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August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, especially  in places like Tohoku and Kanto regions.  August is also  the most contentious month of the year in Japan; with the end of the war and war-related guilt.    Then there's the great exodus back home for millions of Japanese.   Obon season is what it's called in Japan, and it's  where families return to their hometowns to remember their ancestors and to spend time with loved ones.  Gravestones are visited, cleaned, and washed; rice or alcohol is often placed on  miniature altars next to a  headstone.  This is a way for Japanese to reconnect with their roots; a way for them to stay grounded and founded in the ways of tradition and cultural protocol.   

For the foreign tourist, some places will be overcrowded and expensive to reach; for Japanese, this is normal and can't be helped.   Wherever you go there will be lines and h…
Recent posts

Lady Kaga: The Beauty of Ishikawa, Kanazawa Japan!

Yeah...I've become a bit of a foodie over the years.    Kanazawa Prefecture is more refined than Tokyo, and it's not because people do things better up in Kanazawa, but because this is the 'Little Kyoto' of the North.   Names and associations have more meaning than authenticity.    This part of Japan prides itself on NOT being Tokyo and its cuisine reflects it.    


I love me some deep purple soy sauce, a regional feature of this area.   It's sweet and murky and adds the perfect nuance to sushi.



Sushi up here rocks.  Chefs add a healthy pinch of sushi rice and the rest is all meaty goodness.    In Tokyo they add too much rice to everything including other food items.    And up here, they either serve sushi on a beautiful wooden table, or a decorative tray.   Who needs plates?  Wood is god here in Japan, never forget that.

Who needs a private bath at home when you have this communal bath.   This is spiritual power station and one could easily be energized and reliev…

Camping in the Dark Coldness in Autumn "Tohoku"

Nearing October 1st, Sake Day, is when most of your sake lovers get-together to organize the sake rice harvest for the year, usually around the last week of September.    Unlike last year, our group decided to enjoy a nice camp-out in the crisp chilly autumn air in Takizawa in Iwate Prefecture, near the border of Akita before harvesting sake rice the next morning.    It was a nice experience for me, as always, to be with the locals who are all born and raised in the local area.

This will be my 6th year planting, harvesting,  and brewing sake rice all over Japan for a number of breweries - literally.   Now, this year the plan was really nice.  We camped out near an onsen ( hot spring spa) surrounded by a lush green valley.    We had about 30 members this time around and a half a dozen tents were pitched before nightfall.   Many of us were in the outdoor bath after dusk while the chefs worked on the grills.



While in the bath I had reflected on my camping expeditions years ago!  From Y…

The Neo Traditionalist of Japan: Nihonshu(ist)

For years my travels have taken me to the 'real' Japan.    What is that you say?   The real Japan is what you see every day, right?  You mean, those dead lifeless zombies you call salarymen who squeeze onto packed trains daily?   Nope.  Hell no...  That's called sacrifice.




Maybe it's the cosplayers and cross dressers that make Tokyo great for you, to each his/her own.  Again, not for me.  I much prefer real people and real situations.  Like when visiting a soba house in the sticks and eating hand-made soba from a person who, over the course of 20 or 30 years, has acquired a mastery of soba cutting and who is consistently good at his craft years after year.


I love the long stretches of road that run through rice fields, and all you can see is rice stalks for miles and miles.     It's worth it for me, especially with friends who share the same addiction.   We all travel down a road somewhere in our lives.  I love old Niigata roads.


In Japan, the food is beloved the…

Sea Urchin & Japanese sake

I am writing about sea urchin, the prickly black spiny sea creature that's sweet and creamy to eat.  The Japanese absolutely adore them for their texture and briny goodness.   When sea urchin is paired with a nicely chilled bottle of summer sake, you get the perfect opus.    There are two ways to eat urchin.  First way would be to bake them over heated charcoal; low and slow.   Make sure they are opened up before you bake them.   The natural salts in the sea urchin bake into the meaty parts and give almost a creamy pudding like texture.    You can spoon it right out of the shell and know that this is the only way to really enjoy eating it.  


This trip to Aomori was during what's called " umi-no-hi, or oceans day" a minor holiday on the Japanese calendar.  Almost no Japanese observe this day for its namesake, instead, most families spend time with friends and family, some say it's the start of the beach going season.    For me, this day is the days when I conquer…

The Beauty of Shizukuishi!

The month of May is when some breweries plant their rice stalks, so I decided since it was Golden Week to head up to Iwate Prefecture to take part in my bi-annual rice planting work.  I enjoy the manual labor of planting individual seedlings in neat rows two at a time.  It's back breaking work, but it's fun as hell.  Watch the video of the Akita Shinkansen passing by our rice field.  It's so close!




In the picture above is the Akita Shinkansen passing our rice terrace.  So close you could touch it.  People were poking their heads through the window when they saw me, some in awe.  No visit to Japan would be complete without taking part in a rice planting event.   This one was epic.


The rice that was planted is called Miyama Nishiki, a true sakamai ( sake rice) which has been used to make a number of great world-class sake.   Think Nanbu Bijin! ( southern beauty).   This is a very hardy and robust rice grain that has been refined over the years.    First, everybody stands s…

Mapping the Country. Saving its Soul.

No.  He and I are not buddies, but I could say we are at least acquaintances.  Every now and then a gentleman will come along and greet me.  He'll ask me the same questions a hundred others like him ask me.  And I'll give the same responses I always give every person like him who asks me.   In other words, I will always be a foreign guest in Japan no matter how long I live here.   And that's okay with me.  I like being a  guest.  

Although this post is not necessarily about this person, but more of a lead up to what I want to blog about.   Mr. B is what I'll call this guy.   Japanese men have a refined dignity about them that they show in how they dress and how they carry themselves.   Most are pleasant and polite with the occasional crazy person sitting somewhere neatly dressed.   Mr. B is an alright guy to me though.


So he stands up out of his chair and opens his jacket to reveal his physically fit midriff to me.   I thought I said Japanese men were dignified...?  …

Taste of Osaka

Good food can be had just about on every corner of the globe, in Osaka, good in the sense if you love batter fried cakes filled with vegetables and savory flavors.    Whenever I am sent out on assignment to Osaka city, I always spend the entire day walking round town  sampling a variety of food dishes.   In the Japanese language, it's called [ Tabe - aruki ] where you visit different restaurants in the local area.

In the above photo is a dish called [oko-no-miyaki] a savory Japanese pancake made with chopped cabbage, ginger, and whatever other ingredients you can think of, including meats.   I love my batter fried cakes filled with pork and vegetables.   The sauces at the top are a thick sweet soy flavored soysauce, mayo, and dollop of spicy mustard.  Yum.



This one has fatty bacon infused in it with the same vegetable goodness. For the two photos above, you can find the restaurant next to Abiko Station in Osaka.The restaurant is called "Okonomiyaki House."




Hachi-maru-hac…