Spring is my favourite season in Japan, a time of new beginnings and bright, warm days; like a perfect English summers day.
Around here, farmers flood the rice fields ready for planting at the end of April. The landscape changes dramatically, water and sky predominate, creating breathtaking views especially first thing in the morning.
We’re leaving in May so I am thankful I have the chance to see this once more before we go.
Home. Until May when we return to our house in England, our fourth move in three years. Right now, though, home feels deeply rooted here in the mountains and the rice fields and the forests and our kominka (traditional Japanese thatched-roof house). Far away from the place I have been referring to as ‘my home’ for the last two years. More and more that ‘home’ feels very distant…
In response to the daily prompt on WordPress…
Do you live to eat or eat to live? A bit of a cliché but I do find people are one or the other. I live for food. I am one of those people that dreams of what to cook for dinner on the way home from work. When travelling abroad, and away from a kitchen, I get itchy fingers and yearn to be back at a chopping board after a few days. And the acid test, I feel, is when cooking for one. I always go to the same lengths for just me as I would when cooking for others. And I even chose a profession connected to food so I could talk about it all day…
Right now a lot of my energy goes into my bento or daily packed lunch. The school meals look pretty good but teachers have to show an example by eating everything. As a non-meat eater I would not be that proper example, so bring lunch in each day.
I have got into a rhythm with preparing my bento and while it consists mainly of leftovers and can’t possibly compare to the artfully presented Japanese lunch boxes, opening my bento each lunch time is one of the, if not the highlight of my working day.
My husband can’t understand why I spend so long preparing bentos for my son and I each evening – he loves to eat but I’m not sure if he fully falls in the ‘lives to eat’ camp. I’ve come to see my bento as a form a self-care, an anchor point, because I live to eat.
How I have ended up doing my bento
I have three stainless steel boxes from a 100 yen shop. Each day I put roughly the same kind of thing in each one, having designated boxes makes it easier to organise my lunch. (Of course I break my own ‘rules’ all the time and use different boxes some days)
- The large circular one is for raw: salad or coleslaw, plus seeds or nuts
- The small circular one is for grains, usually rice but sometimes pasta or quinoa (when I can find it). I also add protein to this box sometimes.
- The rectangular one is for cooked vegetables and / or pickles and protein: fish, beans, tofu or egg.
I try to go for roughly 50% vegetables, 25% protein, 25% grain – I know this doesn’t suit everyone but it works for me.
Setsubun is the day before the start of spring and New Year according to the old Japanese lunar calendar. The name means the divide between the seasons.
Mame-maki began as a New Year ritual to drive out evil spirits and pray for health and well being for the family. Fukumame, literally ‘fortune beans’ (roasted soy beans) are thrown out of the door or window while shouting ‘demons out, good luck in’ (oni wa soto, fuku wa ichi). Apparently oni don’t like beans so these send them away. My husband donned an oni mask and entered through a side door to screams of delight from our children, we then threw lots of beans at him chanting ‘demons out / oni wa soto’ until he escaped through the back door. (Yes, there were soy beans everywhere…..last year we kept finding them for days after). Then everyone in the family eats one soybean for each year of their age, plus one more to avoid sickness for the year.
Or ‘lucky direction sushi rolls’. In Kansai area, where we live, people eat long, uncut makizushi, a large rolled sushi. These are placed in a lucky direction (depending on the Chinese horoscope year) and eaten in silence. We were too hungry to wait for makizushi so we started with hand rolled sushi, temakizushi (meaning we could still talk..) and then had one eho-maki each, duly facing south, south east and eating in silence. There was no hanging around for me to take photos so it was just a quick one on the iPhone.
Setsubun is celebrated in schools and kindergartens. My elementary students had mini-makizushi and roasted soy beans for school lunch. At my daughters’ kindergarten the two bus drivers dress up as oni and visit each class. All the children end up crying, although I am sure the older ones, who know full well who the oni really are, just cry because everyone else does. I am not sure I like this particular custom so was actually relieved when my daughters were off today with a cold.
Kando Journal and Kitchen is a collection of memories, images and recipes from my time living in Kanbayashi in the mountains of north Kyoto prefecture, Japan.
I arrived with my 3 young children and Japanese husband in May 2014 after being invited to run Ayabe Yoshimizu guesthouse for a year as part of a regeneration project. We decided to stay on for another year and moved to a nearby kominka, (traditional Japanese house).
We will be leaving Japan in May, an end point has put a sharper focus on my day to day life and more than ever feel the need to document my time here. This blog is a space to record, remember and reflect on my experience.
© Nao Ogino