during this season. An autumn assortment of leaf-shaped vegetables, mushroom, and ginkgo is called "fukiyose." This is the Japanese word for a variety of leaves assembled in one place by the wind. Find fall around you and taste it.
A story in October 2015
Fall is a very beautiful season in which the colors of the leaves are changing, and people go to the mountains to enjoy the beauty of nature. Many ingredients harvested in autumn enrich meals on the table. It would be nearly impossible to talk about Japanese food without mentioning the seasons.
The chrysanthemum is one of the symbolic flowers of fall. Purple and yellow edible chrysanthemums are often used for seasonal appetizers and give beautiful colors for dining. In Japan, there is a seasonal event called Choh-yoh (重陽 ) on September 9th of the lunar calendar which is based on cycles of the lunar phases. At this event, people enjoy viewing chrysanthemums, drinking sake with floating chrysanthemum petals, and praying for perennial youth and a long life. They say a story came from China in which a person drank a drop of water from a chrysanthemum and avoided aging and death. As noted earlier, Choh-yoh still takes place on the same day of the old lunar calendar. The day on the solar calendar used currently in modern times should be around October. The flowers are blooming beautifully into autumn chrysanthemums during this period.
In addition to this event, around this time of year chrysanthemum-shaped foods, as well as the flowers themselves, are often eaten in hopes of good health and longevity. This is an expression of deep respect to nature, as well as appreciation for seasonal foods. To know the stories behind these seasonal foods will further enhance your Japanese dining experience.
A story in September 2015
After summer ends, the air is so clear and the angle of the sun and the moon is perfect in the Northern Hemisphere. We can see the most beautiful moon in the sky during this season. In Japan, we have a custom to enjoy viewing the full moon. People decorate with silver grass as a charm against evil, and offer rice dumplings to the full moon in appreciation of the harvest of grains.
This year, the moon-viewing day is September 27th. It is a "super moon" lunar eclipse. How about enjoying sake under the beautiful full moon? It might be a night with the quiet moon and quiet thoughts. It will be lovely.
A story in August 2015
I have been looking for “edamame beans” at green markets since the beginning of the summer, because edamame are a great appetizer to enjoy with chilled beer during the summertime. Last winter was very cold, so the edamame harvest seemed to be behind schedule. I am starting to find plump, fresh edamame as summer ends. I think most people take for granted that edamame beans are boiled from a frozen package. Fresh edamame are harvested only in summer. If you eat fresh ones, you will know how tasty they are.
A combination of edamame and beer is perfect not only in terms of taste, but also nutrition. Edamame are young soybeans, which contain protein, minerals, vitamins, and more. It is said that these nutrients could protect your liver when you drink beer. Frozen edamame can be eaten all year round, and the taste and nutrition suffer very little. If you are aware of the difference between fresh and frozen, you are surely more appreciative of seasonal foods and the longing for the season, which comes with their taste. You might recall some good memories from past summers when you eat fresh edamame.
A story in July 2015
The 7th of July is a special day all over Japan, where people celebrate the Star Festival called “Tanabata." There is a very romantic story behind Tanabata. The story goes that two lovers can see each other only once a year across the Milky Way, if the sky is clear.
A long time ago, there was a daughter of the sky king, “Orihime," the star of Vega. She was a beautiful young weaver girl. A young cowhand boy named “Hikoboshi,” the star of Altair, lived across the river. When they met each other for the first time, they fell in love instantly. From that point on, they had so much fun being together and got married. However, since falling in love, they had stopped working hard. The king got very angry with this and he put them back on opposite sides of the river. Orihime cried and cried. The king felt sorry for them, and decided to allow them to meet only once a year across the Milky Way, on the night of July 7th. On that day, people in Japan write their wishes on colorful paper strips and tie them on bamboo branches to celebrate the lovers’ reunion. Let’s hope there will be a clear sky on July 7th for their love, so that the lovers can see each other.
A story in June 2015
These days, sushi is very popular in many countries. Some people in these countries eat sushi more often than the typical Japanese. There are many kinds of sushi. Nigirizushi (hand-rolled sushi) is most typical. Besides that they are Makizushi (rolled sushi); Inarizushi (sushi wrapped in fried tofu); Chirashizushi (scattered sushi); and so on.
Japanese people eat sushi at casual sushi restaurants and at home. However, a formal sushi restaurant is a very expensive and special place in Japan. Sushi is often eaten on festive occasions.
When sushi is written in Chinese characters, it is written as 鮨 or 寿司. For 鮨, the left radical part of the character, which is 魚, means "fish." The right radical part of the character, which is 旨, means "delicious."
For another one, 寿司 is the phonetic equivalent. 寿 means "celebration," and 司 means "presides over." Together, 寿司 means, “ that which presides over what is to be celebrated.” As I mentioned sushi is often eaten on festive occasions. I believe that is how "sushi" came to be written as 寿司.
So why don’t you chose your special occasion for eating sushi at a great sushi restaurant? It's the right way to celebrate with great meal. It will definitely be a memorable event.
A story in May 2015
Recently, matcha has been getting very popular in New York City. Matcha is a bitter drink. So when we have it at a tea ceremony, we eat Japanese sweets before drinking the matcha. Traditional Japanese sweets served at a tea ceremony are shaped like seasonal symbols such as flowers.
In May, it could be in the shape of peony buds. It will become a blooming, gorgeous flower, reminiscent of a beautiful woman. The sweets might give you a nice feeling of inspiration and looking forward to a joyful season. You can enjoy not only their taste, but also your imagination for a beautiful summer.
A story in March 2015
Finally, it is getting warmer in New York City. All kinds of budding plants are trying to reach for the sun, even though we may not see them. But surely you must feel spring just around the corner.
On March 3rd, Girls' Festival is celebrated in Japan. Its purpose is to wish for girls' growth and happiness. We display a set of dolls in beautiful ancient court costumes of the Heian era with peach flowers. This event reminds me of spring in Japan, just before the cherry blossoms. We eat clam soup during the Girls' Festival, because March is the season of clams. There is a nice story behind this. When clam shells are taken apart by the hinges, they will only fit in their original pair. This is why a clam is a symbol of a great, harmonious couple. We eat clam soup in order to wish for girls to have a loving relationship with a life partner. There are great stories behind our seasonal menu. We hope you can enjoy Japanese food even more when the experience is complemented by these stories.
A story in February 2015
Our lives can be so busy, but it is important to take a moment every day. Having a nice cup of green tea is like meditating. If you take a little moment to enjoy green tea, it might clear your mind?
Let's make a great green tea. First, pour the boiled hot water from the kettle into a teacup and then pour into the teapot and let the leaves steep until fully brewed. Carefully pour the tea into your beautiful teacup. You can hear the sound of green tea pouring from the teapot into the cup. You become aware of the soothing green color in the cup. Your attention goes to your fingers touching the elegant ceramic.
When you bring it to your mouth, your lips become attuned to the delicate texture of the cup. You take a sip as the pleasant liquid flows into your body. Your mind is filled with calm and serenity.
Announcement in Janurary 2015