Thursday, September 27, 2012

Autumn 秋

At last, Autumn is here! I’ve been humming Etta James since last Saturday, when the temperature suddenly plunged from mid-30s every day, to 21C. My Japanese teacher told me an old saying, [暑さ寒さも彼岸まで」atsusa samusa mo higan made or "neither heat nor cold lasts past higan (autumn equinox)." I kind of doubted her, given the weeks of relentless heat, but sure enough, right on shuubun no hi, or autumn equinox (Sept 22nd), autumn came with a bang. Of course, the signs of the new season have been around for a few weeks – beer and chuhai cans are now dressed in their autumn colours and the supermarket is decked out in plastic maple and ginko leaves. Chestnuts, pumpkins and sweet potatoes are in EVERYTHING! Growing up in Sydney, we didn't have much in the way of specific autumn dishes, so it always feels exciting when autumn arrives in Japan. 

Kuri kanoko, a kind of chestnut jam sweet

Montblanc - my favourite! This is a very fancy version, at Mitsukoshi

Sweet potato danish with black sesame seeds - not too sweet. 

Autumn "limited" drinks are here.

Sweet potato chips!

It’s the perfect weather for walking, and the shops are full of delicious autumn produce like sanma, aki aji, sato imo, nashi and very expensive matsutake mushrooms. Autumn is short, so we’ve got to get out there and make the most of it before winter sets in.

Just over a week ago, I saw my first “akatombo”, or red dragonfly, of the season, our persimmons are getting a little colour (hope I can get some before the birds do, this year!) and random berries, pomegranates and “higanbana”, red spiderlilies are popping up around the neighbourhood. Last week was “ohigan”, or autumn equinox, and these gorgeous red flowers appear right at this time – hence the name. 

It kindly stopped for a photo


The persimmons are coming along well

Pomegranate kids.


A lovely autumn kimono and obi combination

We should visit our ancestor’s graves again at ohigan. The traditional sweet is “ohagi”, named after the hagi, bush clover flower. They’re delicious and pretty easy to make. You cook up some mochi rice, the same way you’d cook normal rice, then mush it up a bit, and roll it into egg shapes. Cover it in a layer of anko - bean paste or kinako – soy bean flower. I can’t handle a whole lot of bean paste as it’s very sweet, but as a thin layer over rice, it’s quite tasty.

Ohagi. I think the kinako one tastes best.

Halloween seems to get more popular every year. Our local bakery went a little overboard this year!

This Sunday is Juugoya (15th August on the old calendar), otherwise known as “otsukimi” – moon viewing. A lot of cake shops are selling dango and moon cakes and you can make offerings of round, ‘moon shaped’ things. It’s a kind of harvest festival, and like many seasonal festivals, it originally came from China. I’m going to try making the traditional 15 shiratama dumplings. The fashionable cake shops are pushing white macarons this year for Otsukimi. Sounds good! If you miss it, don’t worry, there’s another full moon festival in late October, called Juusanya.

Next week, I’m planning to go look for higanbana, inspired by Rurousha’s excellent post from last autumn. Check it out, here: Kinchakuda by Rurousha

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Keirou no Hi 敬老の日

Monday September 17

Today’s TV shows are full of stories about genki oldies, as we celebrate “Keiro no Hi” or “Respect for the aged day”, with a public holiday. This week is also known as “silver week” – since we have 2 public holidays, so it’s like a mini Golden Week (unfortunately, the other holiday, Shuubun no Hi or Autumnal Equinox, is on Saturday). Silver is also the nice way to refer to seniors here, so we have the "silver" seats on trains and buses. 

On Saturday, we had various local do-gooders come to the house with gifts, and even cash for my MIL, who turned 75 this year. We had no idea, but apparently, you get special presents at 75! Actually the traditional auspicious birthdays are 60, “kanreki”, when you’ve completed the full cycle of the Chinese zodiac system. You wear red for good luck (babies also wear red, so it’s like you’re born again). If you visit Sugamo, the “Harajuku for oldies” in Northern Tokyo, you’ll find shops selling big, bright red pants and vests. 70 “koki”, has the kanji for rare, as it used to be rare to live that long; 77 “kiju” means joy, 88 “beiju” is like rice, or wealth. My MIL’s older sister is very genki, which she attributes to lots of green tea, swimming once a week, and playing mahjong (and she never turns down a drink).
Get your red pants here!

Old guys, or “ojisan” are looked at kind of fondly. Any man over 40 can be considered an ojisan, though the stylish ones are called “kakkoi oyaji”, or cool old dude. They read magazines like Oceans and Leon, and often mimic Italian style, with big, flicky hair, sun tans and loafers without socks. 

For cool "old" guys

My favourite ojisan are the camera enthusiasts who turn up to every festival dressed for a 3 – day hike or a tour of a war zone: backpacks, multi-pocket vests with webbing, canvas sunhats, packed lunch, green tea in an insulated pouch, etc. Illustrator Rumi Nakamura spent the last 5 years observing and interviewing “old guys” and has produced “Ojisan Zukan”, an illustrated encyclopaedia of old blokes. It’s got all the archetypes, from sad ones who sleep on the train, guys who drink canned whisky highball in front of the station, arty guys with colourful shirts, and so on. Give it to your Dad next Father’s Day!

Arty old guys

Slightly rough, 'run down'? old guys

There's also a cool sticker set!