Maple House in Asagiri ( Shizuoka at the foot of Mt. Fuji )

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

I visited a photographer’s place in Asagiri Highland for the first time in many months. Mr. Nagatsuka is a distinguished photographer. He is particularly good at taking something moving. For example, cars and Kabuki actors. His life style itself is art. His wife is a great gardener. Every time I visit their place, I am amazed at all the many kinds of flowers laid out so wonderfully.

 

We exchanged a lot of information relating to the recent disasters such as the mega earthquake, tidal waves and crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Mrs. Nagatsuka and her friends are going to plant sunflowers on nearby land in order to get some seeds. Then she is going to send them to Fukushima. Sunflowers are said to absorb a lot of radiation and were planted in Chernobyl. But the problem is how to dispose of the seeds that they produce, since these can contain a lot of cesium. Some say they can produce oil to run machines or cars. Anyway I think it’s a great idea. We have to try anything to see how it works. I’m going to help her. Now in Fukushima, some people have already planted sunflower seeds. In Minami Soma (my home town), a farmer who is more than 80 years old planted rice last Spring as an experiment. The farmer is famous for growing organic and high quality rice. I was encouraged to know some people never give up and keep trying something new to overcome many difficulties.

Mrs. Nagatsuka says that she feels terrible about passing down bad heritage to our children and grand children when we have enjoyed comfortable lives by using a lot of electricity. When I heard this I remembered guests from Sweden saying something like “ We have to preserve the sounds of nature for our descendants. This is our mission.” Now I truly understand what it means.

 

 

Green tea in Shizuoka

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

 

Shizuoka is famous for its green tea. However the future of its green tea is at issue now.

 

On March 11 , a record earthquake and huge tsunami devastated a nuclear power plant in Fukushima.  Fukushima is about 350 KM away from Shizuoka. The radiation leaks from the crippled power plant are said to have reached as far as Shizuoka. Some inspections have been conducted by the prefectural government. They discovered radioactive cesium in excess of the legal limit in five tea plants (20 plants were inspected), while no radioactive iodine was found.

 

The local government asked the plants to stop shipping and to recall the tea they have already sold.

 

This is as much as the news reports cover. What I really don’t understand is why they only mention the contamination level of dried tea. They don’t tell us the contamination level when it is consumed. I mean the figures when the dried green tea is infused in the normal way. I don’t think people eat dried green tea leaves like a snack. According to a different report from some radio station, when green tea is infused the level goes down and it is far below the legal limit level. So there is no problem about drinking it. So why do they have to stop shipping?

 

When fresh tea leaves are processed, they are steamed, dried, rolled, and dried again. So a huge amount of fresh green leaves goes into producing the smaller amount that ends up as dried green tea. This is the tricky part. We can’t test processed green tea for contamination in the same way as vegetables.

 

It’s important to let people know both the good news and bad news. Also, inspections should be done in a more realistic and conscientious manner.

I also request all kinds of  the media be accurate and non-bias as much as possible.

Just stopping shipments of ‘contaminated’ tea or announcing which tea is safe to drink doesn’t help. The government and tea farmers should tell us the whole story by showing us the grounds why it is safe or not safe. Otherwise, people might stop drinking green tea altogether. Ironically speaking, this year’s green tea is of particularly good quality.

 

I’m going to drink it. So if you don’t drink it, please send it to me.

Kaiseki Lesson in May ( Japanese cooking )

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

I went to Kaiseki lesson the other day. In tea ceremony, from May to October

they call this period “ furo”. It doesn’t mean bath but brazier. Since it starts to get hot, they change the style of serving tea and serve different kinds of food in a different way.

I think Japanese like to enjoy the transition of the seasons.

Here is the memu.

1.    Rice: only a little for the first serving. You might be shocked to see how little it is when you are hungry but later they will serve you more. Don’t worry.

2.    Soup: broth of kelp and bonito seasoned with two different kinds of miso,

saikyou miso and aka miso. Simmered potato is topped with mustard.

Japanese mustard is very different from French mustard. I love both of them but for this soup, it has to be Japanese mustard.

3.    Mukouzuke: on that day fresh raw bream was prepared. The bream had been covered with kelp, sake or Japanese wine and salt and kept in the refrigerator for one night. Then it was cut into the right-sized pieces for guests to eat. The special dressing made from soy sauce, broth and lemon juice added refreshing smell and taste. I also love sanshyo herb or Japanese pepper leaves and wasabi.

4.    Wanmori, steamed dumpling. Mashed shrimp and bamboo shoots are inside the dumpling. It is topped with green mitsuba leaves and salted cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms smell very good.

For kaiseki, the season is very important and we sometimes use something already out of season. It’s called “ nagori”.

5.    Yakimono: grilled dish. It’s a kind of chicken meat loaf. Chopped brown mushroom and bamboo shoot are combined and baked.

6.    Pickles, cucumber, radish and wild vegetable called fuki.

At least one piece of takuan pickles ( the yellow one ) has to be left before

finishing the dishes because hot water called “ yutou “ is served on the bowl and we use a piece of takuan to clean the rice bowl as we finish it.

Since I love takuan I was going to eat it relatively early time, then my teacher told me not to finish all. I was also impressed by “ kakusi houchyou”. Takuan is kind of tough to eat but a small hidden cut on each pieces makes it easy for people to eat. Hospitality is the heart of Kaiseki.