i like to tell people sometimes that living an amazing, fulfilling life in izu is the simplest thing you could imagine. it requires only a few basic tenants.
since she arrived in japan, my girlfriend has been asking me if i could find some time to take her to tokyo. she is new to japan, and her enthusiasm is admirable. which is to say, i totally understand her reasoning for wanting to go. when she returns home, her friends and family are more than likely going to ask her the usual battery of ridiculous questions, and to be unable to answer them would be embarassing.
- did anyone try to grope you on the train?
- how did you use chopsticks for so long?
- did you see any ninjas?
- how was the sushi?
- are you radioactive now?
- what was tokyo like?
when your family expects an impressive story about the capital of japan and you respond with “i didn’t go to tokyo because my boyfriend was busy,” you end up looking the fool. how did you go to japan and not end up in tokyo one time?
guess who is really awesome at taking food photos.
i’ll give you a hint: if you guessed me, you are absolutely wrong.
lately, i’ve been perusing all kinds of awesome food blogs in all reaches of the blogosphere, and quite a few have left an impression on me. some of the huge ones that have really inspired me are one man’s meat, cottage grove house, and simple provisions. every time i read those blogs, i think “jeez, look at these pictures. there is no way in heck i could take food photos that look that good.”
but today, i finally thought, “maybe it is time to try to take some food photos that do look that good.”
i would apologize for the pun in the title, but i’m not really that sorry. i like puns.
as summer draws to a close, fall is starting to descend upon us here on the glorious izu peninsula. the weather is getting a little chillier, the wind is starting to pick up, and nature is beginning to throw yet another astounding seasonal bounty in our direction.
spring in japan in beautiful. summer in japan is beautiful. even winter in japan is beautiful. but fall makes them all pale in comparison. the color of the mountains, the golden waving fields of plump rice, and the harvest moon all seem to invite even the most lowly foreigner (i.e. me) to get out and see japan in all of its natural glory.
needless to say, i accepted the invitation. this last weekend, i went out to the bamboo forest, and between drinking and barbecuing and eating tasty treats, we all found the time to wander across some okazawa-san’s land and see what mama nature had to offer.
the highlights? a whole boatload of chestnuts, a few bulbs of myoga, a hitch-hiking female mantis, and a beautiful lady who (despite being a little hungover from the prior night of partying) saw fit to grace me with her company. all in all, a superb day.
have any fellow fall lovers caught wind of autumn in other parts of the world? throw me a story or two in the comment section below whenever you get the chance.
don’t worry. this isn’t a post about the japanese language. i do my best to avoid writing those because they are, on the whole, excruciatingly boring for anybody who isn’t a devoted student of the japanese language.
this is a post about japan and its attitude towards food. while it would be so easy to slam you over the head with one anecdote after another in an attempt to illustrate all kinds of taboos and mores, i am of the opinion that a single word might actually accomplish a deeper understanding of the lesson i want to convey.
when translated literally, itadakimasu means something along the lines of “i will partake.” the phrase is beautifully vague and pretty darn confusing due to the omission of any discernible object which would undertake the verb “partake.”
japanese children say it before they dig into school lunch every day. eighty year old japanese men say it before chomping down on a beautiful piece of sushi between bottles upon bottles of japanese sake. itadakimasu is a word which transcends age in a highly ageist society. it is used without thought in nearly every situation involving food or drink in modern japanese society, regardless of time of day, formality, or company.
when i ask the children i teach why they say itadakimasu and what exactly they are “partaking” in, they almost always give me the same reply: “we are giving our thanks to the nice old ladies that made our lunches from scratch.” they aren’t wrong. most people in japan use itadakimasu to mean something along the lines of “thank you for making this beautiful meal, i’m going to dig in now.” based on such an explanation, the japanese stigma behind wasting food starts to make sense. it is almost common sense that you should never waste any part of a meal that someone worked hard to prepare just for you. in other words, it is bad to waste because it is bad to be rude.
they aren’t wrong, but they aren’t quite right, either. i fell in love with this word when it was explained to me by a weekend farmer and fellow teacher. when i asked him what exactly he “partakes” in, his answer was simple:
he explained to me that every living thing in this world has a life, and in order to consume it, we have to end that life. cooking is, in a way, a manner of manipulating the life force of this world.
he told me that this is the reason why japanese cuisine has valued the integrity of its ingredients for so long. traditional japanese cuisine augments its ingredients, it doesn’t cover them. some japanese people joke that the only spices they use are soy sauce, mirin, japanese sake, dried fish, and hot water. and most of them, especially the elderly folks, know that there is more than an element of truth to such a joke.
when he explained all this to me, the real reason for the japanese stigma behind wasting food made sense to me all of the sudden. it isn’t a waste to end the life of a living thing, make it into food, and then not consume that food. it is a tragedy. by cooking, we shape the life force we harvest from nature, and by eating, we give the action meaning.
if you have read this whole long-winded post so far, i have a quick favor to ask of you. i’m not some weirdo who is going to demand that you start saying itadakimasu before every meal. i’m not going to force you go out and become a vegan. i won’t even tell you you should try to eat more japanese food.
all i ask is that every time you buy groceries, cook a meal, or eat at a restaurant, take a split-second to appreciate each and every one of the myriad ingredients. because they are giving their beautiful lives to you in an effort to help you appreciate the beauty of yours.
we could all learn a lesson or two from our good friend the snail.
last weekend, while i looking after two grills, my friend reiko was washing dishes and found this little dude hanging out in the sink. she hates snails, so she freaked out and called me over to take him off of the pot he was clinging to.
but let’s be honesty, here. snails don’t hurt anybody. they don’t have stress in their lives. they don’t even understand the concept of stress. they just chug along from one place to the next without a care in the world. and if they happen to get caught in a place they shouldn’t be and flung into the woods or a nearby bush, they don’t hold any grudges.
i think sometimes we get so wrapped in the big, grand schemes in life that we forget to live it up. don’t ever let yourself become a victim of your own humdrum, hard-and-fast routine. take some time out every day to appreciate the little things (like this snail i felt the insatiable need to photograph) and they will provide you with a much needed breath of fresh air.
and don’t forget to go adventuring as often as you can. even if it is the comfort of your own home, do something new every day. if you feel like clinging to the bottom of a pot you don’t own in a sink you have never been to before, go ahead and cling.
happy cooking, and have a great (see: tiny, adventurous) day.
for most people in japan, tanabata is a time to go to festivals, eat food that comes on sticks, and drink beer or other refreshing beverages. for my friends, however, it is a time to go out in the middle of the nature, fire up the shichirins, and cook so much food that we could feed the russian army twice over.
everybody brought a little something to the party, and while we all thought what we brought was humdrum and average, somehow the sum of all of our dishes made for one of the most elegant and refined meals i have had in a long time. the following is a list, in order, of what we cooked.