Recently while I was weeding the garden, I skewered a snake on my pitchfork... It was a 'mamushi', the most poisonous snake around here (so I'm told), easily recognisable by its pattern and triangular-shaped head. It was still moving, but had a huge metal spike going right through its body, so killing it seemed like the kindest option. I tried to cut it in half with my spade and even a pair of shears, but it was surprisingly stubborn and by the time it finally stopped writhing I felt like an incompetent executioner...I put it in my fridge and the next day peeled its skin and fed it to my wasps, who seemed to like it.
But apparently this wasn't the right thing to do at all! Because of the strong poison it contains, this species is considered medicinal and is used as a cure for all sorts of things. According to several people in the neighbourhood, I should have put it in a bottle of shochu (distilled liquor), preferably while it was still alive.
Fortunately I've also been told that 'where there's one mamushi, there's always another', because they live in pairs (Sweet. Monogamous snakes. According to Wikipedia, though, in many snake species the males are monogamous while the females are polygamous.). So, from now on, when I'm working in the garden, I'll be on the lookout for another snake - and this time, it's going in shochu.
The typhoon season has begun, so on mornings like today when the rain means I cant work in the garden, I'll do my best to get back to writing this blog regularly again.
Today is the 'Kushi-matsuri'! Thisroughly translates as the 'skewer festival', but it's also a play on the name 'Kushihara'. The image above is a poster I made for the 'kushi-mushi' products for sale - skewered grasshoppers (below left) and hebo goheimochi (below right).
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!
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)
After the conference, I went on a research trip to look at small scale fisheries on the coast of the Boso peninsula, in Chiba prefecture. Again, not directly connected to edible insects, but fish are a natural resources that are harvested for food in Japan and in some cases 'semi-domesticated' (well - cultivated).
Photos (above, clockwise from top left): A buyer checking the morning's catch at a fish market; The head of the local fisheries cooperative showing us his semi-cultivated young abalones; A live abalone waiting to be cooked; The tuna auction at Tsukuji, Tokyo; Karaoke around an indoor barbecue.
I arrived in Kushihara 3 weeks ago today, and I will be living here for the next year. The village is quite remote in terms of public transport (one bus service to the nearest train station, which is then another 40 minutes by train from the nearest town) and located at a fairly high altitude; it has a population of approximately 300 households spread across 8 hamlets, with one bank, one very nice camping site (with a shop for supplies and a lunch/afternoon karaoke café– and a mini golf course!), and one extremely nice onsen (hot spring).
Other than farming, the other main sources of employment in the village are three factories (photos below, from left to right): Gobar (ham and other pork products. And occasionally wild boar, too); Kushihara Konyaku (a potato-based low calorie gelatinous food…but please ignore the connotations of that terrible description because it’s actually really nice!) ; and Kushihara factory (which makes seat covers for Toyota cars). There is also a nursery, primary school and elementary school.
I’m here to study the practice of collecting, rearing, harvesting and eating giant hornets, locally known as ‘hebo’ (‘heh-boh’). Please take a look at my research page for a summary of this process! I’m funded by the Japanese Ministry for Education, Sports Science and Technology, and I’m enrolled as a research student at Rikkyo University in Tokyo.
Daily life in the village is brilliant. (Enter this page into google translate for some examples of typical day-to-day events). I am living in a huge family house which by Japanese standards is really very old (over 150 years). When I arrived here no one had even entered the second floor of the house for decades, but my landlord gave me permission to use it so I set to work clearing the place of dust and superfluous furniture, and it’s beginning to turn into a place that can be used for social occasions (and as my own study room!) – which is perfect. There’s still a lot of work to be done though, in terms of cleaning and renovating – but it’s nice to have a work in progress, and a project that gives me a break from research.
Here's a photo of the second floor ->
<- And here's a photo from the outside.
We have quite a bit of land, so I’ve also been experimenting with farming on a very small scale. My housemate, Megumi, grows all sorts of fruit and vegetables so I didn't want to replicate what she was doing but also I did want to make the most of the fact that I have an entire year here and can literally start putting down roots. So, when I arrived here I planted lots of herbs, none of which grew – but I also planted flowers, and I now have endless pots of tiny sunflower plants. I planted beetroots as well, because i love beetroots…and I have a few vegetables growing that were given to me as seedlings (aubergine, hot peppers, tomatoes).
In terms of research, I have recently been working through the paperwork from meetings of a nationwide summit on giant hornet management dating from 1997-2010, and gathering this data together into a poster presentation for a conference next week. I’ve also been working on translating a short summary of the recent FAO report on edible insects.
I'm writing a daily blog about life in Kushihara, the village where I'm currently living, and it's here - http://libertyruthjp.weebly.com/2608535352.html The text is all Japanese but there are photos too, and Google translate gives an entertaining interpretation of it all