Divine Bounty

SpringCherryJapan

Like the U.S., Japan has four seasons–spring, summer, winter and fall. Unlike the U.S., Japanese culture and cuisine inexorably ties with the changing of the seasons, and the country’s agricultural roots. With each season come specific customs and celebrations using locally produced foods representative of the season. Japanese chefs pride themselves on using the freshest, most seasonal ingredients as a celebration of time of year, abundance and major events in the lives of children, health and happiness. It is the closest link between urban dwellers and agriculture I have seen. Even with most Japanese people generations off the farm, they honor and celebrate food and agriculture each time they eat traditional cuisine.

A trip to the Tsukiji Outer Market yesterday morning revealed an amazing variety of fish and seasonal veggies from throughout Japan. Thanks to Ito-sensei, who brought along friend Nami Fukutome, Ph.D, an  instructor and specialist in Japanese cuisine, the guided tour allowed me to understand fresh food in Japan at a completely new level. While wandering, we ran into Nami’s friend Naoyuki Yanagihara, a food writer and private culinary instructor. Mr. Yanagihara shared that he comes to the market nearly every day, to find inspiration and tap creativity to create recipes and food art for his columns and his students. Inspiration, indeed. So much fresh, beautiful abundance, right at your fingertips. Even this amateur cook was in heaven.

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Fugu (pufferfish), used in sushi, can be lethally poisonous due to its tetrodotoxin; therefore, it must be carefully prepared to remove toxic parts and to avoid contaminating the meat. This is one fish I probably won’t try while here, although so far I’ve tried everything I’ve been offered. The most difficult so far were sea urchin and salmon roe. Both were delicious once I got over how they looked!

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Tell me, O Octopus, I begs
Is those things arms, or is they legs?
I marvel at thee, Octopus;
If I were thou, I’d call me Us.
~ Ogden Nash

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Fresh, high-quality wasabi, marked at 22,000 yen (that’s about $221 USD). You have to love your wasabi to pay that much for it!

My understanding of the role natural seasons, agriculture and food plays in Japanese culture became further enhanced when we traveled to Ichikawa City to visit the Shira Hata ten Jinjya (a Shinto shrine). Here I became indebted to one of Ito-sensei’s former students. Kiyoshi Suzuki, Ph.D., is both a lecturer in Local Community Policy at Seigakuin University, and a priest. He and his sister explained that celebrations at the shrine revolve around thanks for blessings of agricultural harvest, and food provided by farmers. The tenets of Shinto involve a constant celebration of the seasonal flow, providing Japanese people with the blessings of rich, bountiful lives and abundance. Deeply indebted to the blessings of nature, the Japanese people come to shrines to acknowledge spiritual powers which bring about life, fertility, and prosperity. Within the belief that divine blessings come through the natural seasons, food becomes instrumental in celebration of abundance and blessings. A divine spirit (God) resides in nature and brings joy and bounty to life through nature. Rice and sake play key roles in these celebrations (and reminded me of how we honor Christ through bread and wine in Christianity).

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Shinto priest (and Ph.D) Mr. Kiyoshi Suzuki leads the way out of the shrine gate.

Purifying hands and mouth before entering the shrine.

After freshly made sushi for breakfast at the market, I had another fantastic lunch and traditional supper yesterday (I’ve got to stop eating like this…oh, wait, no I don’t!) At lunch, I was able to taste many different varieties of beef produced here in Japan, several of them non-traditional Japanese beef products, over a conversation about cattle breeds and types of beef with Yamamoto-san, president of Good Tables, Ltd. Yamamoto-san writes a popular blog about cattle and beef.

GoodTables Yamamoto lunch

Among the types of beef I tasted: Shorthorn, Waygu, Kumamoto Kuyushi prefecture, and Holstein. All had been dry aged.

The beef arrives at the table perfectly prepared–juicy and full of flavor.

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Thank you to Watanabe-san, president of Eisenhower Fellows of Japan, and also CEO and President of Japan Petroleum Exploration Co, Ltd, (with his hand on my shoulder) for hosting supper last night with the Japan EF Selection Committee. Guests also included Kiyoko Fujii-san, the first female Eisenhower Fellow from Japan. My friends and extraordinary experience planners Fukutome-sensei, Takeichi-san and Ito-sensei are also pictured (to my left and up, respectively.)

I have to share something that some of you may find inappropriate (that’s the disclaimer, stop reading now if you don’t like bio-functions.) But, my responsibility to inform readers about my true experience in Japan necessitates, even demands, that I share this with you, in case you should encounter it. It is a Japanese squat toilet. Nuf said.

JapaneseSquatToilet

 

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4 thoughts on “Divine Bounty

  1. This is a great post. I have been sharing each post with Colton and he loves finding Ms. Polly and Mr. Randy in all the pictures. 🙂 He was also quite amused by Ryan’s term ‘squatty potty’! Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience with us, it is a great opportunity to learn about another culture and important consumer of US beef.

  2. Very neat that sake is a sacrament to the Japanese people who celebrate Shinto. Unfiltered sake is my favorite – try it out there if you haven’t already! That squatty-potty looks very low to the ground. Hopefully it wasn’t difficult to do your business. 😉 So glad you’re learning so much about agriculture and food while there.

  3. I distinctly remember in an earlier blog that you advised ladies to wear panty hose. Re: squat toilets, was that a set up? M. Armie

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