Apr 072018
 

Today is the birthday (1506) of Francis Xavier, S.J. (born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta) co-founder of the Society of Jesus, companion of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits who took vows of poverty and chastity at Montmartre, Paris in 1534. He led an extensive mission into Asia, mainly in the Portuguese empire of the time, and was influential in Christian evangelizing, most notably in India.

Xavier was born in the royal castle of Xavier, in the kingdom of Navarre. He was the youngest son of Juan de Jasso y Atondo, seneschal of Xavier castle, who came from a prosperous farming family and had received a doctorate in law at the University of Bologna, and later became privy counsellor and finance minister to King John III of Navarre (Jean d’Albret). Francis’s mother was Doña María de Azpilcueta y Aznárez, sole heiress of two noble Navarrese families. He was thus related to the great theologian and philosopher Martín de Azpilcueta.

In 1512, Ferdinand, king of Aragon and regent of Castile, invaded Navarre, initiating a war that lasted over 18 years. Three years later, Francis’ father died when Francis was only 9 years old. In 1516, Francis’ brothers participated in a failed Navarrese-French attempt to expel the Spanish invaders from the kingdom. The Spanish governor, cardinal Cisneros, confiscated the family lands, demolished the outer wall, the gates, and two towers of the family castle, and filled in the moat. In addition, the height of the keep was reduced by half. Only the family residence inside the castle was left. In 1525, Francis went to study in Paris at the Collège Sainte-Barbe, University of Paris, where he spent the next 11 years. In the early days he acquired some reputation as an athlete.

In 1529, Francis shared lodgings with his friend Pierre Favre. A new student, Ignatius of Loyola, came to room with them. At 38, Ignatius was much older than Pierre and Francis, who were both 23 at the time. Ignatius convinced Pierre to become a priest, but was unable convince Francis, who had aspirations of worldly advancement. At first Francis regarded the new lodger as a joke and was sarcastic about his efforts to convert students.  When Pierre left their lodgings to visit his family and Ignatius was alone with Francis, he was able to slowly break down Francis’ resistance. In 1530 Francis received the degree of Master of Arts, and afterwards taught Aristotelian philosophy at Beauvais College, University of Paris.

On 15 August 1534, seven students met in a crypt beneath the Church of Saint Denis (now Saint Pierre de Montmartre), in Montmartre outside Paris. They were Francis, Ignatius of Loyola, Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Laínez, Nicolás Bobadilla from Spain, Peter Faber from Savoy, and Simão Rodrigues from Portugal. They made private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Pope, and also vowed to go to the Holy Land to convert Muslims. Francis began his study of theology in 1534 and was ordained on 24th June 1537. In 1539, after long discussions, Ignatius drew up a formula for a new religious order, the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).  Ignatius’ plan for the order was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540.

In 1540 king John III of Portugal had Pedro Mascarenhas, Portuguese ambassador to the Vatican, request Jesuit missionaries to spread the faith in his new Indian possessions, where the king believed that Christian values were eroding among the Portuguese. After successive appeals to the Pope asking for missionaries for the East Indies under the Padroado agreement, John III was encouraged by Diogo de Gouveia, rector of the Collège Sainte-Barbe, to recruit the newly graduated students who had established the Society of Jesus. Loyola promptly appointed Nicholas Bobadilla and Simão Rodrigues. At the last moment, however, Bobadilla became seriously ill. With some hesitance and uneasiness, Ignatius asked Francis to go in Bobadilla’s place. Thus, Xavier accidentally began his life as the first Jesuit missionary. Leaving Rome on 15th March 1540, in the Ambassador’s train, Francis took with him a breviary, a catechism, and De Institutione bene vivendi by Croatian humanist Marko Marulić, a Latin book that had become popular in the Counter-Reformation. According to a 1549 letter of F. Balthasar Gago in Goa, it was the only book that Francis read or studied. Francis reached Lisbon in June 1540 and four days after his arrival, he and Rodrigues were summoned to a private audience with the king and queen.

Xavier devoted much of his life to missions in Asia, mainly in four centers: Malacca, Amboina and Ternate, Japan, and China. His growing information about new places indicated to him that he should go to what he understood were centers of influence for the whole region. China loomed large from his days in India. Japan was particularly attractive because of its culture. For him, these areas were interconnected and could not be evangelized separately.

Xavier left Lisbon on 7th April 1541, his 35th birthday, along with two other Jesuits and the new viceroy Martim Afonso de Sousa, on board the Santiago. As he departed, he was given a brief from the pope appointing him apostolic nuncio to the East. From August until March 1542 he remained in Portuguese Mozambique, and arrived in Goa, then capital of Portuguese India on 6th May 1542. Following quickly on the great voyages of discovery, the Portuguese had established themselves at Goa 30 years earlier. Francis primary mission, as ordered by John III, was to restore Christianity among the Portuguese settlers. According to Teotonio R. DeSouza, recent critical accounts indicate that apart from the posted civil servants, “the great majority of those who were dispatched as ‘discoverers’ were the riff-raff of Portuguese society, picked up from Portuguese jails.” Nor did the soldiers, sailors, or merchants come to do missionary work, and Imperial policy permitted the outflow of disaffected nobility. Many of the arrivals formed liaisons with local women and adopted Indian culture. Missionaries often wrote against the “scandalous and undisciplined” behavior of their fellow Christians.

The Christian population had churches, clergy, and a bishop, but there were few preachers and no priests beyond the walls of Goa. Xavier decided that he must begin by instructing the Portuguese themselves, and gave much of his time to the teaching of children. The first five months he spent in preaching and ministering to the sick in the hospitals. After that, he walked through the streets ringing a bell to summon the children and servants to catechism. He was invited to head Saint Paul’s College, a pioneer seminary for the education of secular priests, which became the first Jesuit headquarters in Asia.

Xavier soon learned that along the Pearl Fishery Coast, which extends from Cape Comorin on the southern tip of India to the island of Mannar, off Ceylon (Sri Lanka), there was a group of clans called Paravas. Many of them had been baptized ten years before, merely to please the Portuguese, who had helped them against the Moors, but remained uninstructed in the faith. Accompanied by several native clerics from the seminary at Goa, he set sail for Cape Comorin in October 1542. He taught those who had already been baptized and preached to those who weren’t. His efforts with the high-caste Brahmins were unavailing.

He devoted almost 3 years to the work of preaching to the people of southern India and Ceylon, converting many. He built nearly 40 churches along the coast, including St. Stephen’s Church, Kombuthurai, mentioned in his letters dated 1544. During this time, he was able to visit the tomb of Thomas the Apostle in Mylapore (now part of Madras (Chennai) then in Portuguese India). He set his sights eastward in 1545 and planned a missionary journey to Makassar on the island of Celebes (in today’s Indonesia). As the first Jesuit in India, Francis had difficulty achieving much success in his missionary trips. His successors, such as de Nobili, Matteo Ricci, and Beschi, attempted to convert the noblemen first as a means to influence more people, while Xavier had initially interacted most with the lower classes (later though, in Japan, he changed tack by paying tribute to the Emperor and seeking an audience with him).

In the spring of 1545 Xavier started for Portuguese Malacca. He labored there for the last months of that year. About January 1546, he left Malacca for the Maluku Islands, where the Portuguese had some settlements. For a year and a half he preached the Gospel there. He went first to Ambon Island, where he stayed until mid-June. He then visited other Maluku Islands, including Ternate, Baranura, and Morotai. Shortly after Easter 1547, he returned to Ambon Island; a few months later he returned to Malacca.

In Malacca in December 1547, Xavier met a Japanese man named Anjirō. Anjirō had heard of Francis in 1545 and had travelled from Kagoshima to Malacca to meet him. Having been charged with murder, Anjirō had fled Japan. He told Francis extensively about his former life and the customs and culture of his homeland. Anjirō became the first Japanese Christian and adopted the name of ‘Paulo de Santa Fe’. He later helped Xavier as a mediator and interpreter for the mission to Japan that now seemed much more possible. In January 1548 Francis returned to Goa to attend to his responsibilities as superior of the mission there. The next 15 months were occupied with various journeys and administrative measures. He left Goa on 15 April 1549, stopped at Malacca, and visited Canton. He was accompanied by Anjiro, two other Japanese men, father Cosme de Torrès, and brother João Fernandes. He had taken with him presents for the “King of Japan” since he was intending to introduce himself as the Apostolic Nuncio.

Europeans had already come to Japan: the Portuguese had landed in 1543 on the island of Tanegashima, where they introduced the first firearms to Japan. From Amboina, he wrote to his companions in Europe: “I asked a Portuguese merchant, … who had been for many days in Anjirō’s country of Japan, to give me … some information on that land and its people from what he had seen and heard …. All the Portuguese merchants coming from Japan tell me that if I go there I shall do great service for God our Lord, more than with the pagans of India, for they are a very reasonable people.”

Xavier reached Japan on 27th July 1549, with Anjiro and three other Jesuits, but he was not permitted to enter any port his ship arrived at until 15 August, when he went ashore at Kagoshima, the principal port of Satsuma Province on the island of Kyūshū. As a representative of the Portuguese king, he was received in a friendly manner. Shimazu Takahisa (1514–1571), daimyō of Satsuma, gave a friendly reception to Francis on 29th September 1549, but in the following year he forbade the conversion of his subjects to Christianity under penalty of death. Christians in Kagoshima could not be given any catechism in the following years.

He was hosted by Anjirō’s family until October 1550. From October to December 1550, he resided in Yamaguchi. Shortly before Christmas, he left for Kyoto but failed to meet with the Emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March 1551, where he was permitted to preach by the daimyo of the province. However, lacking fluency in the Japanese language, he had to limit himself to reading aloud the translation of a catechism. Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan as a missionary. He brought with him paintings of the Madonna and the Madonna and Child. These paintings were used to help teach the Japanese about Christianity. There was a huge language barrier as Japanese was unlike other languages the missionaries had previously encountered. For a long time Francis struggled to learn the language.

Having learned that evangelical poverty did not have the appeal in Japan that it had in Europe and in India, he decided to change his approach. Hearing after a time that a Portuguese ship had arrived at a port in the province of Bungo in Kyushu and that the prince there would like to see him, Xavier now set out southward. The Jesuit, in a fine cassock, surplice, and stole, was attended by thirty gentlemen and as many servants, all in their best clothes. Five of them bore valuable articles on cushions, including a portrait of Our Lady and a pair of velvet slippers, these not gifts for the prince, but solemn offerings to Xavier, to impress the onlookers with his eminence. Handsomely dressed, with his companions acting as attendants, he presented himself before Oshindono, the ruler of Nagate, and as a representative of the great kingdom of Portugal offered him the letters and presents, a musical instrument, a watch, and other attractive objects which had been given him by the authorities in India for the emperor.

For 45 years the Jesuits were the only missionaries in Asia, but the Franciscans also began proselytising in Asia as well. Christian missionaries were later forced into exile, along with their assistants. Some were able to stay behind, however Christianity was then kept underground so as to not be persecuted. The Japanese people were not easily converted. Many of the people were Buddhist or Shinto, and did not find concepts such as Purgatory and Hell appealing, especially since Catholic faith confined their dead ancestors to Hell.

Xavier was welcomed by the Shingon monks since he used the word Dainichi for the Christian God, attempting to adapt the concept to local traditions. As Xavier learned more about the religious nuances of the word, he changed to Deusu from the Latin and Portuguese Deus. The monks later realized that Xavier was preaching a rival religion and grew more aggressive towards his attempts at conversion. With the passage of time, his sojourn in Japan could be considered somewhat fruitful in that he established churches in Hirado, Yamaguchi, and Bungo. Xavier worked for more than two years in Japan and saw his successor-Jesuits established. He then decided to return to India. Historians debate the exact path he returned by, but from evidence attributed to the captain of his ship, he may have travelled through Tanegeshima and Minato, and avoided Kagoshima because of the hostility of the daimyo.]During his trip, a tempest forced him to stop on an island near Guangzhou, China where he met Diogo Pereira, a rich merchant and an old friend from Cochin. Pereira showed him a letter from Portuguese prisoners in Guangzhou, asking for a Portuguese ambassador to speak to the Chinese Emperor on their behalf. Later during the voyage, he stopped at Malacca on 27th December 1551, and was back in Goa by January 1552.

On 17th April he set sail with Diogo Pereira on the Santa Cruz for China. He planned to introduce himself as Apostolic Nuncio and Pereira as ambassador of the king of Portugal. But then he realized that he had forgotten his testimonial letters as an Apostolic Nuncio. Back in Malacca, he was confronted by the capitão Álvaro de Ataíde da Gama who now had total control over the harbor. The capitão refused to recognize his title of Nuncio, asked Pereira to resign from his title of ambassador, named a new crew for the ship, and demanded the gifts for the Chinese Emperor be left in Malacca. In late August 1552, the Santa Cruz reached the Chinese island of Shangchuan, 14 km away from the southern coast of mainland China, near Taishan, Guangdong, 200 km south-west of what later became Hong Kong. At this time, he was accompanied only by a Jesuit student, Álvaro Ferreira, a Chinese man called António, and a Malabar servant called Christopher. Around mid-November he sent a letter saying that a man had agreed to take him to the mainland in exchange for a large sum of money. Having sent back Álvaro Ferreira, he remained alone with António. He died in Shangchuan from a fever on 3rd December 1552, while he was waiting for a boat that would take him to mainland China. His relics are preserved in a number of shrines in Asia.

It may seem odd for me as an ordained Christian minister to express my disapproval of Xavier’s, or any missionary’s work, and I could get in trouble for doing so with my superiors. But I am going to do it anyway. The Catholic Church (and others) used conversion to Christianity as one of many vehicles of colonial subjugation of conquered peoples. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Americas. Asia, thank God (literally), was more resilient. Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto religions etc. were much more widespread than local religious traditions in other places, and were supported by rich and powerful rulers. These rulers knew quite well that stripping away centuries-old faiths that had been their own partners in control of the masses would weaken their control, and so they resisted mightily. I also disapprove because the foundation of Christianity is love, and if a Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim preaches love in the name of a religion that is not named Christianity, it amounts to the same thing, and should be left alone.

For Xavier I have chosen the Navarrese dish, porrusalda (literally, “leek broth”) for several reasons. First, it would have been well known to Xavier. Second, in basic form it is a Lenten dish bespeaking humility and simplicity, as befits a Jesuit. Third, I love leeks. It is really a form of leek and potato soup, but with some twists. The leeks should be the dominant flavor, and many other things can be added besides potatoes. Nowadays, carrots are a usual addition, as was pumpkin at one time. You can also add salt cod or meat – as you desire. It’s all up to you as long as the leek flavor predominates.  It is traditional to use water as the cooking liquid, but you can also use vegetable stock.

Porrusalda

Ingredients

3 large leeks
400 gm peeled and diced potatoes
200 gm peeled and diced carrots
2 or 3 spring onions, sliced
olive oil
salt

Instructions

Sauté the onions and leeks in a little olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot until they are soft. Add water (or broth) to cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and add the potatoes and carrots. Continue to simmer until the potatoes and carrots are cooked (another 15 minutes). Add more olive oil to taste and check the seasoning.

Some cooks mash the potatoes before serving to give the soup more body. You can also add a dollop of cream.

Mar 032018
 

Today is Hinamatsuri (雛祭り Hina-matsuri), also called Doll’s Day or Girls’ Day, one of 5 special days in Japan. Platforms covered with a red carpet-material are used to display a set of ornamental dolls (雛人形 hina-ningyō) representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period. Hinamatsuri is one of the five seasonal festivals (五節句 go-sekku) that are held on auspicious dates of the Chinese calendar: the first day of the first month, the third day of the third month, and so on. After the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, these were fixed on 1st January, 3rd March, 5th May, 7th July, and 9th September. The festival was traditionally known as the Peach Festival (桃の節句 Momo no Sekku), because peach trees typically began to flower around this time following the old Japanese luni-solar calendar. Although this is no longer true since the shift to Gregorian dates, the name remains and peaches are still symbolic of the festival.

The primary aspect of Hinamatsuri is the display of seated male and female dolls (the obina (男雛) and mebina (女雛), literally “male doll” and “female doll” respectively, which represent a Heian period wedding, but usually described as the Emperor and Empress of Japan), usually on red cloth. These may be as simple as pictures or folded paper, or intricately carved three-dimensional dolls. More elaborate displays will include a multi-tiered doll stand (雛壇 hinadan) of dolls that represent ladies of the court, musicians, and other attendants, with all sorts of accoutrements. The entire set of dolls and accessories is called the hinazakari (雛盛り). The number of tiers and dolls a family may have depends on their budget.

Families normally ensure that girls have a set of the two main dolls before her first Hinamatsuri. The dolls are usually fairly expensive ($1,500 to $2,500 for a five-tier set, depending on quality) and may be handed down from older generations as heirlooms. The hinazakari spends of most of the year in storage, and girls and their mothers begin setting up the display a few days before 3 March (boys normally do not participate, as 5 May, now Children’s Day was historically called “Boys’ Day”). Traditionally, the dolls were supposed to be put away by the day after Hinamatsuri, because leaving the dolls any longer would supposedlyresult in a late marriage for the daughter, but some families may leave them up for the entire month of March. In practical terms, the encouragement to put everything away quickly is to avoid the rainy season and humidity that typically follow Hinamatsuri. Historically, the dolls were used as toys, but in modern times they are intended for display only. The display of dolls usually discontinues when the girls reach 10 years old.

The actual placement order of the dolls from left to right varies according to family tradition and location, but the order of dolls per level is the same. The layer of covering is called dankake (段掛) or simply hi-mōsen (緋毛氈), a red carpet with rainbow stripes at the bottom.

The Kojiki contains a story where Izanagi, one of the mythical founders of Japan, purifies himself in the river after visiting Yomi, the land of the dead. This is the source of the Shinto purification rites known as o-harae (お祓). In its earliest form, this involved human, animal, property, or food sacrifice, and was punishment for crimes or sin. Archaeological evidence indicates this being done as early as the Kofun period, possibly imported from Shang dynasty China (similar river purification rituals existed in ancient Korea). During the Nara period, sacrifices were seen as barbaric, and the use of pottery, effigies, or monetary offerings became standard. Documentary evidence discovered in Kyoto links these changes to similar practices in Tang dynasty China.

The earliest record of displaying the dolls as part of the Peach Festival comes from 1625, for Emperor Go-Mizunoo’s daughter Oki-ko. Imperial court ladies set up equipment for her to engage in doll play (雛遊び hina asobi). After Oki-ko succeeded her father as the Empress Meishō, Hinamatsuri legally became the name of the holiday in 1687. Doll-makers began making elaborate dolls for the festival (some growing as tall as 3 feet (1 meter) high before laws were passed restricting their size) and over time, the hinazakari evolved to include fifteen dolls and their accessories. As dolls became more expensive, tiers were added to the hinadan so that the expensive ones could be placed out of the reach of young children.

During the Meiji period as Japan began to modernize and the emperor was restored to power, the celebration of Hinamatsuri declined in favor of new holidays that focused on the emperor’s supposed bond with the nation, but it was later revived. By focusing on marriage and families, it represented Japanese hopes and values, and as the dolls were said to represent the emperor and empress, it also fostered respect for the throne. The holiday then spread to other countries via the Japanese diaspora, although it remains confined to immigrant Japanese communities and their descendants.

During Hinamatsuri and the preceding days, girls hold parties with their friends. Typical foods include hina-arare (雛あられ) (rice crackers), chirashizushi (ちらし寿司) (raw fish and vegetables on rice in a bowl or bento box), hishi mochi (菱餅) (multicolored rice cakes), ichigo daifuku (いちご大福) (strawberries wrapped in adzuki bean paste), and ushiojiru (うしお汁) (clam soup, as clam shells represent a joined pair).The customary drink is shirozake (白酒) (lit. “white sake”), also called amazake (甘酒) (lit. “sweet sake”), a non-alcoholic sake.

Making chirashizushi at home is fairly easy provided you are reasonably skilled at making sushi rice. Here is a video for you:

Other recipes can be found here: https://www.justonecookbook.com/hinamatsuri-girls-day-celebration/

If you want to pursue the peach theme there is a Japanese recipe for peach gazpacho here: https://ww2.kqed.org/bayareabites/2013/07/05/the-perfect-peach-recipes-and-stories-from-the-masumoto-family-farm/ I prefer my gazpacho the old-fashioned Andalusian way, but this can make a change once in a while (once a year for me).

Peach Gazpacho    

Ingredients:

6 soft peaches (about 2 ½ lb), peeled, pitted, and quartered
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
1 small clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 tbsp champagne or golden balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ tsp coarse salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
red bell pepper slices and avocado slices, for garnish

Instructions:

In a food processor, combine the peaches, cucumber, garlic, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and ½ cup water and pulse until coarsely puréed. Thin with the remaining ¼ cup water if needed for a good consistency. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to chill thoroughly.

Just before serving, taste and adjust the seasoning with more vinegar, salt, and pepper if needed. Stir in the cilantro. Ladle into bowls, drizzle each serving with a little oil, and garnish with the bell pepper and avocado. Serve at once.

Sep 092017
 

Today is 9-9 (9th of September) in the Gregorian calendar which makes it the double ninth.  In the lunar calendar, used for religious and civic festivals in Asia, the double ninth (ninth day of the ninth lunar month) is an important day which wanders around October in the Gregorian calendar.  But Japan has modified its lunar calendar events to fit the Gregorian calendar, so today is the double ninth there, also called the Chrysanthemum Festival (菊の節句). I’ll take today’s post to look at all Double-Ninth Festivals in Asia even though it’s celebrated only in Japan on this date this year.

According to the I Ching, nine is a yang number. The ninth day of the ninth lunar month (or double nine) has too much yang and is, thus, a potentially dangerous date. Hence, the day is also called “Double Yang Festival” (重陽節). To protect against danger, it is customary to climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum liquor, and wear the zhuyu (茱萸) plant, Cornus officinalis. Both chrysanthemum and zhuyu are considered to have cleansing qualities and are used on other occasions to air out houses and cure illnesses.

On this holiday some Chinese also visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. In Hong Kong, whole extended families head to ancestral graves to clean them and repaint inscriptions, and to lay out food offerings such as roast suckling pig and fruit, which are then eaten (after the spirits have consumed the spiritual element of the food). Chongyang Cake is also popular. Incense sticks are burned. Cemeteries get crowded, and each year grass fires are inadvertently started by the burning incense sticks.

The Chinese origin legend is as follows:

Once there was a man named Huan Jing, who believed that a monster would bring pestilence. He told his countrymen to hide on a hill while he went to defeat the monster. Later, people celebrated Huan Jing’s defeat of the monster on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month.

In 1966, Taiwan rededicated the holiday as “Senior Citizens’ Day”, underscoring one custom as it is observed in China, where the festival is also an opportunity to care for and appreciate the elderly.

Double Ninth may have originated as a day to drive away danger, but like the Chinese New Year, over time it became a day of celebration. In contemporary times it is an occasion for hiking and chrysanthemum appreciation. Stores sell rice cakes (糕 “gāo”, a homophone for height 高) with mini colorful flags to represent zhuyu. Most people drink chrysanthemum tea, while a few traditionalists drink homemade chrysanthemum wine. Children learn poems about chrysanthemums, and many localities host chrysanthemum exhibits. Mountain climbing races are also popular; winners get to wear a wreath made of zhuyu.

In Japan, the festival is known as Chōyō but also as the Chrysanthemum Festival (菊の節句) and is celebrated at both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. There are also traditional sports on the day including crow sumo.

There is an often-quoted Chinese poem about the holiday, Double Ninth, Remembering my Shandong Brothers (九月九日憶山東兄弟), by the Tang Dynasty poet Wang Wei:

獨在異鄉為異客,
dú zài yì xiāng wéi yì kè

每逢佳節倍思親。
měi féng jiā jié bèi sī qīn

遙知兄弟登高處,
yáo zhī xiōng dì dēng gāo chù

遍插茱萸少一人。
biàn chā zhū yú shǎo yī rén

As a lonely stranger in a foreign land,
At every holiday my homesickness increases.
Far away, I know my brothers have reached the peak;
They are wearing the zhuyu, but one is not present.

There are various cakes made for today called Double Ninth cake, also known as “chrysanthemum cake” or “flower cake”. It dates back to the Zhou Dynasty (11th century – 256 BCE). It is said that the cake was originally prepared after autumn harvests for farmers to have a taste of what was just in season, and it gradually became the cake for people to eat on the Double Ninth Day.

The cake was usually made of glutinous rice flour, millet flour or bean flour. In the Tang Dynasty, its surface was usually planted with a small pennant of multi-colored paper and bore at its center the Chinese character “ling” (order). The Double Ninth cake in the Song Dynasty was usually made with great care a few days before the Double Ninth Day, its surface covered with colored pennants and inlaid with Chinese chestnuts, ginkgo seeds, pine nut kernels and pomegranate seeds.

It was considered a nice festive present for relatives or friends. In the Ming Dynasty, imperial families customarily began to eat the cake early on the first day of the 9th lunar month to mark the festival, while the common people usually enjoyed it with their married daughters. It was basin-sized and covered with two or three layers of jujubes. The cake in the Qing Dynasty was made like a 9-storied pagoda, which was topped with two sheep images made of dough. The cake was called Chong Yang Gao in Chinese, which means Double Ninth cake as “Chong” means double, “Yang” simultaneously suggests nine and sheep, and “Gao” means cake. Also, because “Gao” (cake) shares the pronunciation with “Gao” (high, tall), people hope to get a higher position in life by having Gao on the Double Ninth Day.

Dec 312016
 

nye2

Almost every culture celebrates the turn of the year at some point in some way, and these days the turn of the Gregorian calendar year is an almost universal turning point even though many cultures use other calendars as well. This state of affairs creates a little bit of confusion in some cultures, but only a little. In China, for example, the turn of the Gregorian year has its importance, but the lunar New Year is still much more important. In the Jewish Diaspora things are a bit more complicated. Rosh Hashanah marks the Jewish New Year, and has its importance, but it vies much more earnestly with the Gregorian New Year.  All told, we can say that every culture, perhaps every individual, has multiple turning points in the year. For me birthdays are critical turning points when I reflect on the previous year and look forward to what is to come.  But I still cling to New Year’s Eve as a critical turning point for several reasons. First, it’s a communal celebration. Second, there are real secular changes that happen. Third, I’m in the habit of doing special things on this day.

nye3

I could rabbit on about how anthropologists view cycles, the passing of the year, etc., but I’ll spare you. Some of it is interesting, some is challenging, but most of it is fairly straightforward common sense  which you already know at some level. Maybe you’d like to learn why January 1st is the beginning of the new year? Well . . . look it up. Most of the online historical sources are accurate – to a degree. You can dismiss all the “origins” nonsense, but the basic facts concerning when Europeans switched to January 1st are not controversial. You might be a bit surprised though.

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I always take the time on New Year’s Eve to reflect on the past year in a personal way. I go through each month, step by step, and look at successes and failures, with an eye to learning something useful. I don’t make resolutions as such, but I do hope to learn from the year’s mistakes. Obviously this practice can be ongoing, but taking stock once a year is useful too.  My first job as a teenager was working in a light engineering factory on Slough Trading Estate as a stockroom clerk. Most stockrooms in those days took inventory once a year, but this firm had what they called “perpetual inventory.” That is, when the workload for the clerks was light they were supposed to do a bit of inventory, so that in the course of a year they had checked all the stock drawers twice. Of course that never happened. Everyone hated doing inventory, so it got put off until it had to be done all at once. That’s how I wound up with my summer jobs – doing inventory. From a factory point of view I don’t think it matters whether you do inventory all at once or a little at a time – all the time. Life is different. It’s good to take stock of your life daily. I do. It’s ridiculous to put it off. On my commute on the way to work and again on the way home I give thought to how my life is going, and how the day went. It looks an awful lot like staring out of the window, but I’m musing. What will the day bring and how will I manage? What worked? What didn’t work?

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For cooking on New Year’s Eve I fluctuate between traditional Japanese food, and fish of some sort. For many years Japanese dishes were my norm – especially soba which is very traditional. Soba means buckwheat in Japanese, but usually also means buckwheat noodles. I’ll make soba tonight. There are many, many varieties of hot soba. Soba is also often served as a noodle soup in a bowl of hot tsuyu. The hot tsuyu in this instance is thinner than that used as a dipping sauce for chilled soba. Popular garnishes are sliced long onion and shichimi togarashi (mixed chili powder).  These are various possibilities.

 

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Kake soba 掛け蕎麦: Hot soba in broth topped with thinly sliced scallion, and perhaps a slice of kamaboko (fish cake).

Kitsune soba きつね蕎麦 (“fox soba”, in Kantō) or たぬき蕎麦 Tanuki soba (“raccoon dog soba”, in Kansai): Topped with aburaage (deep-fried tofu).

Tanuki soba (in Kantō) or Haikara soba ハイカラ蕎麦 (in Kansai): Topped with tenkasu (bits of deep-fried tempura batter).

Tempura soba 天麩羅蕎麦: Topped with tempura, a large shrimp frequently is used, but vegetables are also popular. Some of soba venders use kakiage for this dish and this often is called Tensoba.

Tsukimi soba 月見蕎麦 (“moon-viewing soba”): Topped with raw egg, which poaches in the hot soup.

Tororo soba とろろ蕎麦 or Yamakake soba 山かけ蕎麦: Topped with tororo, the puree of yamaimo (a potato-like vegetable with a mucilaginous texture).

Wakame soba わかめ蕎麦: Topped with wakame seaweed

Nameko soba なめこ蕎麦: Topped with nameko mushroom

Sansai soba 山菜蕎麦 (“mountain vegetables soba”): Topped with sansai, or wild vegetables such as warabi, zenmai and takenoko (bamboo shoots).

Kamonanban 鴨南蛮: Topped with duck meat and negi.

Currynanban カレー南蛮: Hot soba in curry flavored broth topped with chicken/pork and thinly sliced scallion.

Nishin soba 鰊(にしん)蕎麦: Topped with migaki nishin 身欠きニシン, or dried fish of the Pacific herring.

Sobagaki 蕎麦掻き: A chunk of dough made of buckwheat flour and hot water.

Nov 032016
 

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On this date in 1954 the first Godzilla movie was released in Japan. Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira) is the first film in what became the Godzilla franchise and the first film in the Showa series. The film was directed by Ishirō Honda, with a screenplay by Honda, Takeo Murata, and Shigeru Kayama and stars Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, with Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka as the performers for Godzilla. Nakajima went on to portray the character until his retirement in 1972.

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In 1956, TransWorld Releasing Corporation and Embassy Pictures released Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, a heavily re-edited “Americanized” version of the original film with additional footage featuring Raymond Burr as a U.S. reporter. In 2004 Rialto Pictures gave the original 1954 film a limited theatrical release in the United States to coincide with the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

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Here is the original movie plot (in italics so that you can skip it if you want):

When the Japanese freighter Eiko-maru is destroyed near Odo Island, another ship – the Bingo-maru – is sent to investigate, only to meet the same fate with few survivors. A fishing boat from Odo is also destroyed, with one survivor. Fishing catches mysteriously drop to zero, blamed by an elder on the ancient sea creature known as “Godzilla.” Reporters arrive on Odo Island to further investigate. A villager tells one of the reporters that “something large is going crazy down there” ruining the fishing. That evening, a ritual dance to appease Godzilla is held during which the reporter learns that the locals used to sacrifice young girls. That night, a large storm strikes the island, destroying the reporters’ helicopter, and an unseen force destroys 17 homes, kills nine people and 20 of the villagers’ livestock.

Odo residents travel to Tokyo to demand disaster relief. The villagers’ and reporters’ evidence describes damage consistent with something large crushing the village. The government sends paleontologist Kyohei Yamane to lead an investigation to the island, where giant radioactive footprints and a trilobite are discovered. The village alarm bell is rung and Yamane and the villagers rush to see the monster, retreating after seeing that it is a giant dinosaur, which then roars, and returns to the ocean.

Yamane presents his findings in Tokyo, estimating that Godzilla is 165 feet (50 m) tall and is evolved from an ancient sea creature becoming a terrestrial animal. He concludes that Godzilla has been disturbed from its deep underwater natural habitat by underwater hydrogen bomb testing. Debate ensues about notifying the public about the danger of the monster. Meanwhile, 17 ships are lost at sea.

Ten frigates are dispatched to attempt to kill the monster using depth charges. The mission disappoints Yamane who wants Godzilla to be studied. Godzilla survives the attack and appears off-shore. Officials appeal to Yamane for ideas to kill the monster, but Yamane tells them that Godzilla is unkillable, having survived H-bomb testing, and must be studied.

Yamane’s daughter, Emiko, decides to break off her arranged engagement to Yamane’s colleague, Daisuke Serizawa, because of her love for Hideto Ogata, a salvage ship captain. When a reporter arrives and asks to interview Serizawa, Emiko escorts the reporter to Serizawa’s lab. After Serizawa refuses to divulge his current work to the reporter, he gives Emiko a demonstration of his recent project on the condition she must keep it a secret. The demonstration horrifies her and she leaves without breaking off the engagement. Shortly after she returns home, the sound of Godzilla’s footsteps approaching is heard. Godzilla surfaces from Tokyo Bay and enters the city, scattering residents from its path. A passing commuter train collides with the monster, who then destroys the train. After further destruction, Godzilla returns to the ocean.

After consulting with international experts, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces construct a 100 feet (30 m) tall, 50,000 volt electrified fence along the coast and deploy forces to stop and kill Godzilla. Yamane returns home, dismayed that there is no plan to study Godzilla for its resistance to radiation, where Emiko and Ogata await hoping to get his consent for them to wed. When Ogata disagrees with Yamane, Yamane tells him to leave. Godzilla resurfaces and breaks through to Tokyo, unleashing a more destructive rampage across the city. The Tokyo Tower and the National Diet Building are destroyed and there is a large loss of life.

Distraught by the devastation, Emiko tells Ogata about Serizawa’s research, a weapon called the “Oxygen Destroyer,” which disintegrates oxygen atoms and the organisms die of a rotting asphyxiation. Emiko and Ogata go to Serizawa to convince him to use the Oxygen Destroyer but he initially refuses. After watching a program displaying the nation’s current tragedy, Serizawa finally accepts Emiko and Ogata’s pleas.

A navy ship takes Ogata and Serizawa to plant the device in Tokyo Bay. After finding Godzilla, Serizawa unloads the device and cuts off his air support, taking the secrets of the Oxygen Destroyer to his death. The mission proves to be a success and Godzilla is destroyed but many mourn Serizawa’s death. Yamane reveals his belief that if nuclear weapons testing continues, another Godzilla may rise in the future.

© Toho Co. Ltd.

© Toho Co. Ltd.

The original Japanese name for the monster, Gojira (ゴジラ), is a portmanteau of the Japanese words: gorira (ゴリラ, “gorilla”), and kujira (鯨 , “whale”), which was created because in the early planning stages, Godzilla was described as “a cross between a gorilla and a whale,” alluding to its size, power and aquatic origin. One popular story is that “Gojira” was actually the nickname of a corpulent stagehand at Toho Studio. Kimi Honda, the widow of the director, dismissed this in a 1998 BBC documentary devoted to Godzilla, “The backstage boys at Toho loved to joke around with tall stories.”

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Godzilla’s name was written in ateji as Gojira (呉爾羅), where the kanji are used for phonetic value and not for meaning. The Japanese pronunciation of the name is [ɡodʑiɽa]. The Anglicized form is /ɡɒdˈzɪlə/, with the first syllable pronounced like the word “god,” and the rest rhyming with “gorilla.” In the Hepburn romanization system, Godzilla’s name is rendered as “Gojira”, whereas in the Kunrei romanization system it is rendered as “Gozira”.

When Godzilla was first released in 1954 the film sold approximately 9,610,000 tickets and was the eighth best-attended film in Japan that year. It remains the second most-attended “Godzilla” film in Japan, behind King Kong vs. Godzilla. Its box office earnings were 152 million Yen ($2.25 million). The film initially received mixed to negative reviews in Japan. Japanese critics accused the film of exploiting the widespread devastation that the country had suffered in World War II, as well as the Daigo Fukuryū Maru (Lucky Dragon) incident that occurred a few months before filming began. Ishiro Honda lamented years later in the Tokyo Journal, “They called it grotesque junk, and said it looked like something you’d spit up. I felt sorry for my crew because they had worked so hard!” Honda also stated “At the time they wrote things like ‘This movie is absurd, because such giant monsters do not exist.'” Others said that depicting a fire breathing organism was “strange.”

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Honda believed that Japanese critics began to change their minds after the good reviews the film received in the United States. He said “The first film critics to appreciate Godzilla were those in the U.S. When Godzilla was released there as Godzilla, King of the Monsters in 1956, the critics said such things as, ‘For the start, this film frankly depicts the horrors of the Atomic Bomb.’, and by these evaluations, the assessment began to impact critics in Japan and has changed their opinions over the years.” As time went on, the film gained more respect in Japan. In 1984, Kinema Junpo magazine listed Gojira as one of the top 20 Japanese films of all time, while a survey of 370 Japanese movie critics published in Nihon Eiga Besuto 150 (Best 150 Japanese Films), had Godzilla ranked as the 27th best Japanese film ever made.

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The film was nominated for two Japanese Movie Association awards. One for best special effects and the other for best film. It won best special effects but lost best picture to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The film was re-released theatrically in Japan on November 21, 1982 as part of Toho’s 50th anniversary.

In 1955 and in the 1960s, the original Gojira played in theaters catering to Japanese-Americans in predominantly Japanese neighborhoods in the United States. An English sub-titled version was shown at film festivals in New York, Chicago and other cities in 1982.

Obviously Godzilla themed Japanese food is appropriate to celebrate, although you may struggle a little. I found a recipe for Godzilla sushi rolls here: http://www.favfamilyrecipes.com/godzilla-rolls/  You could make them yourself, but I would not recommend it.

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Here’s the list of ingredients:

For the Roll

sushi rice
1 sheet nori (dry roasted seaweed)
2-3 pieces shrimp tempura
2 slices avocado
3-4 tsp cream cheese, cut into long, rectangular slices
½ cup flour
tempura batter
oil for frying

For the Spicy Mayo:

½ cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp Sriracha sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

All right. Let’s assume you can find such ingredients as nori and Sriracha; they are not too hard to find in oriental groceries in the West. Making good sushi rice is best left to the experts although I’ve made a passable job once in a while. Making good tempura is also a skilled practice. Then you have to put the whole roll together. That too is not impossible, but, true to Godzilla, this is a BIG roll and takes experience even if you have the right ingredients. Here’s a video of a sushi chef:

All told, I’d go out for sushi if I were you.

Oct 132016
 

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Today is the beginning of土居太鼓祭り—Doi Taiko Matsuri. Let me break down the Japanese for you (not that I speak Japanese). Doi is a place on Shikoku Island in Japan, Taiko is a traditional Japanese drum, and Matsuri means festival. So, Doi Drum Festival.  It runs for three days from the 13th to the 15th of October annually. Drum festivals in Japan these days are fairly common in a number of locations but they are not all the same.  Some drum festivals are what you might expect – groups of men, or men and women, in special costume drumming out traditional rhythms on sets of specially made drums.  Doi Drum Festival is not one of these, but its form is also common. It involves processions of太鼓隊 – Taiko Tai – literally meaning “drum squad,” that is, large troupes of men who accompany (and sometimes carry) a large, very heavy, ornate platform carrying a “drum” through the streets of the town, with men standing on the platform barking orders and supervising events.

I have not been to Doi, but I’ve attended festive processions in other parts of Japan and pretty much have the overall impression – hoards of people, lots of food, manic performers, colorful costumes, rafts of men carrying heavy platforms . . . etc. This video (and the photos) make the point. I’m sure the Doi festival has its peculiarities; you’ll pardon my ignorance of the finer details, I hope.

Doi is now a district in Shikokuchūō (四国中央市),  a port city located in Ehime Prefecture on the northern shore of Shikoku – the smallest of the main islands that make up Japan, located south of the main island of Honshu and northeast of Kyushu. Shikokuchūō is a city created in 2004 out of 2 neighboring cities, and 2 smaller towns. Doi was one of the towns. The merger was a political move to establish a worthy capital should Shikoku become an island province, and the name Shikokuchūō (Shikoku Central City) was chosen to reflect this aspiration. It has been roundly condemned by locals as a name that is both unoriginal and uninspiring. Within this conurbation localities still strive to maintain their distinctiveness. Doi Taiko Matsuri helps Doi in this regard.

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If you watch the video you’ll see that there are certain basic elements to the Doi Taiko Matsuri processions. First, let’s consider the floats. They are large platforms on top of heavy wooden poles carrying an ornate “drum.” These platforms weigh around 3 or 4 tons apiece and can either be lifted in the air using the poles, or rest on a wheeled carriage. The “drum” is now an elaborately decorated centerpiece which I am assuming would have been a container for a real drum or drums at some point (based on processions I have seen elsewhere in Japan where drummers sit inside this centerpiece and knock out rhythms on drums inside). In Doi there appear to be no actual drums although they could be inside the towers – as they are in other parts of Shikoku. In some cases there are men sitting on top of the towers and might be drummers. There are, however, men standing on the platform directing the movements of the drum squad with hand gestures and whistles. All the actions of the drum squad are rhythmic.

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Second, the thrill of the procession is in the dexterity of the squads who are in competition with one another. For most of the procession the squads merely guide the float on its carriage as they work their way through the streets (you can’t see the carriages in the video because they are obscured by the men in the squads). But periodically they stop and, under the direction of the men on the platform, turn the float, and lift it above their heads. This action requires both strength and coordination. Speed, dexterity, strength, and agility are all judged critically by the onlookers – mostly Japanese, but with some foreign tourists mixed in (very few, because such events are not widely touted).

The Doi procession is relatively sedate in comparison with some I have seen, notably in Osaka. Some of these processions pull and push the floats at running speed through the streets with the men on top having to hold on tight as they careen around corners at breakneck speed. Others are carried on the men’s shoulders for long distances and then periodically shaken and tilted violently. These more active processions are potentially quite dangerous and there are records of the platforms falling over because of poor coordination of the squads, or runners being trampled. The energy and enthusiasm of the men in the squads is electric. It’s not hard to imagine them being carried overboard in the heat of the moment.

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Festival food is available everywhere on these days, of course. There’s really no way to replicate local specialties, so, instead, I’ll mention a famous one – Jakoten. Jakoten (じゃこ天) is a special product of Uwajima in Southern Ehime prefecture, but can be found at many festivals because it is good finger food. Jakoten was supposedly invented in the early 17th century and was originally a kind of steamed fish paste cake ordered by daimyo Date Hidemune to be made by his craftsman using fishes of Uwajima when he lived there. According to legend, he loved steamed fish cakes when he was in Sendai so he wanted to eat them also in Ehime.

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Hotarujako, which are small white fish, are common for making Jakoten. Hotarujako is the Japanese name for Acropoma japonicum, a member of the Acropomatidae family of bioluminescent fish, called, in English, glowbelly or lanternbelly. Hotarujako is also called Haranbo in Uwajima. First, the heads, viscera and scales of the fish are removed. Then, the remaining parts are minced including the bones. Seasoning is added and the minced fish is ground into a paste. Next, it is shaped into rectangular patties by using a wood frame. The patties are fried several minutes until they become brownish color.

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Jakoten are usually eaten with a dipping sauce of soy sauce and daikon. You can buy them on Shikoku cooked to eat immediately, or fresh to take home and cook. I couldn’t find an online source. They wouldn’t be any good anyway. They’d have to be frozen and shipped overnight. Just get on a plane and visit Doi.

Jun 042016
 

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Today begins Saiō Matsuri (斎王まつり), a 2-day festival held on the first weekend of June in the town of Meiwa, Mie Prefecture, in Japan. The Saiō Matsuri celebrates the town’s history of once being an Imperial residence. The festival re-enacts the march of the Saiō and her entourage to the nearby Ise Shrine. The festival consists of over 100 people dressed in Heian period costume, marching down a section of the Ise Kada, the old Ise Pilgrimage road, toward the Saiku Historical Museum.

In pre-modern Japan, Meiwa was best known as the location of the ancient Saikū, the residence of the Saiō, an unmarried Imperial princess who, in place of the Emperor, was sent to serve as the High Priestess of Ise Grand Shrine to perform three important Shinto rituals. During the Edo period the area developed into a thriving agricultural center and shukuba (rest station), providing lodging to people making the pilgrimage to Ise Grand Shrine.

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According to Japanese legend, around 2,000 years ago the divine Yamatohime-no-mikoto, daughter of the Emperor Suinin, set out from Mt. Miwa in Nara Prefecture in search of a permanent location to worship the goddess Amaterasu-omikami. Her search lasted for 20 years and eventually brought her to Ise, Mie Prefecture, where the Ise Shrine now stands. Prior to Yamatohime-no-mikoto’s journey, Amaterasu-omikami had been worshiped at the Imperial Palaces in Yamato.

According to the Man’yōshū (The Anthology of Ten Thousand Leaves), the first Saiō to serve at Ise was Princess Oku, daughter of Emperor Temmu, during the Asuka period of Japanese history. Mention of the Saiō is also made in the Aoi, Sakaki and Yugao chapters of The Tale of Genji, as well as in the 69th chapter of The Tales of Ise (Ise Monogatari).

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In the 13th century, Jien recorded in the Gukanshō that during the reign of Emperor Suinin, the first High Priestess (saigū) was appointed for Ise Shrine. Hayashi Gahō’s 17th century Nihon Ōdai Ichiran is somewhat more expansive, explaining that since Suinin’s time, a daughter of the emperor was almost always appointed as high priestess, but across the centuries, there have been times when the emperor himself had no daughter; and in such circumstances, the daughter of a close relative of the emperor would have been appointed to fill the vacancy.

The role of the Saiō was to serve as High Priestess at Ise Shrine on behalf of the Emperor, to represent the role first set out by Yamatohime-no-mikoto. Three rituals a year were conducted at the Shrine in which the Saiō prayed for peace and protection. In June and November each year, she journeyed to the Shrine to perform the Tsukinamisai Festival. In September she performed the Kannamesai Festival 神嘗祭 to make offerings to the gods of the year’s new grain harvest.

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For the rest of the year, the Saiō lived in Saikū, a small town of up to 500 people approximately 10 km north-west of Ise, in modern Meiwa, Mie Prefecture. Life at Saikū was, for the most part, peaceful. The Saiō would spend her time composing waka verses, collect shells on the shore of Ōyodo beach, or set out in boats and recite poetry upon the water and wait to be recalled to Kyoto.

The Ise Grand Shrine (伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū), located in the city of Ise, Mie Prefecture,, is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu. Officially known simply as Jingū (神宮), Ise Jingū is a shrine complex composed of a large number of Shinto shrines centered on two main shrines, Naikū (内宮) and Gekū (外宮).

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The Inner Shrine, Naikū (also officially known as “Kotai Jingū”), is located in the town of Uji-tachi, south of central Ise, and is dedicated to the worship of Amaterasu, where she is believed to dwell. The shrine buildings are made of solid cypress wood and uses no nails but instead joined wood, rebuilt exactingly every 20 years. The Outer Shrine, Gekū (also officially known as “Toyouke Daijingu”), is located about 6 km from Naikū and dedicated to Toyouke-Ōmikami, the god of agriculture, rice harvest and industry. Besides Naikū and Gekū, there are an additional 123 Shinto shrines in Ise City and the surrounding areas, 91 of them connected to Naikū and 32 to Gekū.

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Modern Ōyodo Village was established on April 1, 1889 during the Meiji period establishment of municipalities. It was elevated to town status on February 1, 1924, and was renamed Sanwa on September 3, 1955. In 1958, the town of Sanwa and the village of Saimei merged to form the town of Meiwa.

Inarizushi, a type of sushi, is a good dish to celebrate this festival. Inarizushi (稲荷寿司) is a pouch of fried tofu typically filled either with sushi rice alone or with a mix of rice and vegetables. It is named after the Shinto god Inari, who is believed to have a fondness for fried tofu. The dish is normally fashioned from deep-fried tofu (油揚げ, abura age), but regional variations include pouches made of a thin omelette (帛紗寿司, fukusa-zushi, or 茶巾寿司, chakin-zushi).

Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神, also Oinari) is the Japanese kami (spirit) of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea and sake, as well as of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto.

This video gives an excellent description of preparing inarizushi. You can buy the deep fried tofu at a good oriental store:

Apr 082016
 

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The birthday of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama (that is, the Buddha), is a holiday traditionally celebrated in Mahayana Buddhism. In most Asian cultures it moves about the Gregorian calendar, but in Japan it is celebrated on this date and is called Hana Matsuri, that is, Flower Festival.

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According to the Theravada Tripitaka scriptures, Gautama was born in Lumbini in modern-day Nepal, around the year 563 BCE, and raised in Kapilavastu. The date of Buddha’s Birthday is based on Asian lunisolar calendars and is primarily celebrated in Baisakh month of the Buddhist calendar and the Bikram Sambat Hindu calendar. In Nepal, which is considered the birth-country of Buddha, it is celebrated on the full moon day of the Vaisakha month of the Buddhist calendar. In Theravada countries following the Buddhist calendar, it falls on a full moon Uposatha day, typically in the 5th or 6th lunar month. In China and Korea, it is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. The date varies from year to year in the Western Gregorian calendar, but usually falls in April or May. In leap years it may be celebrated in June.

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As a result of the Meiji Restoration, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar in lieu of the Chinese lunar calendar in 1873. Therefore, in most Japanese temples, Buddha’s birth is celebrated on the Gregorian calendar date April 8. The day is celebrated with parades featuring images of the baby Buddha, the white elephant seen by his mother in her dream just before his birth, and cherry blossoms carried by children dressed in traditional Japanese clothes. The famous sakura (cherry) trees bloom at this time, and so are given as offerings to adorn the nativity celebrations and ‘amacha’, sweet tea symbolic of the heavenly rain is poured over the baby Buddha.

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According to legend, briefly after the birth of young prince Gautama, an astrologer named Asita visited the young prince’s father—King Śuddhodana—and prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce the material world to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls. Śuddhodana was determined to see his son become a king, so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father’s efforts, Gautama ventured beyond the palace several times. In a series of encounters—known in Buddhist literature as the four sights—he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest.

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As long-time readers know, I am reluctant to give Asian recipes for people who don’t live in Asia, but I do make them now and again when I can get the ingredients.  So here’s my recipe for Japanese rice and greens with miso sauce. Use oriental greens such as pak choi or baby bok choi. Use starchy short-grained rice. This is a vegetarian dish, suitable for celebrating the Buddha.

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Japanese Rice and Greens

Ingredients

140g short-grained rice
1 tbsp sesame seed, toasted
1 tbsp sunflower oil
250g baby bok choi or pak choi sliced lengthways
6 spring onion, cut in 1” pieces

sauce

2 tbsp white miso paste
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp finely grated ginger

Instructions

Soak the rice in cold water overnight.

Mix the sauce ingredients together and marinate the greens in it overnight.

Next day, boil the rice in the soaking water for about 20 minutes, or until soft. Drain.

Meanwhile remove the greens from the marinade, and reserve the marinade.

Heat oil in a wok or skillet over high heat.    Add the greens and stir fry briefly. Then add the rice and reserved marinade and heat through.  Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Apr 042016
 

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On this date every year the Ose Matsuri (Fishermen’s Festival) takes place at Uchiura fishing port, Numazu City, in Shizuoka Prefecture Japan. Fishing boats come from a wide area around Numazu City to take part in the festival. The boats are festooned with flags, streamers and other decorations. But what makes the event unique is that all the rough and tough fishermen dress in women’s clothes and dance aboard the boats. The event is said to ensure good catches and safe trips at sea for the coming year. It is not certain when the festival began or why, but local folklore has it that it originated when the wife of a fisherman gave her husband a kimono to ensure he was safe on his voyage. Take that for what it is worth.

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Festivals of gender inversion are quite common worldwide and have been studied extensively by anthropologists. Naturally there is often an element of humor, as at the Ose Matsuri – tough men acting in effeminate ways. But inversion of roles and categories can also be very powerful culturally.  They highlight traditional roles, and may involve men appropriating the power that conventionally belongs to women.

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I have not been to this festival but I have attended other fishermen’s festivals in Japan. They are raucous affairs that are very well attended and enjoyed by the public. There is always music, drumming ,and dancing. There is also a wealth of festival food.

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Food on a stick is very common because it’s easy to eat as you walk around. There’s the usual grilled offerings, but you can also get pickles or fruit on skewers. There’s also fish-shaped pastries made in molds that are closed around a dough and grilled.

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Mar 282016
 

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The renowned Japanese tea ceremony master, Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522 – 1591), also known simply as Rikyū, is celebrated by tea schools on several different days, including today. Rikyū is considered the historical figure with the most profound influence on chanoyu, the Japanese “Way of Tea”, particularly the tradition of wabi-cha. He was also the first to emphasize several key aspects of the ceremony, including rustic simplicity, directness of approach and honesty of self. Originating from the Sengoku period and the Azuchi–Momoyama period, these aspects of the tea ceremony persist.

There are three iemoto (sōke), or “head houses”, of the Japanese Way of Tea, that are directly descended from Rikyū: the Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushakōjisenke, all three of which are dedicated to passing forward the teachings of their mutual family founder, Rikyū.

Rikyū was born in Sakai, present-day Osaka prefecture. His father was a warehouse owner named Tanaka Yohei (田中与兵衛), who later in life also used the family name Sen, and his mother was Gesshin Myōchin (月岑妙珎). His childhood name was Yoshiro. As a young man, Rikyū studied tea under a townsman (chōnin) of Sakai named Kitamuki Dōchin (1504–62), and at the age of 19, through Dōchin’s introduction, he began to study tea under Takeno Jōō, who is also associated with the development of the wabi aesthetic in tea ceremony. He is believed to have received the Buddhist name Sōeki (宗易) from the Rinzai Zen priest Dairin Sōtō (1480–1568) of Nanshūji temple in Sakai.He married a woman known as Hōshin Myōju around when he was twenty-one. Rikyū also underwent Zen training at Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto. Not much is known about his middle years.

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In 1579, at the age of 58, Rikyū became a tea master for Oda Nobunaga and, following Nobunaga’s death in 1582, he was a tea master for Toyotomi Hideyoshi. His relationship with Hideyoshi quickly deepened, and he entered Hideyoshi’s circle of confidants, effectively becoming the most influential figure in the world of chanoyu. In 1585, in order that he could help at a tea gathering that would be given by Hideyoshi for Emperor Ōgimachi and held at the Imperial Palace, the emperor bestowed upon him the Buddhist lay name and title “Rikyū Koji” (利休居士). Another major chanoyu event of Hideyoshi’s that Rikyū played a central role in was the Kitano Ōchanoyu, the grand tea gathering held by Hideyoshi at the Kitano Tenman-gū in 1587.

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It was during his later years that Rikyū began to use very tiny, rustic tea rooms referred as sōan (lit., “grass hermitage”), such as the two-tatami mat tea room named Taian, which can be seen today at Myōkian temple in Yamazaki, a suburb of Kyoto, and which is credited to his design. This tea room has been designated as a National Treasure. He also developed many implements for tea ceremony, including flower containers, tea scoops, and lid rests made of bamboo, and also used everyday objects for tea ceremony, often in novel ways.

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Classic raku teabowls were developed through his collaboration with a tile-maker named Raku Chōjirō. Rikyū had a preference for simple, rustic items made in Japan, rather than the expensive Chinese-made items that were fashionable at the time. Though not the inventor of the philosophy of wabi-sabi, which finds beauty in the very simple, Rikyū is among those most responsible for popularizing it, developing it, and incorporating it into tea ceremony. He created a new form of tea ceremony using very simple instruments and surroundings. This and his other beliefs and teachings came to be known as sōan-cha (the grass-thatched hermitage style of chanoyu), or more generally, wabi-cha. Typical sayings:

Though you wipe your hands and brush off the dust and dirt from the vessels, what is the use of all this fuss if the heart is still impure?

Though many people drink tea,
if you do not know the Way of Tea,
tea will drink you up.

The Way of Tea is naught but this:
first you boil water,
then you make the tea and drink it.

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The general philosophy of chanoyu that his descendants and followers carried on became known as the Senke-ryū (千家流, “school of the house of Sen”).Two of his primary disciples were Nanbō Sōkei (南坊宗啓; dates unknown), a somewhat legendary Zen priest, and Yamanoue Sōji (1544–90), a townsman of Sakai. Nanbō is credited as the original author of the Nanpō roku (南方録), a record of Rikyū’s teachings. Yamanoue’s chronicle, the Yamanoue Sōji ki (山上宗二記), gives commentary about Rikyū’s teachings and the state of chanoyu at the time of its writing.

Rikyū had a number of children, including a son known in history as Sen Dōan, and daughter known as Okame. This daughter became the wife of Rikyū’s second wife’s son by a previous marriage, known in history as Sen Shōan. Due to many complex circumstances, Sen Shōan, rather than Rikyū’s legitimate heir, Dōan, became the person counted as the 2nd generation in the Sen-family’s tradition of chanoyu (“san-Senke” school).

Although Rikyū had been one of Hideyoshi’s closest confidants, because of crucial differences of opinion and other reasons which remain uncertain, Hideyoshi ordered him to commit ritual suicide. While Hideyoshi’s reason may never be known for certain, it is known that Rikyū committed seppuku at his residence within Hideyoshi’s Jurakudai villa in Kyoto in 1591 on the 28th day of the 2nd month (of the traditional Japanese lunar calendar; or April 21 when calculated according to the modern Gregorian calendar), at the age of seventy.

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According to Okakura Kakuzo in The Book of Tea, Rikyū’s last act was to hold an exquisite tea ceremony. After serving all his guests, he presented each piece of the tea equipment for their inspection, along with an exquisite kakemono, which Okakura described as “a wonderful writing by an ancient monk dealing with the evanescence of all things.” Rikyū presented each of his guests with a piece of the equipment as a souvenir, with the exception of the bowl, which he shattered, uttering “Never again shall this cup, polluted by the lips of misfortune, be used by a man.” As the guests departed, one remained to serve as witness to Rikyū’s death. Rikyū’s last words, which he wrote down as a death poem, were in verse, addressed to the dagger with which he took his own life:

Welcome to thee,
O sword of eternity!
Through Buddha
And through Daruma alike
Thou hast cleft thy way.

When Hideyoshi was building his lavish residence at Fushimi the following year, he remarked that he wished its construction and decoration to be pleasing to Rikyū. He was known for his temper, and is said to have expressed regret at his treatment of Rikyū.

Rikyū’s grave is located at Jukōin temple in the Daitoku-ji compound in Kyoto; his posthumous Buddhist name is Fushin’an Rikyū Sōeki Koji.

Memorials for Rikyū are observed annually by many schools of Japanese tea ceremony. The Omotesenke school’s annual memorial takes place at the family’s headquarters each year on March 27, and the Urasenke school’s takes place at its own family’s headquarters each year on March 28. The three Sen families (Omotesenke, Urasenke, Mushakōjisenke) take turns holding a memorial service on the 28th of every month, at their mutual family temple, the subsidiary temple Jukōin at Daitoku-ji temple.

To celebrate Rikyū you could go several ways.  One would be to use matcha in a recipe. It’s become a very trendy item in the West because it has antioxidant properties. This site’s not bad:

http://dailyburn.com/life/recipes/matcha-recipes-matcha-latte/

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Another tack would be to make a traditional tea ceremony dish. The tea ceremony can be just about serving tea, or it can involve an elaborate (yet simple) meal. The essence of the meal is that it must delight the eye and palate.

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Each guest is served a meal, called chakaiseki, served on a tray with fresh cedar chopsticks. The meal consists of three courses (or items). The dishes are served with cooked white rice in a ceramic bowl and miso soup which is served in covered lacquer bowls with raw fish, plain or pickled, or pickled vegetables in a ceramic dish.

The first course/dish is called hashiarai (rinsing the chopsticks): nimono (foods simmered in broth) in separate covered lacquer dishes and yakimono (grilled foods) are served in individual portions on ceramic plates. The palate is then cleared with kosuimono, a simple clear broth served in covered lacquer bowls.

The next course derives its name from the Shinto reverence of nature. It is called hassun which is also the name for the simple wooden tray that is used to serve this course. This course consists of uminomono and yamanomono (seafood and mountain food respectively) which signify the abundance of the sea and land. The position of server is considered a higher position and, to insure equality of all in the tea room, each acts as host if only momentarily.

Konomono (fragrant things) are served in small ceramic bowls, and browned rice is served in salted water in a lacquer pitcher, representing the last of the rice. Each guest cleans the utensils they have used with soft paper which they bring. An omogashi (principal sweet) is served to conclude the meal. The host then invites his guests to retire to the garden or waiting room while he prepares for tea.

I have given some basic Japanese recipes on this site in the past – miso soup, tofu, noodles, etc. If you search for “dashi” you will easily find them. As with Chinese cooking, it’s very difficult to replicate authentic Japanese cooking at home.  Even the Japanese do not do it (except for some simple home-cooked items).  Restaurant chefs have developed particular skills over decades, and there is no way to rival them. If you’re curious, go to Japan.