Kaiseki, Japanese cooking

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

I took a cooking class the other day. We made a set of dishes for a tea ceremony called “ yobanashi “. Yobanashi is a tea ceremony session taking place in December or January starting around 5 o’clock in the evening.

In Japan this time of the year, that is almost time for sunset. After seeing sunset, they enjoy the dishes and tea ceremony. “ yo” means night and “ hanashi “ means talk. These two words are assembled and called “ yobanashi” or a night session. I haven’t been to a yobanashi tea ceremony but I heard it has a special atmosphere under the light of candles. I heard in western culture, having a candlelight dinner is something very romantic but I don’t know if this applies to yobanashi or not.

Our teacher has a lot of knowledge and ability. She talks to the point and give us directions. Once we start to work, the kitchen is just like a battle field ! First we made confectionary for tea ceremony. They are “ Ichigo daifuku “ A fresh strawberry is wrapped with white sweet bean taste and tender rice cake called “ gyuhi”. I had no chance to take the photo but we made another one called “ uguisumochi”.

Then we started to make dishes for yobanashi kaiseki.

One teacher and five students worked together. I think one of the most difficult things is to serve food at the right time and right temperature.

If I serve soup 10 minutes after cooking it, it’s too tepid. If I add dressing to raw fish too long in advance, it doesn’t taste good. I was also impressed by the rules or style of dishing up. For example, this is called “ hattusun”. In this case round items are served on square wooden dish. We are to dish up one food from the ocean and one from the mountains. On a green leaf, we placed grilled scallops and these yellow round fruit are simmered “kinkan” or kumquat. The combination of square and round makes things balanced. This idea is from “ onmyoudou” .

The old calendar, health care such as Chinese medicine or acupuncture, and many other things we take it for granted are from “ onmyoudou”. I found it is very interesting.


1.On this black tray, a bowl of rice cooked with black soybeans.

A cup of steamed tofu, strained tofu, seafood, egg, lily bulb and mitsuba leaves are mixed and steamed. It has to be served warm. I think lily bulbs are a very interesting food. They are used as medicine in China and are good for people who have high blood pressure and suffer from diabetes – as well as being good for healthy people too, of course.

Raw tuna topped with ground yam with dressing of soy sauce, sake, mirin and juice of yuzu and topped with nori.

2. Simmered turnips topped with miso flavored with yuzu and yuzu peel.

  Simmered leaves and stems of turnips.

  Grilled and simmered black mushrooms.


We started the class at 9:30 and after a short explanation, we tackled the work and completed at noon. It was a lot of fun. Just around noon, we said

“ Itadakimasu”.






Tuesday, January 25th, 2011



She came to English lesson in kimono for the first lesson of the year.

She can put on her kimono all by herself and looks very beautiful in it. Kimono is the traditional clothing of Japanese people, though many people can’t put one on without help. The kimono she was wearing is called “ tsukesage “ and it is a relatively formal one so it can be worn at wedding receptions, etc.

If you have a good look, you’ll see pine trees , plum blossoms, maple leaves.

That means this kimono is suited to three seasons (the one it is not suited to being summer).

The sash includes the design of “ gosyoguruma” or an old vehicle that nobles used to ride in.

Sashes are often even more expensive than kimono. I heard some people from foreign cultures buy sashes to decorate their rooms or make bags out of. Even though the quality may be very good, once it gets stains the price will go down. Many kimono and sashes are available at lower pricse at secondhand shop.

Kimono isn’t very easy to handle for me but it’s a great thing.

” Hatsugama” or the first tea ceremony of the year

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011


            Hatsugama on 9th of January at Kobayashi en in Fuji City in Shizuoka. Since it was the first tea ceremony of the year, many people took part in the meeting and  hostesses looked busy. First we had Sencha and sweets in a waiting room. This is the year of the rabbit so they used things with rabbit images on them. For example, this paper is called Kaishi. It can be used as a plate and napkins. This Kaishi has a picture of a rabbit on it.


 Also at the waiting room’s alcove, I saw a cute rabbit bowing in front of the Byobu or screen. Both the rabbit and the rabbit made of leaf are made by one of the hostesses. The hanging scroll was painted by Suzuki Souchyu Roshi (1921~1990) at Ryutakuji temple. I think he left many interesting paintings like. He painted a turnip which one priest brought for him. Turnips are delicious in winter and every winter the priest used to bring good turnips and here he came again with turnips as another good year had come.

With mattcha they served us hanabiramochi.  “Hanabira “ means petals and “mochi” means rice cake.This is a special confectionary for New Year’s day. White sweet bean paste and stick-like cooked burdock are wrapped with rice cake. This cake represents ozouni or a soup with rice cake which is enjoyed on New Year’s Day. The white bean paste represents duck meat. And why burdock ?


Some people put burdock for soup and burdock is said to be good for health so it must be considered to be a lucky food to use.

Tendon in Jinboucho ( Tokyo )

Monday, January 10th, 2011


I’m not talking here about a band of tissue in our body. “ Tendon” here means tempura placed on cooked rice and covered with salty and sweet sauce. I was strolling in Jinboucho (Kanda, Tokyo ) which has many secondhand bookstores. I really enjoy looking for books in this part of town. I don’t often encounter books I want to buy at bookstores these days but I can’t stop buying books at secondhand bookstores. First I thought it’s weird to hold and read books which used to be possessed by somebody I don’t know though. Now we can read books on computers but I still prefer conventional books. Still, I admit that e-books don’t take up room to store and are easy to carry.

Oops ! I have to get back to tendon. I was suddenly struck by the smell of sesame oil and followed it and suddenly found myself at the counter. A man asked me, “ You are going to have tendon, right ? “ The atmosphere  didn’t let me have a moment to think and I said “ Sure”.

The next question was how much rice I needed, large, medium, or small.

Just like ordering drinks in a of hamburger shop. I tried to find a menu but I couldn’t find any. I only saw the writing on the wall. “Tendon 600 yen”. I ordered this standard option. It had five different kinds of tempura , three kinds of fish, one vegetable and nori (seaweed), miso-soup and green tea. If you just want to have vegetable tempura, it costs only 500 yen. It was delicious and very inexpensive. Since they use good oil, I didn’t get heartburn later. But it was a little salty for me.  On the other hand, I was a little worried about the price. In Japan deflation is still going on. The tempura isn’t as good as the ones at expensive restaurants but still the price is low.

The shop serves only tendon from 11:00 to 16:00. It is closed on Sundays and national holidays. Tel: 03-3293-0366 .Three people are working there.

Monitoring these people was very interesting for me.

1.    A middle aged man who mainly takes orders and serves rice and tempura. He looks like a scientist who weighs things accurately. He

spoke very politely and his movement was brisk and smooth.

2.    An elderly man who makes tempura. He didn’t say anything and looked like he was just concentrating on making tempura. He looked like a philosopher. Even though he was working just in front of us, he looked like he was in a different dimension.

3.    A relatively young lady who serves green tea and miso-soup.

 She was very friendly and cheerful. The restaurant has no unnecessary items and people don’t say unnecessary things. They keep the place really clean and I felt like I was eating at a shrine.


Later I went to Iwanami Hall to watch a movie. Mrs.Palfrey at The Claremont. www.cl-hotel.com I almost always enjoy watching movies in this theater.

Jinboucho is one of my favorite places in Tokyo.









New Year vacation in Japan ( Oshogatsu )

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011


I usually go back to my hometown for the New Year vacation around 30th of Dec and stay there until 3rd. It is a really relaxing time but after the lazy vacation I almost always have to go on a rigid diet. Here you can see a two- storied rice cake called “ kagamimochi “. It is set in an alcove to welcome the new year’s god.  “ Ozouni “ grilled rice cake in soup is a typical breakfast on New Year’s Day. I’m afraid of being puffy like a rice cake.

We also have some new year’s food called “ osechi “. Some families still make it by themselves but others buy it.

We also go to shrines or temples with hoping for good luck.

I went to the shrine on the 2nd avoiding the January 1st crowd. These days many people visit shrines or power spots. Some people say that the bad economy has made people feel uneasy and is compelling them to send prayers to or depend on gods. For me visiting shrines is to make an oath to do something in front of the gods but not to ask the gods to make it happen without making any efforts of my own.

Still often being discouraged, I visit shrines or temples and feel refreshed.


This is an “Omikuji” or fortune slip. I paid 200 yen and drew one. It was “ Daikichi “ or very lucky. After reading the slip, some people tie the paper on the tree of the shrine but I wanted to read it again at home and put it in my pocket. But I must have dropped it somewhere and can’t find my “ daikichi”

slip ! Maybe the gods are warning me to be more careful.