Seeking out the snow in Hanamaki (Iwate )

Monday, January 21st, 2013

 

It has been really cold in Japan and it has snowed a lot. But I suppose there wasn’t enough snow for me where I live in central Japan so I travelled up to Hanamaki City in the northern prefecture of Iwate. It is not a big city but some distinguished people were born in this place, including writer Kenji Miyazawa and statesman and educator Inazou Nitobe, both active in the earlier part of the last century.

 

This city also has very good hot springs. I stayed a night at one called “ Yamanokami hot spring “ “ Yamanokami “ means ‘mountain god’ and the inn was designed and built by carpenters who make shrines and temples.

I enjoyed the snowscape from my room and as I was taking a dip in the open air hot spring, the snow fell on me and the breeze cooled my head, so I could stay out in the fresh air for quite some time.

   

After taking a bath, I got great foot massage for 30 minutes. It was very painful for me at the time but worked wonders afterwards. It was my second time to try a foot massage in Hanamaki and each time I was quite impressed by the skills of masseurs and masseuses. Hanamaki must have a good school for massage or good teachers to keep their level high! I had no chance to ask about it but next time I’m going to inquire further. I think it’s worth traveling to Hanamaki just for their hot springs and massage. I like people in Iwate because they are often funny. However, I haven’t had very delicious food in Iwate. I wonder why.

 

I visited Kenji Miyazawa’s museum and learned a lot about him. He was such a surprisingly versatile man. Some of his stories are very sad and some are very funny and sarcastic. He called his hometown “ Iitohabu” , which means “ Iwate “ in Esperanto. He was one of the supporters of the Esperanto movement for a common language for the world. His work was translated into many languages. Near the museum, I found an interesting restaurant called “ Yamaneko ken “. Clearly this was inspired by Mitazawa’s funny and rather interesting story called “ The Restaurant of Many Orders.” Two gentlemen go hunting and get lost in the woods. They feel hungry and find a restaurant whose billboards says “ Anyone is most welcome. Please do come in. We especially welcome those who are heavy and young.” This story is one of my favorite ones. I am happy to find Miyazawa Kenji’s spirit is still alive and well in this area.

Organic Yuzu

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Yuzu is my favorite fruit. The flavor and scent of this citrus fascinates many people. It can be used for many kinds of cooking. For example its ground or chopped peel can be added to soup, grilled fish. Or its juice makes a great dressing for salad when combined with other seasonings. We also put whole yuzu in the bath to enjoy its smell while hoping the essence of yuzu will make our body beautiful and keep our body warm. It is said that if you eat snacks made by pumpkin and azuki beans and take a bath with yuzu on the winter solstice day, you won’t catch a cold.

I visited Fujikawa town in Yamanashi the other day and discovered organic yuzu. They are free from chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or disinfectants last 30 years.

Yuzu sometimes taste bitter but these are not bitter at all. Growing them organically must be difficult and the price of this kind is much more expensive, though. I also learned that yuzu is good food for the people who are suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and gout.

   

 

I heard that the town harvests a lot of good yuzu every year. The town has an old temple (probably more than 700 years old) and the priests at the temple planted yuzu to use it for shoujin cooking. The history of yuzu in this area is very old. Like many other country towns, this town doesn’t have young people to take care of agricultural production, so they ask people outside of town to help with harvesting or taking care of trees etc as volunteers. Or they invite people to gain ownership of yuzu trees. Once I wanted to plant yuzu in my garden but got discouraged having heard that it takes 18 years to harvest the first yuzu. It takes many years to get it started and once we quit doing it, it can get out of hand or wither very quickly. We have to do all we can do to keep the land free from any kind of contamination and maintaining the right style of agriculture. I’m always amazed to learn the contributions of temples in olden time. The person who introduced tea first was a priest and in this area it was a priest who started to grow this wonderful fruit. Of course the lords of areas encouraged him to keep going, too. Temples have been and should continue to be centers of culture.

Agriculture is a long lasting investment. We also enjoyed viewing beautiful colored maple leaves. This year’s autumn leaves are very beautiful. I heard this years’ are the best in the last ten years.

 

Tea ceremony in November

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

November is a special season for tea ceremony. They start to use a kind of fireplace used charcoal called “ Ro “. From November to April, they use “ Ro “ to supply hot water to make tea. Demonstrating how to handle charcoal is a kind of important skill of tea ceremony. For the host of the tea gathering, sharing the same fire with their guests as they surround the hearth is very meaningful thing to do. Probably that’s because fire is a significant thing for human beings. It’s a very nice thing to hear the sound of water boiling in the iron pot in the quiet tea room. People say it’s like listening to the murmuring of pine trees along the windy beach.

It’s kind of sad but reminds me of the beginning of my favorite season. As for the tea itself, they open a new tea caddy since this is the best time to taste it.

 

We also have seasonal confectionery called “ inokomochi “. “ Inoko “ means baby wild boars. Since wild boars are fertile, people wish for the prosperity of families. Inokomochi doesn’t look colorful but it tastes much better than it looks. Sweet sesame paste is covered with rice cake and soybean flour. This persimmon one is another seasonal pleasure. 

Here is a real persimmon and it is said that it contains a lot of vitamin C to make your skin beautiful and prevent you from catching cold and hangover. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 November is my birthday month and it should be a beautiful time but many things are happening these days. As I watch BBC World News, it covers major events happening in the Middle East whereas NHK News covers only domestic political issues. In reality, the Japanese economy is affected by the world and now we have a lot of relationships internationally through so called globalism. We can’t go without knowing what’s happening in the world. People might think that Japanese are indifferent to the issues or simply stupid. I hope the quality of mass media in Japan goes up. I also wish the people who are fighting would stop one time to have tea and talk.  

Rice Planting at Lake Kawaguchi

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

I learn how to grow rice in Kawaguchiko town in Yamanashi. Mr. Hirata organizes the study meetings and he instructs us on how to grow it.

Rice has been the staple food of Japan but many people haven’t had experience growing it. In fact it was my first experience to plant paddy in my life. It was such an exciting one. Walking in the mud was more difficult than I expected and the touch of the mud was amazing. Working in the paddy field is very good exercise. It can build up the muscles of our legs, back and hip.

As I was doing the job, I concentrated on it as I did Zazen. It was hard but I couldn’t stop it. Completing the job, I finally realized how much I was exhausted.

Nowadays many farmers use machines to plow, transplant and harvest etc., but that day Mr.Tobe who grows some of the most delicious and expensive rice without depending on these machines came to show us how he plants and grows rice. Originally, he started to grow rice in order to provide his children with safe and decent food but this ended up in him producing some of the most delicious rice in Japan. I hate to mention the price but the rice costs 3,000 JPY per one kilo! You can buy it at a department store in Tokyo.

He uses the rake he made by himself to mark where to plant. He did his job very accurately, efficiently and smoothly. When we plant seedlings, we put only one or two so that each seedling has enough space to grow and eventually we can harvest bigger grains of rice. Now each seedling looks a little helpless but soon they grow thicker and bigger. Mr.Tobe emphasized that growing rice isn’t difficult. He doesn’t use any machines but he can make more than enough rice for his family. 

 My image of farmers’ lives is very hard but he said that his family and he work from 5AM to 7AM in the morning and one or two hours in the late afternoon. That’s it. It seems like that before he gets started, he plans things very carefully and think how to save energy. Once he gets started, he works very fast. Sometimes his family members compete with each other in speed. It sounds like fun.

Many people in our group are worried about the food shortage and aging farmers in Japan. According to Mr.Tobe, the energy problem is more serious than food problem. I’m going to visit his place in Niigata in August to learn more about his policy and life style.

 

The winter solstice

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

December 22nd is the winter solstice. Traditionally, we eat a dish called

“ toji kabocha “, simmered pumpkin and azuki beans. Both of the ingredients are very healthy and its combination is said to be perfect.

Pumpkin is a summer vegetable but we can preserve it for some time it as long it is uncut. Its rich carotene prevents us from paralysis caused by strokes. Azuki beans are also good for many things. We have many drinking parties in this time of the year but azuki beans work as an antidote.

 We take a bath with yuzu so that our body stays warm. It is said if you do that you don’t catch a cold.

 I found these Japanese sweets at a store in Fuji City. They said this set is for the winter solstice. One dumpling with a small green cup is yuzu. Another yellow one topped with azuki bean means “ toji kabocha “.  They are beautiful and taste good.

 Since it was very cold we enjoyed hojicha. In winter, we drink hojicha more often because we would like to drink it hot. In the case of sencha, we don’t use water that is less than piping hot. After eating a rather fatty meal, hojicha refreshes your mouth. I heard it’s very good for the people who had surgical operation because it can heal a damaged vascular system.

 I have a feeling that this winter in Japan is going to be very cold. I have to take good food and drink not to catch a cold. I am almost in winter sleep mode.

Enzyme bath part 2

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

I took a British person to my favorite enzyme bath in Fuji city.

One American said that by his experience, Japanese people like to make people from foreign culture surprised or even scared. If they are not surprised, Japanese people become very disappointed.

It may be right. In fact, I wanted to show him something unusual.

Enzyme bath consists of rice bran, fermentation agent and water. All of the ingredients are from nature. These things produce heat. We soak our body in the rice bran which is from 45C to more than 60C. We can’t take a bath in water as hot as 50 degrees but in the case of an enzyme bath, it’s not a problem. We can choose the temperature depending on our preference.

 This bath is good for the people who are fatigued without any serious health problems and even for people who have cancer. The owner of this bath told me that her client who has three tumors kept taking this bath. Then to their surprise, three tumors are united one and made the operation easier, then the operation went well and the person became healthy.

 My friend works hard and travels a lot, also he had a slight cold on that day.

Usually the one who tries it for the first time takes a bath around 15 minutes, but he said he would like to stay longer and ended up taking it for 25 minutes. After taking the bath, he looked very exhausted and sleepy but after that he looked refreshed. I hope more people experience this magical bath. Even babies who have skin problems can try. I heard it’s much better than taking medicine. I guess babies can be given something wrong from their mothers but since they are young , it’s easier to get rid of it.

For senior citizens, it helps them to rejuvenate by adding more enzymes.

Enzyme Bath

Monday, November 14th, 2011

The weather in Japan is kind of irregular this year. Sometimes it’s too warm or hot and the following day it gets cold all of a sudden. We have to pay more attention for our health so as not to catch a cold. In fact, I haven’t had any serious health check for several years. I drink and eat as much as I feel like though. To avoid seeing a doctor, I do yoga and sometimes take an enzyme bath.

 

This brown sandlike thing is rice bran. Water is combined with it to induce fermentation. This fermentation brings about heat. We soak our body in this rice bran. Its temperature reaches around 60C.,but I don’t like it too hot so I take it at around 50C. At first, I was a little scared but now that I have got used to it I sometimes fall asleep while soaking. This bath helps our immune system work better, encourages our metabolism and aids detoxification.

 

I heard many people’s body temperature is lower than before. I wonder why. We have more food than before. I think about fifty years ago, Japanese people didn’t eat a lot of meat or fat. I heard a long time ago, milk or eggs were only for sick people. However Japanese people’s average body temperature was higher then than nowadays.

 

After taking this enzyme bath, skin and scalp get moisturized and smooth.

My body stays warm even on a cold day and I can sleep very well.

I heard this bath is good for the people who have cancer, diabetes and rheumatism. According to some book, if you stay in a 60C bath for 20 minutes, you burn off calories as much as when you run a 15km marathon or do aerobics for two hours. That means it’s good for losing weight. I’d like to take this bath as often as I can.

 

Getting to know hemp in Yamanashi ( Lake Kawaguchi )

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

I happened to know about hemp by reading someone’s blog. I don’t know why but I became really curious about it. I learned that a couple living on Lake Kawaguchi ( Yamanashi ) and growing organic rice and vegetables also deal with hemp products. The wife makes clothes, underwear and accessories, etc.

I visited their place and found beautiful hemp clothes. They say that hemp is not only beautiful but also gives you energy and health.

Honestly I couldn’t believe that at first. So as a trial, I bought some pairs of socks made from hemp ( 46% ), cotton ( 38 % ), nylon ( 13 % ) and polyurethane ( 3% ). I bought some pairs for my family and we all tried and were surprised with this magical power. 1. Socks and feet don’t get stinky. 2. After wearing them for a day, the socks stay dry. 3. We all felt our feet warm in the socks.

 

 

 

Then I bought a loincloth since they say loincloth is the best to feel the effect of hemp. The loincloth is made from 100% hemp. Loincloth covers the point called “ seika tanden “ or “ hara “. The point is located about two inches below the navel. When I do zazen I try to bring my mind to focus on that point. Probably hemp provides my hara with its energy. The loincloth is thin but strong. It didn’t look very warm like a blanket but in fact I feel really warn when I wear it. They say wearing underpants often lowers our immune systems. But when I wear loincloth, our hip joints move smoothly and lymph glands work properly to make us healthy.

I feel very relaxed. The touch of hemp is very nice, too.

I heard that god gave humans hemp and water. After trying out hemp clothes, I understand that. It’s fun to know about hemp.

Green tea in Australia

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

I had a chance to meet an Australian business consultant who has started a green tea business in Australia. He seems to be a very able and distinguished consultant. He is friendly, positive, has a sharp mind, and often told us jokes.

His schedule was quite tight but we all felt grateful that he visited Shizuoka to taste and talk about tea.

 

He is going to spread and enhance tea drinking customs and culture in Australia. They have already started to grow tea plants as a trial. I thought it’s a good idea because Australia and Japan are located in reverse climates. If we grow tea plants in both places, we can enjoy first fresh green tea not once a year but twice a year.

 

I guess agriculture isn’t that simple and easy, though. But it’s worth trying.

He also emphasized health benefits by drinking green tea. It is said that green tea prevents many kinds of illness, inhibits carcinogens, lowers cholesterol levels and high blood pressure and helps to reduce weight. Since I was a child, green tea was always with me. So I didn’t think it’s anything special. However I feel very happy that some people from different cultures appreciate its benefits and our culture. Having thought about culture,  many kinds of Japanese things stem from tea ceremony, such as flower arrangement, housing, tea utensils, calligraphy, and kaiseki cooking. I’m sure his plan will go well and will make people happier and healthier.

I was also interested in his occupation. I understand his mission is to encourage emerging businesses in Australia. I think it is challenging but sounds very exciting. I wonder if I could find something beneficial from different countries to introduce to Japan. To do so, traveling to many places and meeting people are important things.

Hot spring in Yamanashi

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

It has been really hot and some might not even want to think about going to a hot spring. Shimobe hot spring in Yamanashi is great one in this case.

 

Shimobe is located in south west of Yamanashi prefecture. Yananashi is next to Shizuoka prefecture. This time of the year, many roads have heavy traffic so our choice of destinations and means of transportation are very important.

We were really lucky to choose Shimobe because:

1.    We were not caught in any traffic jam.

2.    Shimobe was cooler and quieter than other areas.

3.    Shimobe hot spring’s water is low in temperature (31 Celsius or 41 Celusius). In one bathing room, there are two big bathtubs with low temperatures and one with a relatively high one, so that we can alternate. In summer a low temperature bath is preferable. I could stay in it for a long time.

This hot spring is as much as 1,200 years old. Lord Takeda, who used to govern this area, loved this hot spring. This water is good for recovery from injuries. Probably Samurai warriers healed themselves in this hot spring.

 Also some writers such as Masuji Ibuse stayed at this hot spring.

This hot spring water is drinkable. As we went into a room, a woman at the inn gave us a big bottle of sake. First I thought “ What a welcome drink !”

But it contained hot spring water, not sake. “This water is good for your stomach,” she said. This hot spring isn’t very refined but it reminds me of old Japan. I hope it stays as it is.