Jan 9, 2014

Celebrating New Year for the Emperor at the Imperial Palace

On January 2 of this year, I paid a visit to the Imperial Palace to celebrate New Year for the Emperor and other imperial families.

This was my first experience to enter the premises of the Imperial Palace, and I was impressed to see so many people with the same intention as mine gathering in the square in front of the palace (a total of over 80 thousand people paid a visit the Imperial Palace on this day).

Being one among those tens of thousands of visitors, I was waiting for the appearance of His Imperial Majesty and other imperial families. At around 11 o'clock, as soon as they appeared on the deck, the visitors started waving Japanese national flags and praising aloud His Imperial Majesty, wishing him health and longevity. Then, His Majesty and families responded by waving us.

At this time, I felt that all the visitors in that place were spiritually bound with each other as subjects of His Majesty, and realized that the Emperor makes our nation what it is now. Maybe, Japanese are unaware why Japan is what it is now, that Japan is what it is now because of His Majesty. Then, a thought came to me that whenever facing hardship, we can work as one to overcome it because of the fact that we have His Majesty.

Finally, let me add this: one of the greatest things about our Emperor is that the Emperor of Japan boasts the world's longest history of bloodline. Our Emperor is the 125'th generation of the bloodline that started from the first Emperor Jinmu.

Dec 14, 2013

Hot Sake in Hot Bath

I believe that the practice of enjoying warmed sake constitutes one of the most important parts of the sake culture.

I myself often enjoy warmed sake, and I usually use a kandouko (see "Finally got akandouko (sake warmer)!") to prepare warmed sake. However, if you want to sip sake in a hot bath, I can show you an easy way to prepare warmed sake. This method recently flashed on me. Prepare cup sake and use the following procedure.

1. Leave the cup sake in the bathtub in which hot water is filled.
2. Wait for a while until your warm sake becomes warm enough.
3. Bathe in the bathtub and enjoy warmed sake at the same time.

Usually, the bathtub in a Japanese house is connected with a boiler, which can be used to keep the water in the tub warm. So, you can stay bathing in warm bathtub long enough for having relaxing time over sips of warmed sake.

Dec 10, 2013

Bathing in a Yuzu Bath

Japanese people have a practice of taking a bath in a special way on the day of the winter solstice. They put some yuzu orange fruits in the bathtub and then bathe.

It is said that taking a yuzu bath helps prevent you from catching a cold. The rind of the fruit contains ingredients that are effective in blood circulation promotion and maintaining beautiful skin. Of course, the aroma of the yuzu fruit relaxes you. Then, there is no reason for me to take a yuzu bath.

Oct 24, 2013

Kandouko Cooking

Lately, we have quite cool autumn days here in Japan, and I have more chances to enjoy warmed sake than I did in summer time of course.

I chiefly use a kandouko for warming my sake. This is a copper-made gadget for warming sake. The kandouko holds some amount of water within it, and it has built-in brazier in which burning charcoal is placed. The heat from the charcoal warms the water and the warmed water in turn warms sake in a flask, tokkuri, chirori or whatever container placed in the water. While warming sake, you can also cook some foods such as dried fish on the grill placed over the charcoal fire.

So, with the kandouko, you can cook some food while drinking warm sake, and this is my favorite point about the kandouko.

Today, I'd like to introduce two easy canned food recipes using the kandouko.

Enoki-Saba-Misoni (Enokitake mushrooms and Saba mackerel boiled with miso-paste soup)

One can of Saba-Misoni, 100 g of Enokitake, shredded cheese.

How to cook:
1. Make a small "pan" from aluminum foil, and place it on the brazier.
2. Place Saba-Misoni and Enokitake on the "pan." Adjust the amount of these ingredients so that they can be contained in the "pan."
3. Wait until the ingredients are boiled, then put some shredded cheese on them.
4. When the cheese is melted, the food is ready.

The food was a little bit salty from the miso-based soup, so you may want to add some vegetable, such as shredded cabbage, green pepper, etc.

I uploaded a video work demonstrating how to cook this. Then, I got a message from some one, recommending the following recipe:

Saba Flavored with Mayonnaise (boiled Saba mackerel flavored with mayonnaise)

This menu is also easy to prepare. Because I want to prepare food while preparing warm sake, my kandouko cooking menu must be cooked only on the small brazier of the kandouko and must be easy to prepare.

One can of Saba Mizuni (plainly boiled Saba mackerel), mayonnaise, ground pepper, soy sauce, and green onion (green part)

How to cook:
1. Open the can of Saba Mizuni, and place the can on the brazier.
2. When the contents of the can are boiled, add mayonnaise, ground pepper, and soy sauce.
3. Then, add chopped green onion.
4. Crumble the blocks of Saba mackerel and mix the ingredients together.

I am not sure about the amount of each ingredient but if you use too much of each ingredient, they may overflow from the can. Maybe, you may want to use a small pan instead of just directly put the can on the brazier.

Sep 14, 2013

Hiyaoroshi Season

It is September now, and it is a special season for sake lovers, the season of hiyaoroshi.

Hiyaoroshi is a type of the sake that is pasteurized after being pressed in winter or early spring, then aged in a cool storage house until summer is over, and then bottled without undergoing the process of second-time pasteurization (many sake products are pasteurized twice).

Many of the breweries in Tokyo are now shipping their hiyaoroshi products. So, I called the liquor shop I patronize to bring me two bottle of hiyaoroshi. They are Kasen Tokubetsu Honjozo Hiyaoroshi and Sawanoi Hiyaoroshi.

We still have some hot summery days between series of autumnal fresh days, but regardless of its being hot or cool, I'm enjoying autumn flavor.

The owner of the liquor shop, when bringing me these bottles, told me that the Sawanoi Hiyaoroshi of this year was especially good and recommended me to have it lukewarm. Probably, my sake warmer kandouko will be busy from this September until next spring.

Movie -- "The Song of Kandouko"

Jun 30, 2013

Making loquat liqueur

In the side yard of my house, there is a loquat tree. No one planted this tree. It seems to have come out from a seed, and have grown up. Now, it produces a lot of loquat fruits in June every year. My family enjoy eating these fruits. However, the tree is too bountiful for us to consume all the fruits and we usually left quit a lot on the branches and let birds to peck them.

This year, I picked these fruits and made loquat liqueur.

The following is how I made the loquat liqueur:

 Loquats                        500 g
 Lemons                           2
 Crystal sugar                 50 g
 Distilled spirit (shochu)  900 ml

1. Put the loquats, lemons, and sugar in a disinfected preserve jar, and then add the distilled spirit.
2. Store it avoiding direct sunlight and high temperature.

After three months of aging, the loquat liqueur will be ready to be drunk.

May 6, 2013

Shishimai and Sake

On May 5, an annual shishimai event was held at Yakumo Shrine in Kawai district of Okutama Town, Tokyo. Yakumo Shrine is in a distance of 10-minute walk from JR Kawai Station. I invited some sake-drinking friends to join me to see this event. The style of the lion dances dedicated to this shrine is the one called sambiki-shishimai or sasara-shishimai, which is popular in various districts in the Kanto area including Okutama, Chichibu, Ome, Akiruno, and other cities, towns, and villages.

The front approach way to the shrine consists of two flights of stone stairs. If you look upward from the base of the first flight, you will find a "two-story gate" in the dimness of the cedar tree grove. The approach goes through under the gate leading to an open square beyond it. This "two-story gate," designated as a tangible folklore cultural property of Tokyo, has a unique structure; standing on the mountain slope, the front appears to be a two-story building while the back looks like a one-story building.

The upper floor of the gate on the back side serves as a stage for plays, dances, and other local performing arts. However the three-lion dances are not performed on this stage but in the open square in front of the stage. The front approach leads to this center square, across which there is another flight of stone stairs. At the upper end of these stairs is the front shrine.

Another noteworthy point of this Yakumo Shrine is that there are several stone-walled tiers on both sides of the second flight of stairs. These tiers serve as spectators’ seats so that visitors at this shrine can enjoy watching a play, dance, or any other performance art performed on the stage or in the center square.

High-standing cedar trees surrounding the spectators’ seats, center square, and theater provide good shade for performers and spectators, and usher a comfortable energy flow into the precincts, producing a sacred atmosphere of a realm protected by some mysterious power.

On this day, we occupied our place on the third tier from the bottom on the right, viewed from the stage. We had brought some bottles of sake, wine, and snacks, and set them ready in place, waiting for lion dances to begin.

In these shishimai events, seven performances of lion dances are performed. When we arrived at the place, it was past noon, three performances had already been performed, and performers were taking a lunch break. In the afternoon, still another four performances were awaited.

Here, I would like to explain sambiki-shishimai. This type of lion dances is danced by three dancers and some backup dancers with music played by bamboo flutes.

The dancers wear headgear called shishigashira. They are what the Japanese in olden days thought look like lion heads (since the Japanese did not know what the lion looked like exactly, they never look like lion heads, having horns and feathers on the head). The dancers bear drums tied around their waists, and beat these drums while dancing.

The backup dancers are four, six, or eight kimono-clad people. The number of these backup dancers varies according to the place where dances have been handed down. They play instruments made by bamboo, making frictional sounds along with the melody of bamboo flutes.

Many documents describing the derivation of lion dances are handed down in many places in Japan, and according to these old documents, lion dances have been started in 1245. The story is as follows:

In the spring of 1245, in the ceremonial hall Shishinden in the imperial palace, imperial families and their guest were enjoying a party. Suddenly, the sky turned dark and they heard thunders and saw streaks of lightning. Then, three shining objects appeared in the sky and they flew to these people, finally fell with thuds in the garden of the Shishinden. These objects were something they had never seen before, and they were surprised and scared. Then, after close observation of these objects, the people knew these objects looked like three heads of some animal. No one knew what in the world these things were. The emperor had a fortune-teller see these things to see whether they were a good omen or bad. The fortune-teller said, "these are the head of lions living in India, and they are great auspices," continuing, "if people wear these on their heads and dance, our country stays in peace forever." In this way, people started these lion dances. Of course, this is a legend, and no one take this story at face value.

By the way, I often come to enjoy the lion dances of this Yakumo Shrine, and every time I am at this event, one clown guy first dancing with other dancers but later coming out from the dance place bears a bottle of sake, comes to us, and offers sake to us. This is my most favorite point of these lion dances at Yakumo Shirine.

So, we had been waiting for this time!