Aug 112018

Today is the birthday (1833) of Kido Takayoshi (木戸 孝允) (born Wada Kogorō (和田 小五郎), also referred to as Kido Kôin (木戸 こういん), a Japanese samurai who is considered one of the three great architects of the Meiji Restoration. As I noted here the Meiji Restoration was not quite what it is portrayed as in Western media. As I also noted here recently the Meiji Restoration got rid of the old Japanese rigid social structure, not because it was old fashioned, but because it had become unstable, and unable to deal with present realities. Many Westerners lament the loss of Edo Period culture in Japan, but the Japanese (by and large) do not. Think of this in terms of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a supposedly Medieval re-enactment society (but mostly Renaissance, with many anachronisms of its own). All the members want to be knights and nobles (or perhaps wizards and such). No one wants to be a peasant, yet the bulk of Medieval Europeans were peasants. Likewise, the bulk of Edo Period Japanese people were peasants with no hope of social mobility. Meanwhile, the samurai class had hereditary (high) status – end of story. Obviously, the samurai class did not want to see an end to the system, but the great bulk of the population were happy to see the changes. Forget The Last Samurai, it’s sentimental claptrap (and not historically accurate either). Takayoshi was a samurai, and was one of the architects of the system that ended their hereditary privilege.

Takayoshi was born in Hagi, Chōshū Domain (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture), the youngest son of Wada Masakage (和田 昌景), a samurai physician, and his second wife Seiko. He was later adopted into the Katsura family at age 7 and was known, thereafter, as Katsura Kogorō (桂 小五郎). He was educated at Shoka Sonjuku, the academy of Yoshida Shōin, where he adopted the philosophy of Imperial loyalism. In 1852, he went to Edo to study swordsmanship, established ties with radical samurai from Mito domain, learned artillery techniques with Egawa Tarōzaemon, and (after observing the construction of foreign ships in Nagasaki and Shimoda), returned to Chōshū to supervise the construction of the domain’s first Western-style warship.

After 1858, Takayoshi was based in Edo where he served as liaison between the domain bureaucracy and radical elements among the young, lower-echelon Chōshū samurai who supported the Sonnō jōi movement, which vowed to revere the emperor, expel foreigners, and, in the process, get rid of the Tokugawa shogunate which supported foreign incursion. He came under suspicion by the shogunate for his ties with Mito loyalists after the attempted assassination of Andō Nobumasa, and so was transferred to Kyōto. However, while in Kyōto, he was unable to prevent the 30th September 1863 coup d’état by the forces of the Aizu and Satsuma domains, who drove the Chōshū forces out of the city.

According to his personal diary, Takayoshi was at a loyalist meeting with the Ishin shishi (samurai in favor of Sonnō jōi) at the Ikedaya inn on the evening of July 8th, 1864. He claimed that they had met only to discuss how to protect Shuntaro Furutaka (a shishi leader) from the Shinsengumi (Kyoto police of the shogunate). Shinsengumi troops attacked the inn on that night, which became known as the Ikedaya incident, but Takayoshi says he left early and was not involved. Shuntaro Furutaka was captured and brutally tortured. There were rumors that Takayoshi was tipped off by his geisha lover, Ikumatsu (幾松), that the Shinsengumi were coming for him and chose not show up for the meeting at all, or that he climbed out the window of the upper floor of the inn during the attack by the Shinsengumi and escaped over the roofs. He spent the next five days in hiding under Nijō Bridge along the Kamo River, posing as a beggar. Ikumatsu brought him rice balls from the shop of the Chōshū merchant Imai Tarōemon, and later aided in his escape.

Takayoshi was involved in, but not present at, the Hamaguri Gate Rebellion on 20th August 1864: the unsuccessful attempt to capture the Emperor Kōmei by Chōshū forces at Hamaguri Gate in order to restore the Imperial household to its position of political supremacy. The Chōshū forces clashed with Aizu and Satsuma forces which led to their defense of the Imperial palace. During the attempt, the Chōshū rebels set Kyoto on fire, starting with the residence of the Takatsukasa family, and that of a Chōshū official. The rebellion resulted in casualties of about 400 of the Chōshū forces and only 60 from Aizu and Satsuma forces, with 28,000 houses being burnt down, forcing Katsura into hiding again with his geisha lover. He later used the name Niibori Matsusuke as an alias in 1865 to continue his work against the Tokugawa shogunate.

After radical elements under Takasugi Shinsaku gained control of Chōshū politics, Takayoshi was instrumental in establishing the Satchō Alliance with Saigō Takamori and Ōkubo Toshimichi through the mediation of Sakamoto Ryōma, which proved to be critical in the Boshin War and the subsequent Meiji Restoration. Following the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868, Takayoshi (now using that name), claimed a major role in the establishment of the new Meiji government. As a san’yo (Imperial Advisor) he helped draft the Five Charter Oath, and initiated policies of centralization and modernization. He helped direct the Abolition of the han system (system of domains governed by daimyo). In August 1868, he had Ikumatsu adopted into a samurai family of Okabe Tomitarō, and later married her.

On 23rd December 1871, he accompanied the Iwakura Mission on its round-the-world voyage to the United States and Europe, and was especially interested in Western educational systems and politics. On his return to Japan on 13th September 1873, he became a strong advocate of the establishment of constitutional government. Realizing that Japan was not in any position to challenge the Western powers in its current state, he also returned to Japan just in time to prevent an invasion of Korea (Seikanron). Takayoshi lost his dominant position in the Meiji oligarchy to Ōkubo Toshimichi, and resigned from government in protest of the Taiwan Expedition of 1874, which he had strenuously opposed. Following the Osaka Conference of 1875, he agreed to return to the government, and became chairman of the Assembly of Prefectural Governors that the Ōsaka Conference had created. He was also responsible for the education of the young Emperor Meiji.

During the middle of Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, Takayoshi died of an illness that had been plaguing him for a long time, which consisted of a combination of some form of brain disorder and physical exhaustion, years of excessive alcohol consumption as well as an illness assumed to be tuberculosis or beriberi. He was buried at the Kyoto Ryozen Gokoku Shrine, Kyoto, Japan. His widow survived him and died in 1887 at the age of 43. Kido Takayoshi was enshrined as the Shinto deity of scholarship and the martial arts at the Kido Shrine in about 1886 at Kido Park, Yamaguchi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. His diary reveals an intense internal conflict between his loyalty to his home domain, Chōshū, and the greater interest of the country. He wrote often of having to fight rumors at home that he had betrayed his old friends; the idea of a nation was still relatively new in Japan and so the majority of samurai cared more for securing privileges for their own domain.

Together with Saigō Takamori and Ōkubo Toshimichi, he became known as one of the Ishin-no-Sanketsu (維新の三傑), which means, roughly, “Three Great Nobles of the Restoration”. He is still a popular figure showing up in manga and anime, and also in video games.


I have mentioned Japanese yōshoku (洋食 western food) before and I gave a recipe for omurice (omelet rice) there. I’ll repeat a little bit about it for the sake of new readers. In Japanese cuisine, yōshoku originated during the Meiji Restoration. These are primarily Japanese versions of European dishes, often featuring Western names, and usually written in katakana. Jihei Ishii, author of the 1898 The Complete Japanese Cookbook (日本料理法大全), states unequivocally that: “Yōshoku is Japanese food.” To many foreigners, yōshoku may not seem like Washoku (Japanese traditional dishes), yet there are many yōshoku dishes which have themselves become traditional in the eyes of the Japanese. Some of them are even thought of as traditional comfort food because they are home cooked and bring memories of childhood.

Yōshoku began by altering Western recipes for lack of information about foreign countries’ cuisine, or adaptions to suit local tastes, but over time, yōshoku also evolved dishes that were not at all based on European foods, such as chicken rice and omurice. Elaborate sauces were largely eliminated, replaced with tomato ketchup, demi-glace sauce, and Worcester sauce. Here’s a good video on how to prepare soup curry. You will need to find Japanese curry which is not like Indian curry at all.

Mar 012018

You get a Scandinavian two-fer today, having to do with the Swedish calendar in effect in the early 18th century and beer prohibition in Iceland.

The Swedish calendar (Svenska kalendern) or Swedish style (Svenska stilen) was a calendar in use in Sweden and its possessions from 1 March 1700 until 30 February 1712. It was one day ahead of the Julian calendar and ten days behind the Gregorian calendar. In November 1699, the Government of Sweden decided that, rather than adopt the Gregorian calendar outright, it would gradually approach it over a 40-year period. The plan was to skip all leap days in the period 1700 to 1740. Every fourth year, the gap between the Swedish calendar and the Gregorian would reduce by one day, until they finally lined up in 1740. In the meantime, this calendar would not be in line with either of the major alternative calendars and the differences would change every four years.

In accordance with the plan, February 29 was omitted in 1700, but the Great Northern War stopped any further reductions from being made in the following years.In January 1711, King Charles XII declared that Sweden would abandon the calendar, which was not in use by any other nation, in favor of a return to the older Julian calendar. An extra day was added to February in the leap year of 1712, thus giving it a unique 30-day length. February 30th has never existed in any other modern calendar.

In 1753, one year later than England and its colonies, Sweden introduced the Gregorian calendar. The leap of 11 days was accomplished in one step, with February 17 being followed by March 1. Easter was to be calculated according to the Easter rules of the Julian calendar from 1700 until 1739, but from 1700 to 1711, Easter Sunday was dated in the anomalous Swedish calendar, according to its own rules. In 1740, Sweden finally adopted the “improved calendar” already adopted by the Protestant states of Germany in 1700 (which they used until 1775). Its improvement was to calculate the full moon and vernal equinox of Easter according to astronomical tables, specifically Kepler’s Rudolphine Tables at the meridian of Tycho Brahe’s Uraniborg observatory (destroyed long before) on the former Danish island of Hven near the southern tip of Sweden. In addition to the usual medieval rule that Easter was the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, the astronomical Easter Sunday was to be delayed by one week if this calculation would have placed it on the same day as the first day of Jewish Passover week, Nisan 15. It conflicts with the Julian Easter, which could not occur on the 14th day of the moon (Nisan 14), but was permitted on Nisan 15 to 21 although those dates were calculated via Christian, not Jewish, tables. The resulting astronomical Easter dates in the Julian calendar used in Sweden from 1740 to 1752 occurred on the same Sunday as the Julian Easter every three years but were earlier than the earliest canonical limit for Easter of March 22 in 1742, 1744 and 1750.

After the adoption of the Gregorian solar calendar in 1753, three astronomical Easter dates were one week later than the Gregorian Easter in 1802, 1805 and 1818. Before Sweden formally adopted the Gregorian Easter in 1844, two more should have been delayed in 1825 and 1829 but were not. Finland was part of Sweden until 1809 when it became the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire due to the Finnish War. Until 1866, Finland continued to observe the astronomical Easter, which was one week after the Gregorian Easter in 1818, 1825, 1829 and 1845. However, Russia then used the Julian calendar and Julian Easter so the comparison given above applies: that the astronomical Easter agreed with the Julian Easter about every third year but was sometimes earlier than March 22 in the Julian calendar.

Beer day in Reykjavik, Iceland-Beer festival

In Iceland, Beer Day (Icelandic: Bjórdagurinn or Bjórdagur) is celebrated every year on March 1, honoring the elimination of the 74-year prohibition of beer. Beer prohibition lasted from January 1, 1915 to March 1, 1989. In a 1908 referendum, Icelanders voted in favor of a ban on all alcoholic drinks, going into effect Jan. 1, 1915. In 1921, the ban was partially lifted after Spain refused to buy Iceland’s main export, fish, unless Iceland bought Spanish wines; then lifted further after a national referendum in 1935 came out in favor of legalizing spirits. Strong beer (with an alcohol content of 2.25% or more), however, was not included in the 1935 vote in order to please the temperance lobby—which argued that because beer is cheaper than spirits, it would lead to more depravity.

As international travel brought Icelanders back in touch with beer, bills to legalize it were regularly moved in parliament, but inevitably were shot down on technical grounds. Prohibition lost more support in 1985, when the Minister of Justice (himself a teetotaler) prohibited pubs from adding (legal) spirits to legal non-alcoholic beer (called “pilsner” by Icelanders) to make a potent imitation of strong beer. Soon after, a full turnout of the upper house of Iceland’s Parliament voted 13 to 8 to permit the sale of beer, ending prohibition.

On the first Beer Day, Ölstofan bar owner Kormákur Geirharðsson recalls in The Reykjavik Grapevine:

I remember a lot of drinking and a lot of pissing all night long and the next days, and it [was] not stopping. This was the day Icelanders took the step to try to become civilized. Ölstofan was not open then, but the idea of owning a bar started there.

Following the end of prohibition, Icelanders have celebrated every Beer Day by drinking beer in various bars, restaurants, and clubs. Those located in Reykjavík are especially wild on Beer Day. A Rúntur (pub crawl) is a popular way of getting to know the various bars and beers in this city, many being open until 4:00 a.m. the next day. The legalization of beer remains a cultural milestone in Iceland, and a major seismic shift in the nation’s alcoholic beverage preference. Beer has today become the most popular alcoholic beverage of choice in Iceland.

To celebrate Sweden’s and Iceland’s faltering steps forward in calendar development and beer consumption I present a new Scandinavian recipe for beef stew with beer and rye bread from this website (slightly edited):  The recipe is not unlike other recipes for beef in beer that can be found throughout northern Europe, but it is new for Scandinavia. It does use a different method for browning the meat and onions that is attractive. Use a dark Scandinavian beer if you can find it. I don’t drink alcohol, but as with all such recipes I recommend accompanying the dish with the same beer that you cook with. When cooking with alcohol it is a hard and fast rule of mine not to use anything in the recipe that I would not normally offer to drink.

Scandinavian Beef Stew with Beer and Rye Bread


3 lb/1.4 kg beef brisket, cut into 1 ½ inch (3-4cm) pieces
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 carrots, peeled chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 handful dried porcini, or other dried mushrooms
1 cup/2.5 dl dark beer
1 or 2 slices dried, dark rye bread, in pieces
1-2 tbsp butter


Preheat the oven to 500˚F (250˚C). Place a heavy cast iron pot with lid in the oven when you turn it on.

When the oven is hot, take the oven-proof dish out. Add the meat, onion and oil. Leave them to brown for 2 minutes, stirring once or twice, then add the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt to taste. Put the lid on.

Return the dish to the oven, reduce the heat to 200˚F (95˚C) and leave for 3-4 hours. Try not to open the dish or pot before serving.