Friday, June 30, 2017


June, hm, June, June, what to do for June. Aha, I know! Mokugyo or 木魚. That is to say, the wood fish drum/slit gong/bell/idiophone-struck-slit-drum  -- used across Asia in both Buddhist and Taoist rituals, (but, of course, imma talk about what *I think* is Japan's take on it).  Why? Well cuz, um, the 6th lunar month was Minazuki/Waterless month, and, uh... because  water equals fish which equals tuna, the Friday specialty meat at Subway? I dunno, just picked it really. And I mean, it is the last day of the month, so I just need to finish something, right? ;)

Apparently, during the time of Dōgen (who lived from 1200 to 1253 and introduced Zen to Japan), the wood fish drum called mokugyo was a  flat one that was part of 'the meal ritual' -- it was in the 'outer hall'. People hit it with a long pole during the ritual. They looked like this 'un (from the Met's Collection), 'less I be mistaken:

Then there's the type of drum that the people of today call mokugyo, which looks like a sleigh bell with a "handle" of two dragon-head fish, both biting a ball (or jewel, I've seen it called a jewel). The ball is a symbol of earth -- our plane of existence, I guess? This type seems to be the one that most people talk about, so that's the one I (hope) I am focusing on. (Of course the Met just said that both are called mokugyo...Anyway, insert rant and (yet another) minor nervous breakdown here, and let's continue.)

They're made by hollowing out a piece of wood. Camphor wood's the top choice, but you can get ones in mulberry wood or rosewood. (Unless it's that my source is mistaken... Really, some days I think that's this blog's unofficial tagline.)

The big ones are usually 2 or 3 feet tall -- but you can find bigger (see the video below) a piece. I got most of that basically from one book, which also says that they're painted -- red or "plainer" colors.

How do people play mokugyo? They use a padded drum stick. Big ones are put on a cushion before they're used. (Dunno how 'big' one has to be before it needs a cushion...) Here's a short video of a big mokugyo -- looks like a three-footer, easy:

From what I can figure, the mokugyo is kept in the hondo of Ryutokuji (龍徳寺) in Otaru (小樽), Hokkaido (北海道).

What I've found says mokugyo have two purposes: one is to help keep time during sutra chants, and and the other to call monks together for a Buddhist service. This probably varies from monastery to monastery, not to mention sect to sect. Speaking of which,  two sects I've read that use mokugyo are Zen (or禅) and Jōdō aka Pure Land (or 浄土宗.) (So if you ever find yourself on the lookout for spotting one, you know where to start now.)

On a related note, fish symbolism says that because fish don't blink, fish are like a metaphor for vigilance. Guess that makes sense -- mokugyo are meant to keep you on track, like. (And now I know not to start a staring contest with a fish.)

One version has it like this: mokugyo is supposed to have been the creation of one Chih-ling, a Chinese priest who lived during the Sui dynasty (Don't know when that was? I didn't either. It was 581-617 AD. There. Now we both know). Inspiration for it, goes a recounting, came from the Subha Sastra, a sutra.

Or was it?

Here's another history. A Chinese monk called Yinyuan Longqi brought it over in the 1600s. (Yinyuan, according to this same account, started the Ōbaku sub-sect of Zen. His personal dates are thus: 1592-1673.)


Myth/Legend/Origin Stuff
Here's a version of the mokugyo's origins: a priest in India got reborn as a fish, because he didn't live like he should've done. His new fish body had a tree growing out of it (whoa). Not only that, whenever this way out of left-field appendage got buffeted by anything, the fish/ex-priest got hurt.

Instead of being honest with himself about why he was now a fish with a tree growing out of his back, he blamed his superior/ex-superior and wanted to exact some good, old-fashioned revenge. One day, this same superior/ex-superior needed to cross the river the fish/ex-priest lived in, and verily did the fish/ex-priest go and take him some revenge (the narrative I came across didn't say what exactly that was, but apparently it counted as revenge).

The superior asked the fish what was going on, and the fish spake his delusion, to which the superior responded with flat denial, telling the fish that You Get What You Deserve. The scales fell from the fish's eyes. The fish asked the superior to make something out of his back-tree that people would use in Buddhism. This would get the fish closer to Nirvana. The superior obliged: he made a fish-shaped drum out of it. When the drum was used, the fish was able to go to Nirvana.

Now for a different origin story that completely (well sorta) flips the dynamic. It talks about a priest (I think) crossing a river and being saved by a fish. He made the fish a promise that he then forgot about... When it came about that the priest had to cross the river a second time (for some reason), the fish gave him a near death experience in retaliation for the slight. In response to this, the priest made an effigy of the fish -- a fish-shaped drum -- so he could beat the tar out of something without officially breaking his vow of non-violence. (I'm not quite sure he'd quite got the whole concept of non-violence.).

That one seems like a different moral story, perhaps on the importance of Keeping Your Promises.... or maybe perhaps Going To Bed On Time And Eating Your Vegetables (Because River Fish With Supernatural Powers Are Touchy And Have No Sympathy For People With Bad Memory).

To round out this post, here's a little science. Poking around for mokugyo info turned up a study on them. Scientists looked at both the drum's hertz (it usually makes two 'peaks') as well as what people liked best about the sounds. I don't understand all of it so... link!

Well, here we are again! Hope you had fun. ;) (Oh, and it's pretty  easy to find mokugyo for sale online. Just thought I'd put it in for the curious. )

"Culture in Action: Playing the Spoons and Other Curious Instruments"; Liz Miles; 2011

"A Popular Dictionary of Buddhism"; Christmas Humphreys; 1984

"We Japanese: The Customs, Manners, Ceremonies, Festivals, Arts and Crafts of Japan"; Frederic de Garis, Atsuharu Sakai; 2002

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Mokugyo

"Dōgen's Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A Translation of Eihei Shingi"; Taigen Daniel Leighton, Shohaku Okumura (translators); 1996 

"A Japanese-English Dictionary of Culture, Tourism and History of Japan"; 山口百々男, Steven Bates (translator?); 2010

Encyclopedia Britannica: Dōgen

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wakasa Agate Carving

Impressive but hard to look at, right? Many, many,many, 
thanks to the Met's art gallery for the originals I used in this composite. 
And the inventor of MS Paint. (None of the above artifacts are Japanese, by the way.)

In the dynamic, image above, note the two kanji. These make up the word menō, the Japanese word for agate. For those who can't make heads or tails of them and/or don't want to be bothered heading to a translating site to get a copy, here they are in print: 瑪瑙. 

From sight, I'd say the first one means "king trying to catch his horse", and the second one means "king waiting to flip three burgers on the grill". As I am such a kanji expert, I feel fully justified putting this interpretation forward for further review. ;)

And now a transition paragraph into the subject proper:

In spite of the fact that it doesn't get anywhere near as much publicity as, say, Sri Lanka or Brazil's gem industries, Japan does, in fact, have a toe/foot in the gem world: agates.

Sort of a surprise, right? You never hear about Japan being a source of luxury grade rocks. But yeah, in Fukui Prefecture (or Fukui-ken, kanji like so:  福井県) they've been mining agate and crafting things from the stuff for like two-ish centuries. (The origins may or may not be somewhere in the first 50 years of the 1700s). It's even got official 'traditional craft' status, as of 1976 (or Shōwa 51, for the era inclined.) So you know it's worth reading about, right? ;)

For those who missed this map in my
last post I used in it (whichever 
one it was...) -- voila! Map.
The official name for the ages old tradition of agate carving, unless I've grossly missed the mark, is 若狭めのう細工 -- all that is pronounced "wakasa menō zaiku". (Yeah, the site where I found this phrase used hiragana for menō... I've read that kanji can seem a bit 'heavy', like academic, so my guess is they wanted to look a little more visually accessible. Either that or it's just the normal way to spell it.) It means Wakasa agate work/workmanship. Why not "Fukui-ken menō zaiku"? 

Well, I found that Wakasa is the name for a coastal type province that today is but a part of southern Fukui Prefecture. For a while, it was an international trade stop, and whose importance wasn't to be sneezed at. It  was a source of seafood for the imperial court -- it came to be referred to as miketsukuni (or a miketsukuni province, not entirely sure which), whose kanji, I think, are this: 御食国. The first kanji, I wanna say, is an honorific one, the second one's "food" and third one's "country". Nowadays, this ex-province is called (the) Wakasa region. Um, so, I guess since the industry started in the province, that's what they went with...

But this isn't exactly the end of the agate nomenclature confusion. (At least, I've been confused.) We've got some more specificity to get through. See, there're websites -- including Japan's official tourist site -- that make a point of emphasizing a certain city's connection to this great agate tradition above all others in the region. Can you guess which city? (A hint: politics.)

This city, which was located 'round abouts smack dab-ish in the middle of the Wakasa region, holds the name of the seemingly improbable name of Obama. (Didja get it?) Nothing to do with our previous head of state, the kanji are: 小浜, which mean "small" and "shore".  (You might also see the kanji for "city" added to the end. I've seen this with other cities. Dunno what the nuance/nuances is/are.) 

Now about the agate itself. One source described the deposit(s?) most common color as red. In the pictures I've seen so far, you get a lot of intense red-orange and orange coloration, plus a range of paler versions. And of course, because it's agate, these colors can come in layers of stripes, sometimes in rectangle-y shapes. A few pieces I saw had definitely got some translucency going on. Sort of like the picture below with all the circles that look like a pudgy bee, but not, as this one's Minoan. (Again many thanks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Seriously, if you want awesome -- and public domain photos, at that -- check out their site.) But I also saw at least one giant chunk of agate in process that was more gray than anything else. But I know the secret behind this discrepancy! 

They get agates all nice and vivid by heat treating them (this is also traditional, by the way). Which, if you're looking for the purity of rocks that were just shined up a bit, might feel like a bit of a let down, but still, you gotta admit, they're pretty eye-catching afterwards. 

Anyways, to get 'em all shaped, one tool I saw used in more than one video is the sand and water slurry and a grinding wheel. Beyond that, the secrets of the agate masters carving techniques remains a mystery to me -- for now.

Here, look at this video, which, for all I know, explains things better than I do (It's a little muffled, you might have to turn the volume up):

 Then there's this one video where I saw this one guy use a grinding wheel to polish a magatama he was making, though he wasn't in Wakasa. (A magatama is a bead with all kinds of cultural context. Some are basically like one half a yin-yang symbol. Others are like a cross between that and a macaroni noodle.) See, I'll put it here:

Speaking of videos, there're also a few that show kids doing stuff to agates, one had them etching with razors, while another had them rubbing agates with sand paper. (Shaping them? Polishing them?). Both were at the Miketsukuni Wakasa Obama Food Culture Museum (kanji (and hiragana) thusly: 御食国若狭おばま食文化館. Not entirely sure how to pronounce all of it, and I'm not even gonna try.) It's right across from Obama castle (no presidents involved there either) -- and a tax collector's, and a courthouse for family cases. Hm... Is that terrible or brilliant planning?

Agate -- it's not just a type-o! (See cuz, agate/a gate... Look, I knew what I meant!)

Japan Heritage: Wakasa Province: A Cultural Heritage Linking the Seat to the ancient Capital: Miketsukuni and Saba-kaido Road: Cultural heritages linking the Japan Sea to Nara and Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan

As my lazy Japanese skills don't allow me to read things that are more complicated than "Kenji is seven years old. He likes cake." I don't know how much information I'm leaving out. This really applies to a significant portion of these references, but here's two I thought I'd point out, to those learning the language. So, yeah. Cheers!

Number one:

And number two:
御食国若狭おばま食文化館: ご利用案内

Oh, and here's where I got the Shōwa date. (He's got era names and dates too, and the transliterations and the kanji. And it's an site, which means it's academic and therefore official. Which makes this author happy.) 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Hagi no Tsuki

Hey, I'm super early this time... So without further ado, the article.

On the left, a cross section, on the right, a hagi no tsuki in its unaltered wholeness.
(I sincerely hope that this (and the post for that matter)
doesn't get me sued. (Don't worry, I'l explain).

To the untrained ear, hagi no tsuki may sound like a person with a mouthful of saltwater taffy trying to express that they are in possession of a pig that refuses to come when called. (A bit of imagination/sleep deprivation may be required for full comprehension).** In truth though, it involves neither pigs nor nutrition-less nuggets of (delicious) varieties of sugar and (a surprising number of) chemicals.

Though my eye-catching picture above (and my current trend in posts) is undoubtedly a big tip off, I'm still gonna try and create build up in explaining this mysterious object known as hagi no tsuki is. (Whoo, word count of thirty-six! Yeah! Ahem.)

First try looking at the name, which may provide you with a very vague nudge in the right direction. (It didn't for me, though it probably should have). Hagi no tsuki is "bush clover moon". The kanji (plus one hirigana) are thus: 萩の月. Japanese learners among us many notice the kanji for bushclover/hagi is the kanji for autumn/fall with a little fence up top. (This little fence, from what I understand -- don't ask me where I read this, cuz I don't remember -- tells you that you're dealing with a plant. Neat, huh?) So we've got bush clover (Lespedeza bicolor -- L. bicolor for us lazy types), a symbol of autumn in both name and tradition. And we have the moon. Got your answer? Okay, here we go!

Took me forever to find a moon
pic for this post, and I'm not exactly

sure what the ax-wielding man is doing.
But hey, the moon looks like hagi no
tsuki, right? So mission successful!
It's a cake!  And not just any cake -- it looks like it's the specific product of a Sendai-based company called Kasho Sanzen. (Hence the caption in my lovely MS Paint work at the top here.) See, they tend to be pale yellow, slightly flattened domes of castella (or カステラ -- it's a type of sponge cake with apparently something of a steamed texture) filled with incredibly solid-looking custard cream filling of a darker yellow. (You know, like my incredibly life-like MS Paint masterpiece above). So hagi no tsuki are cakes shaped like the harvest moon. (To those who were already thinking harvest moon, I give you props!)

Whether naturally or through the dedicated efforts of various tourist boards, hagi no tsuki is a product connected with the Tōhoku region (aka just Tōhoku or 東北 aka the northern area of Honshū or 本州). Specifically and famously, with Miyagi Prefecture 宮城県. Is there any causal relationship that would help define a logical follow through to this seeming discontinuity? Well, Miyagi Prefecture's official flower is the bush clover's flower so, it makes sense.

The darker green area is Tōhoku. Yep.
(Here's a little side trip into a moment that kinda surprised me, even though I guess it probably shouldn't have, come to think of it. (Still, it was a sudden turn after only getting pages about the cake's description.) One source I found is in the Japanese government's Public Relations Office's website. It talked about the March 11, 2011 disaster and the Japanese economy, and what people where doing to be proactive. Included in this article were hagi no tsuki. (See what I mean about sudden turns?)

Specifically, it talked about the fact that Kasho Sanzen's production was totally destroyed, and they started selling their inventory a few days after the disaster happened. 

The article also mentioned that one time, huge department store, Shinjuku Takashimaya, once had a five day fair that went from April 20th to the 25th, selling Miyagi Prefecture goods -- including hagi no tsuki. 

Sometimes you never know what you're gonna find. Okay, side trip finished.)

It must be said though, while like 99 percent of the (small number) of pictures I've found of this cake have the what looks like some variant of vanilla pudding -- meanwhile in this post from the blog Sweet Travel, it's chocolate... and the cake type itself looks darker and heavier. Can't complain, mind, 'cause if there's anything I like it's a dessert with chocolate in it. (The same post also said that hagi no tsuki are made with Twinkie technology. It must be said that at least in terms of appearance, Twinkies and hagi no tsuki do look sorta like they're first cousins or something).

As for size, here's a v-log review by a food vlogger I only discovered when doing research for this post. (She's apparently quite popular: when I came across her hagi no tsuki video she had 2,878,049 followers). As per usual, I can't tell a lot of what she's saying but you'll get a good look at a hagi no tsuki:

**Hoggy no suey. Oh, and if you're ever in the Sendai airport, they sell hagi no tsuki there, from what I (hope I) understand. Costs 1200 yen, but I dunno how many you get.

The Free Dictionary: Bush Clover

Government of Japan Public Relations Office: Highlighting Japan: COVER STORY: The Road to Recovery

Miyagi Touring Navigation: Shopping

Sendai International Airport: General Store Hagi (Confectionary Specialty Department)

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh: David Barnhill: Major Nature Images in Basho's Hokku

"Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era"; Donald Keene; 1999

The Free Dictionary: Encyclopedia: Bush Clover

University of Virginia Library Etext Center: Japanese Text Initiative: Japanese Haiku: Brief Entries: aki, Autumn

Image Reference:
Picture of the awestruck lumberjack provided by Yale University Art Gallery:

Yale University Art Gallery: Cassia tree moon - Wu Gang : # 26 of One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hakutō Zerī and White Peaches

And the Japanese word for peach is -- momo! And I make tolerably
good-looking stylized peaches, if I do say so myself. 

Tadaaaa! I'm early this time! I'm even sort of seasonal again! How's this? Well, March is a month associated with peach blossoms -- and therefore the topics of this post is a good, seasonally relevant one to talk about!

So, as you know, people put peaches/peach flavoring  in practically every type of dessert or drink known to man, from pie, yogurt, ice cream, candy, sweet tea, soda pop, juice drinks, scones and cakes/quick breads to more healthy options such as fruit salads (probably, though I've never seen it myself) and smoothies. (Congratulations, you made it to the end of the list!) They even put it in salsa, which is more or less where I draw the peach appreciation line, myself.

Meanwhile in Japan (muwahahaha! ahem), among the various varieties and options of peach themed comestibles, there's also a summer dessert called 白桃ゼリー or hakutō zerī. Which in English means (so far as I understand it) "white peach jelly".

The Background: White Peaches

Peaches: also in white. 

You, like me, probably don't connect peaches with Japan. At all. In fact, if you've been looking around at Japan, one of those things you probably have heard (or will hear soon enough) about Japan is that fresh fruit costs. And that, in fact, having fresh fruit requires a certain level of income to acquire regularly, perhaps about what a well-cornered stock market would get you.

The truth of the matter is, it's not just Hokkaido that's known for its produce! There are whole prefectures known for growing produce. One such prefecture is Okayama Prefecture (kanji as so: 岡山県), the "Land of Sunshine" which is known for peaches and grapes -- it's the prefecture where half of Japan's peaches are grown. (Kinda seems like a cross between Georgia and Florida).

Brought to you by countless dedicated cartographers
and Wikipedia (checked with Google Maps).
Label, arrow and background art by me and MS Paint.

In particular, to sorta kinda be precise, Okayama Prefecture is known for the hakutō or white peach (They're not white really, from the pics I've seen -- they're more a pale yellow, with some red blush). From what it looks like, hakutō is a term for any type of Japanese white peach grown in Okayama (though I bet people use it in general too.)

The very first type of hakutō came from Chinese immigrant peaches, brought over during the Meiji period -- apparently, the Chinese cling (or Shanhai Suimitsu). Some of the different types I've come across in my internet agricultural travels include the shimizu hakutō, Okayama yume hakutō (hmm, the "Okayama dream white peach"),the sakigake hakutō. The shimisu hakuō is the most well-known.

...And, uh, well that's all I have to say about that for now. ;)

Hakutō Zerī
But it's not just the various races of peach that we're talkin' 'bout t'day. (Apostrophes -- now for all your phonetically expressed dialectical inflection needs!) No, today the ultimate point of the article is this: hakutō jelly -- aka white peach jello. To introduce you to how a commercial hakutō zerī looks, here's an ad spot/micro tour for a company that makes hakutō zerī with the shimizu hakutō:

This URL has a recipe in Japanese for ... pickled(?)  hakutō zerī. With the mixed blessing that is Google Translate as my aid (again), it looks like the directions say to make a syrup with chopped white peaches, water and sugar (plus some lemon). After that there's some directions involving something that seems kinda like gelatin, but isn't quite : ゼリーの素 -- I think it might be jello mix. (If it is jello mix, it seems a bit of a cheat, but I suppose it adds flavor, like adding onion powder to chili with onions already in it). I assume some kind of acid is involved to to the fact "pickled" aspect of it...

Anyway, the uploader in the videos below (don't worry, they're super short) uses this method:

And part two:

Looks like he could have benefited from a pinch of agar or the like, but I bet it tasted pretty good all the same.

Meanwhile, this book has a recipe in English what seems like it's pretty much hakutō zerī, and it's similar to the above recipe, though it uses certain other ingredients, and doesn't use prepackaged jello. (If you can't find it in the preview (Google Books is like that sometimes), try a different browser, that works for me.)

Much as I'd like to have been able to write about the history and cultural use of this dessert, it just sort of seems to... be. I haven't found anything about it's origin or rise in popularity 'n all that... Ah well, here's to diversity!

An Extraneous Video I Looked At
A lot of videos that came up on YouTube for hakutō zerī  were unboxing/tasting type videos. The video you're gonna come across in a few sentences is one of 'em.  It's a bit slow paced/quiet (it's like he's doing an ASMR video or something), here's this un-boxing of an undeniably very fancily wrapped hakutō (Like the last video, don't know what all he's sayin', so just an fyi to all you speakers and learners of the language):

So anyway, all in all, white peach jelly probably isn't really considered particularly that different and/or special from yellow peach jelly. Um, well, to wrap things up I guess I'll finish with one last fact on peaches which says that for a while white peaches were the peach of choice in Japan, not yellow, but that's been changing. (I have no official time line of this, you'll just have to trust my vague assertations). See y'all later!

"The peach and the poet know/Under the chill the glow,/And the token of golden days!" -- Bayard Taylor from Peach Blossom (Hooray for search engines!)

Okayama Prefecture Web Site: モモの新品種 ‘さきがけはくとう’ 日原 誠介・藤井 雄一郎・笹邊 幸男* A New Peach Cultivar ʻSakigake hakutoʼ Seisuke Hihara, Yuichiro Fujii and Yukio Sasabe

J-Stage: "White Peach in Okayama prefecture, Distinctive development and the endeavors for the best quality"; Yuichiro Fuji

"Shunju: New Japanese Cuisine;" Takashi Sugimoto, Marcia Iwatate; 2002

"The Peach: Botany, Production and Uses": Desmone R. Layne, Daniele Bassi (editors); 2008

Okayama University: Okayama Travelogue: Okayama Hakuto-the sweet and fragrant peach grown in ‘Land of Sunshine’

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


A famous food in Ishikawa Prefecture's Noto Peninsula as well as the Tōhoku region, and looking like trail food,  here's today's topic: yubeshi or 柚餅子 --  that's "yuzu", "mochi" and "child", respectively. Two of -- well I guess all three really, though the third's a bit of a stretch -- these kanji give massive hints about what yubeshi is. 

For geographical-ness though here's some pictures of Ishikawa Prefecture and the Tōhoku region.

The dark part's the Tōhoku
region. From Wikimedia (again, checked
by the internet).
Looks kinda like a sock puppet dunnit?
At least part of the stick-y out-y
bit's the Noto Peninsula.
(From Wikimedia, checked by the internet).

So anyways, when you see a picture of yubeshi served up, your first impression may very well be that it began life as a (hopeful) attempt at vegan jerky. But it's not! It's a(n) (obviously) yuzu flavored rice and/or miso dumpling that takes a good while to prepare, and it can have other stuff too, depending on the recipe. 

As for culture... Hmm, it's a cold-weather food associated with rural areas. (Lemme tell you, it just looks like something created for enduring hard times -- but I like lemony things, so for all I know I'd like it). It's also popular at New Years. 

With a sharp sudden turn in focus, and without out further ado, let's begin what's basically the second intro, the Yuzu Aside! (Which you can skip, and probably will, if you're just in it for the yubeshi).

Yuzu Aside
For those who previously were completely ignorant of the yuzu's existence and to round out our knowledge of the yubeshi, let's take a moment to consider the yuzu or 柚子 (though I've seen it just as 柚. If there's a nuance, no place I've read (that I could understand okay) has mentioned it.)

Botanists, and other science types probably, have been known to call this fruit Citrus junos. Like limes and lemons and such, yuzu are used in cooking -- for one thing, it's the fruit ponzu makers put in their ponzu -- unless it's a company that doesn't want to use something that's probably more expensive or has tariffs or something... they use lemon, from what I understand, which I think is basically what people who can't get yuzu use anyway. 

Pic of a yuzu I nabbed from the Wikipedia. (It had a
 mandarin too, but I edited it out. The shadow's on it's right is from
the mandarin). Seems to match the other pics I've seen -- a yellow
orange that looks like it's been left in the fruit bowl a bit too long.

Getting back to yubeshi, it would appear that there're several types (or more... and not everyone says they're are types. *Shrugs* One book I found says two is the number, so for now we'll go with that. I mean, it's from 1976 and is a little confusing, but it's the most comprehensive definition I've got right now that I can read without guessing every other word.)

One type has a miso mix. You can use it as a party snack-y type thing (aka hors d'oeuvres -- or appetizer, if you're at a restaurant)  as a topper for foods, sliced.

The other type is composed of a mochi mix (looks like soy sauce, a sweet syrup (dunno which type) or at least some type of sweetener and glutinous rice). It's is supposed to be spicy and sweet but not super strong tasting. You use it as a snack/hors doeuvre/appetizer or as a candy.

Walnut yubeshi -- which is yubeshi with walnuts in -- seems to be a thing. Here's a (Japanese language) recipe video (I don't know what the song is about, but it sounds exciting. Oh, and walnut in Japanese is kurumi, and if you want to spell it in kanji, this is it: 胡桃).

The general procedure for making them is this: either you cut your yuzus either in half or just part of the top end (got a bit of contradiction there) --  then you can scoop out the innards. (You know in Belize, they make jack o'lanterns out of grapefruits as a Día de los Muertos decoration. True story.) Once they're hollowed out, fill 'em with your yubeshi mix, apply steam and hang your filled yuzu molds up in a tree to dry. (Or, in the case of the videos I'm going to introduce below, in a commercial drier). This will take a good while -- but once their done, pop 'em out of their rinds like those little red cheeses in the dairy section and voila! A nice crop of yubeshi, ready to be sliced up thin and served. 

The point of using yuzu is so that the mix gets that yuzu taste... I haven't looked at people's personal recipes much, but I found a quick version for Yubeshi in Google Books where you just grate yuzu peel straight into your mix and put your yubeshi your fridge to chill for a few days.

Explanatory-ish Videos
Here's  video (part 1 of 2) that I don't understand. But it's got a dramatic-y cinematic Jurassic Park meets Hallmark/Disney Channel type feel, which might be enough to help carry you along to the end. (It's a yubeshi/yuzu growing tourist place promotional video, from what I do understand).

And because sometimes I'm filled with civic mindedness, below this sentence you will find part two. ;) 

Post-Script PSA
Oh, and just an FYI: do not search for yubeshi on the Amazon site for English speakers. Strange as it may sound, when I did that, there was nothing on the rice cake stuffed into a fruit rind and steamed then dried. 

No, what I did find was anime posters. Lots and lots of (somewhat suggestive) anime posters -- at least some of which were for an anime called Yubeshi (so props to the Amazon search box for accuracy). I gave up after several pages, and instead (after failing to find much on Google Shopping) went to the Japanese Amazon, where I struck some pay-dirt -- actual yubeshi products! Okay, this is starting to sound like an ad for Amazon, so I'd better stop. 


Hooray for search engines and the internet! 

"Chado: The Way of Tea"; Sanmi Sasaki, (translated by ‎Shaun McCabe, ‎Satoko Iwasaki); 2002    This one doesn't actually let you see the book, but if you scroll down the page to the "Other Editions" section, you get a limited preview of the 1997 version... which won't let me see anything on yubeshi. Yeah, it's a little convoluted. Oh wells, I tried!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Today is the fourth day (my time) of the Chinese (lunar) new year, a period of festivites lasting two weeks and one day. Therefore, I suppose it would be fitting and in the moment to write about, oh, say, kagami mochi, shiruko, hastumode, kadomatsu or ozōni/osechi ryori -- or even all of them at once, plus all the other interesting Japanese New Year's traditions. Which I kind of just have, so there we go, obligatory New Year's blogging completed. You can all go home now -- go on, shoo. Go 'way now, I means it!

Just kidding!

Thoday' topic is kusa mochi(space optional), aka 草餅, which people also call yomogi mochi, aka 蓬餅. You may notice that the second kanji for both words is mochi. The first kanji of kusa mochi though, means grass, and the first kanji of the second word is mugwort. You can basically see where this is all going/has already ended up, right? Mochi flavored (and colored green) with mugwort (though it doesn't strictly have to be mugwort -- more on that in a bit). Sounds tasty, dunnit? 

Yeah, to me it still sounds like a health food -- but since I've got exactly zero experience with mugwort as a flavor, even though it sounds  kinda meh, it might be good for all I know. So don't let my confidence and authoritative position as a producer of fine and timeless information products influence you in the least -- and if you've tried it, don't hesitate to say. (Yeah, I am getting this social media guru thing down, for sho'!)

First, a brief aside about mochi, which I suppose I ought to have put earlier on in this post but didn't. (Those with intermediate mochi knowledge will understandably and undoubtedly skip the next paragraph. And the one right below it). 

In Japan, they've got their own style of rice, and a variety of that has more starch. This second type is steamed and pounded -- traditionally with giant wood mallets and a giant wood pestle, but they also (blessedly) have machines for it these days. (Still, I suppose the hammerer and mochi flipper team can be a bit more of a draw at fairs and public events and suchlike.)

Mochi can be and is often colored and/or flavored and/or wrapped around something -- and/or mixed with tons of preserving chemicals before left to sit on store shelves. There's a lot of ways its used as an ingredient (and as a food-like substance with the proper additives) for both desserts and otherwise.

(Hm, that wasn't such a short aside. Ah wells...)

Here's a video of the hammerer and mochi flipping team showing of their skills making kusamochi:

Sort of looks like they're beating up on that one ghost from Ghostbusters, doesn't it?

Getting back on track: the delightful East Asian perennial with the charming scientific name of Artemisia princeps -- aka yomogi. People in East Asia  have a tradition of using it for feminine complaints, but that's not all it's used for. Plug yomogi into a general shopping site like Amazon or whatever, and you'll see a very random assortment of products, and the usual stuff like mochi, powdered yomogi and seeds for growing your own yomogis -- we're talking soap, some kind of foot pads/wipes, facial masks, even some kind of pelvic corrective hot water bottle cushion for women in "yomogi". It's definitely part of the herbal health scene, it looks, as it's used to put the moxa in moxibustion.

Unusual and slightly surprising uses aside, apparently people use it to flavor things. Young leaves (harvested in spring and blanched), are put in foods (like soup, dango, o-hitashi and rice). 

If you can't get mugwort for your kusa mochi, that's okay, because tradition allows for other grasses like it that you can sub. (I don't know what those grasses are, but they're out there.) 

Aight, now for some history on this thing, so you'll feel all awesome and knowledgeable should you come across it and/or be eatin' it. 

Waaay back in the Heian period, like the first part of it, there was this one day, the third day of the third month. This day was then known as the infamous sounding Day of the Snake. On it, people in Japan ate kusamochi -- though their kusamochi used cudweed (gogyō or 御形), known alternately by the name/phrase "mother child grass" (hahakogusa or 母子草). (For any botany enthusiasts out there, the scientific name for this one is Gnaphalium affine). 

The reason for the kusamochi on the Day of the Snake, was because the Day of the Snake was a time to get rid of pollution. Spring greens, now in rice cake form!

This tradition came about because hahakogusa had a tradition in China: it was thought that it had such a powerful smell that it gave evil a great big smack on the olfactory receptors, keeping it well away from people. (They used other plants tradition also was a thing in Japan for a time -- and kind of still is).

But wait, I hear you say, isn't the third day of the third month Girls' Day/Hina Matsuri? Yep. The Girls' Day you read of today came out of the Day of the Snake -- the switch happened in the Edo period. In spite of all the emphasis on the dolls, Girls' Day is still a day of purification.

So on to modern day uses. Kusa mochi still is used for Hina Matsuri, though it's not the only official sweet of the day (at least one that I know of is hishi mochi -- diamond shaped mochi that has three layers: pink, white and green). It's also a dessert just generally associated with spring -- people use it in situations where they want to be historical and seasonal (like in kaiseki or a Girls' Day tea ceremony). 

As for ways people serve kusa mochi up, I've seen it made plain as well as kusamochi a la daifuku (filled with anko)... Curiously, one book, which was about tea ceremonies, said you're supposed to shape your kusamochi into a hat. That's the only place that I've happened across that's mentioned this hat, that I know. Sounds interesting, though. However they look, I bet they'd make a really different St. Patrick's Day dish, for sure!

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Your first clue for finding out what wappani is.
Truly, I am the MS Paint artist of the age!

Type  "wappani" into Google and you will find all manner of highly informative information -- on a native American tribe called the Wappinger. (They lived from Manhattan through Poughkeepsie, by the way. They merged with other native peoples after they and the Dutch spent some time beating the tar out of each other.)

But wappani -- no matter what your search engine may try to tell you -- has nothing to do with North American peoples, (though when you know what it is, you can't help but think it ought to be).

It's actually a Japanese dish, and it's spelled like this わっぱ煮. You'll find it's associated with the island of Awashima (kanji thusly: 粟島), part of Niigata Prefecture (aka Niigata ken or 新潟県).

And now, ¡te presento una mapa con la isla de Awashima! (Yes, I know this isn't Things on Latin America/Spain. I just don't get a lot of opportunities to show off my beginner's Spanish. Can't fault me that much, can you? ;) )

So, our geographical context is in place. Time to tell you what wappani is. It is, more or less, this:

First, take a special flat-bottomed bowl made of cedar (aka the wappa, aka わっぱ . You have no idea how much I want to think up a wappa/Whopper joke right now). Put your soup ingredients in it, including things like miso, onion and cooked fish.

Next, locate a few (and this is important) heat-resistant rocks (we're talking basalt (aka genbugan/玄武岩) here. Don't nobody wanna dodge kitchen shrapnel, 's all I'm sayin'.) Heat them in a well made fire of some kind until they're so hot that they scare you. Pour hot water into your bowl.

Take up your pair of fire resistant tongs, pick up one of your hot rocks, dip it in a conveniently placed bowl of water, and insert it into your wappa. If you've done it right, the water will instantly begin (and continue for a short time) to boil extremely well -- the 煮 part of wappani.

When it stops boiling as much, repeat the rock dipping and inserting process, until you are satisfied. (I actually don't know why the people in the videos I looked at put new hot rocks in the wappa. The soup looked pretty heated up to me with just the first rock. Trade secrets, perhaps, or unobservant blogger.)

Voila, wappani! Basically a ancient/tribal/survivalist version of making your own phyllo/puff pastry/lutefisk. In a way needlessly complicated, but interesting, kind of impressive and possibly worth doing one time, if you're in the mood for it.

Here's one of the videos I looked at:

A variation on the heating process involves putting the rock in before the water, and adding in more than one rock, as you can see in this video:

I'm sure the ancient Awashima inhabitants also had their fine wire strainers to get the foam off the top of the bowls. ;)

And there's more. The video below (dated May 2010) shows what looks like some kind of first annual festival. Be warned: lots of Japanese folksy (and even at one point jazz/bluesy) music  and lots of people being silly for the camera -- dancing, singing, saying that the wappani is delicious ("umai!" and "uma'!"), and having exaggerated reactions of bliss while eating it. (Of course, if wappani takes a long time to make, they may have just been really hungry.) Those feeling dignified and/or find their eyes (and soul) twitching at the sound of goofy or twangy music, this may be a little hard to watch.

 Might be fun to go to though. ;)


From Wappinger to wappani.

The Free Dictionary: Wappinger

NHK: みちしる:粟島のわっぱ煮漁師たちの豪快な郷土料理 <-- Had to guess out a way to put the title together on this one, just an FYI to the bibliographers out there.

粟島浦村: 粟島食の特産品

(Only three this time, amazing!) Also, the middle reference has an interesting video that I would have liked to embed here, but alas.)