I'm taking a break from writing because I've recently been given the privlege/responsibility of looking after a fairly big garden! So each morning before the day really begins, step by step, I'm trying to make things grow. Which leaves little time for writing anything here. Back soon!
This photo shows the basic layout for the area where the main* hatsubon events in the house take place.
After arranging the flowers and cleaning the tableware , further jobs included:
*You could easily argue that the events going on in the 'ura' is just as (if not more) important than those in the omote ('front')...the 'ura' being the place where the preparations occur - usually only seen/experienced only by women (and, it turns out, men who are exhausted by the day's events)...but, privacy is the prerogative of those in the ura :)
Today is 'Obon', usually translated as the 'Festival of Lanterns' (online dictionary) or a 'Japanese Buddhist custom to honour the spirit of one's ancestors' (Wikipedia).
Today is also the first Obon since the death of the former owner of the house in which I live, and this is known as 'Hatsubon' (literally - 'the first Obon'). Up until now, I've never known of formalised commemoration events other than funerals. In England we might have memorial services and personal traditions such as visiting graves, but Hatsubon is an event with a set pattern to it that each family is expected to follow, and in Japanese Buddhist tradition, it is the first in a series of commemoration events remembering the deceased.
What does this mean in practice?
Well, I can only explain my experience of events. Preparations began yesterday. My jobs included:
This morning, preparations continue, and my role so far has been to arrange flowers and clean plates:
To be continued!
'If it has a story, it'll sell'
This is something I've heard many times from my professor here in Japan, who recently brought researchers together from across Japan to sell indigenous products, each with its own unique story, at an international conference.
Today, I came across some quantitative evidence to support his words: This site tells the story of a project which began with the question 'does a story raise the objective value of a product?' The leader of the project, an American newspaper columnist called Rob Walker, began by purchasing very cheap, second hand goods, with little or no intrinsic value. He then contacted amateur writers and asked each of them to write a short story involving one of the objects. He then sold the products on eBay. On average, the value of the products rose by 2700%. (That is, according to this article. I couldn't find this figure on the site itself, but after a quick look at some of the examples I don't doubt it.)
So, where is all this going?
Well, reading this reminded me of a conversation I had recently with Takafumi Yokoyama, who does research on edible seaweed in Japan. We talked about making a product that combines 'gifts from the sea' with 'gifts from the mountains' - in short, tsukudani made with seaweed and insects!
So today, I made my first konbu-inago tsukudani. That is,
And to add to the story a bit (well, actually because it's the only mirin I have at the moment), I used bara-ichigo mirin: A jug of mirin to which I added wild berries collected from nearby forests. It has been sitting absorbing the wild berry taste for a couple of months now, which gives the mirin such a good taste that it can be drunk alone, like a sweet dessert wine.
*(Examples of the 'products with stories' sold at the conference: 5 different species of seaweed from 5 different locations across Japan; leather goods made with the skin of deer and wild boar culled to control crop raiding, an increasing problem in rural Japan; tables made with the wood of 80-year old cedars harvested sustainably from the mountain village where I live; bird perches made from offcuts of the ancient cedar trees used to rebuild Ise Jingu shrine; snacks made with lard from 'Agu' livestock that is unique to Okinawa; and of course edible insects. Each product had information to accompany it, and yes, they sold well!)
For no particular reason, I've decided to try and write my Japanese blog in English as well. And I'm beginning with this post, about cockroach soup (in fact, maybe cockroach soup is the reason).
Why would anyone in the entire world want to consume cockroach soup????
WHO would even think of it?
Well, according to a book (written in Japanese and published in 2005) entitled 'That cockroach thing' (very rough translation), ENGLISH people used to eat cockroaches…!! Who? Well, Londoners and sailors, in short. The London method involved removing the heads and guts of the cockroach, and then frying it in oil with a little salt and pepper. The sailor method, as far as I understand, was to simply throw a bunch of cockroaches into a saucepan of boiling water, add any mixture of flavoured soup ingredients, and…well. There you have it - cockroach soup, sailor-style.
It doesn't sound particularly delicious, but then again, for all I know, cockroaches may be more delectable than they appear. I think silkworm are an ideal snack, but I know many people who say that just the appearance of these insects makes them feel ill and they can't consider them as food.
Where do our food taboos come from? Why is it that I am more than happy to taste Japanese insects cooked according to traditional recipes, yet am repulsed by the idea of my own country's apparent historical entomophagous cuisine?
And could it be for the same reason that so many people of my generation in Japan, even those who have travelled to many different countries and tried many different foods, tell me they don't even want to try Japanese edible insects? But what is that reason?
Hm. Either way, I suppose I really ought to try cockroach soup.
In other news, here are some recent photos from the countryside:
And some photos taken on recent trips to Tokyo and Niigata (for Fuji Rock!)..
And some photos from a trip to Kyoto (for the International Geographical Union Annual Conference) and Nagoya (for a really interesting lecture at Nagoya University by Professor Meyer-Rochow)