Another highlight at the beginning of the month was a soba/insect party at Professor Nonaka's house. We made soba from scratch using a large grinding stone (far right), and cooked some Giant hornets, which are definitely the tastiest insect I've tried in Japan so far (the photo to the near right shows the party menu, and the frozen hornets waiting to be cooked.
Party dishes (photos left to right): Kaki-age (vegetables, usually thinly sliced onions and carrots, fried in a light batter) using the final instal of the giant hornet larvae; Taki-komi-gohan (a bit like risotto - the rice is steam cooked with other ingredients) using the youngest larvae, which are softer in texture.
I also went on a field trip during the week-long conference about a topic that I find really interesting - even though it has little or nothing to do with edible insects.
The field trip was about the Fuji-ko pilgrimage tradition. When people began to climb Mt Fuji they had to walk for days just to reach the foot of the mountain before beginning their ascent. Climbing to the summit was considered to be a kind of 'living death', and various purification rituals were observed along the way. Yet, women were considered inherently unclean and forbidden from climbing to the summit. This began to change in the mid-19th century, as more and more pilgrim groups began to accept women as fellow climbers.
Umagaeshi, the point at which horses could go no further up the mountain
June began with the annual meeting of the Japan Vespula society.
(Photos clockwise from top left) Rice fields and mountains on the way to the meeting; The meeting, with 22 attendants representing different villages across 4 prefectures (no female members other than myself); A hive made specially for Vespula and on sale for 8000JPY at a shop in Higashishirakawa (Professor Nonaka bought it for me, so I will have a brand new hive to keep hornets in this summer); Lunch after the meeting: sashimi, locally grown vegetables, and hornet sushi.
Later in June we presented a poster at the 14th Global Conference of the International Association for the Society of the Commons (IASC), which was held at the foot of Mount Fuji.
Photos (clockwise from top left): A view of Mount Fuji on the way to the conference; Offering people the chance to try hachi-no-ko (hornet larvae prepared with soy sauce and mirin) at our poster presentation session; A couple of figures used on the poster handout showing (1) the annual life cycle of 'hero' (hornets) and how humans practice a form of 'semi-domestication' for part of the year and (2) a map of insects consumed across Japan drawn by Yanahara Nozomi and also used in an article written by Professor Nonaka; The poster that we presented.
The path between umagaeshi and the first station.
We visited fish markets (which don't smell of fish) to see how the fresh catch is auctioned off as soon as the boats come to shore.
In order to make sure they are getting the best price, buyers at different local markets communicate with each other to compare catch and prices. Some of them also have a network of friends on the fishing boats themselves, so they know the quantity and quality of fish to expect even before they land. This is all done over the internet or by mobile phone.
We visited an Abalone cultivation farm: In order to preserve abalone stocks, young abalone are raised and then released into the wild. Some are raised to maturity and sold as farmed abalone, although wild abalone reach a higher price.
Abalone are traditionally caught by divers known as 'Ama' who are mostly women and who do not use any diving equipment - they hold their breath, and dive deep, as far down as 80ft, to find abalone, an expensive delicacy. There are still many women divers today and the use of diving equipment by abalone divers is banned in many areas. However, the number of divers is decreasing as the perception of jobs in fisheries is fairly negative among young people.