Sunday, February 28, 2016

Five Best Books on the Japanese Cuisine

Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji
Tsuji Shizuo (1933-93) was the founder of the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, today still Japan's most prestigious institution for training professional chefs, so you can be certain that this "Renaissance man of Japanese and world gastronomy" knows what he is talking about! Although "Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art" is a cookbook containing recipes, it is also much more. The author first discusses the essence of Japanese cooking, with its emphasis on simplicity, seasonal freshness and beauty of presentation; next he introduces ingredients and utensils; and after that follow 20 chapters presenting all the basic Japanese food techniques, such as making basic stock (dashi), making soups, slicing and serving sashimi, grilling, simmering, deep-frying, steaming, one-pot cooking, making pickles, sushi, noodles, etc. This is followed by a second part containing 130 carefully selected recipes, which together with the 90 recipes already contained in the first part, help you to build up a repertory ranging from the basic everyday "soup and three dishes" formula to preparing gala dinners. This book is truly the Bible of Japanese Cuisine!

A Dictionary of Japanese Food: Ingredients & Culture by Richard Hosking
Not so much a dictionary as a small encyclopedia, as Japanese food terms are not only defined in English, but also copiously annotated and explained, making this book a good overall introduction to the Japanese cuisine. That quality is enhanced by the 17 appendices which focus on important elements of Japanese cuisine, from explanations how sake is made, or miso, to articles on umami and sushi.

World Food Japan by John Frederick Ashburne
Excellent, concise introduction to Japanese food and drink, from ingredients to types of restaurants, and from regional dishes to seasonal foods. Foodies should carry this with them to Japan, together with Hosking's Dictionary of Japanese Food (Tsuji's book is a bit too heavy, but be sure to read it before leaving home).

Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity by Katarzyna J. Cwiertka
With "Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity" Katarzyna J. Cwiertka has written one the best books about Japanese food culture I know. It is much more than the title says: this essay is not only about modern cuisine, that is to say how the Japanese came to eat meat and other outlandish dishes, but much more importantly, it reveals how Japanese food as such was defined. Like many other “typically Japanese” cultural experiences, washoku, the “traditional” Japanese cuisine was only devised in the late 19th - 20th century, after Japan opened its gates to the world. Take rice, which is still considered as an almost sacred, Ur-Japanese basic food: in pre-modern times rice was only eaten by a few percent of the population, the upper classes, the rest – including those who cultivated it – could not afford it. Farmers paid their taxes in rice and only in very good years could they eat some of it, mixed with other grains and vegetables – and that was not the present-day white rice.

Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World by Theodore C. Bestor
Absorbing ethnographic study of Tsukiji in Tokyo, the world's largest seafood market. A jewel of a book that explains the complex social institutions behind Tsukiji's hundreds of morning auctions. Bester portrays Tsukiji's rich internal culture, its central place in Japanese cuisine and the mercantile traditions that have shaped it since the 17th c. Bester shows how the fish market is a combination of (free) marketplace and binding customs that inhibit total competition (much like Japan's economy at large). In this way, Bester in fact provides a powerful analysis of the everyday workings of Japanese culture. "Tsukiji, the Fish Market at the Center of the World" is an academic book, but with a twist, for in an appendix the author provides a tourist guide to Tsukiji as well.
And although the fish market has now moved to a new location in Toyosu, in more sense than one it remains "Tsukiji."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 9 (Ono no Komachi)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 9

hana no iro wa
utsurinikeri na
itazura ni
waga mi yo ni furu
nagame seshi ma ni

花の色は
うつりにけりな
いたづらに
わが身世にふる
ながめせしまに

as the color of the blossoms
has lost its luster
to no avail
so I have passed through life
gazing at the rains

Ono no Komachi (ca. 850)

[Zuishinin, Kyoto, a temple associated with Ono no Komachi]

Notes
Sadness about the decay of human life, symbolized by the fading of the color of the cherry blossoms.
  • hana no iro: hana points at cherry blossoms. "iro" is color, but also has the connotation of "sexuality"
  • The adverb "in vain" (itazura ni) in the third line modifies both what goes before it as well as what follows after it. So the blossoms (and her beauty) have faded in vain, and her life has also been in vain. 
  • "Furu" in line 4 and "nagame" in line 5 are both pivot words (kakekotoba). "Nagame" means both "long rains" (naga-ame) and "to gaze pensively;" "furu" means "to fall" (of rain) and "to pass time" (or even "to grow old"). So "wagami yo ni furu" is "I grow old," but also "I idled away" and even "I had many romantic relationships."

Commentary

"The color of the cherry blossoms has faded to no purpose, while the long rains of spring were falling. My beauty has also faded, while I was lost in idle thoughts." 

This is a complex poem, rich in puns, all the more so as Ono no Komachi was a symbol for feminine beauty. Of course the cherry blossoms in the first two lines are to be interpreted as symbols for Komachi's decline - her beauty is fading like the color of the blossoms. Moreover, the cherry blossoms - which anyway only bloom a short time before falling off - have faded before their time due to the long rains; in the same way, the beauty of the poetess has faded before reaching fullness. That is why her life has been in vain...


[Inscription of the present poem in Zuishinin, Kyoto]

The Poet
Ono no Komachi (fl. mid 9th c., dates perhaps 825-900) was ranked among the "Six Poetic Geniuses" by Ki no Tsurayuki, the compiler of the Kokinshu; she was also listed among Fujiwara no Kinto's "Thirty-six Poetic Geniuses." Her best peoms have both strenth (even majesty) and refinement. Komachi was probably born in the northern provinces in the first decades of the 9th c. About a hundred poems have been transmitted under her name in various collections, of these only about 20 (those included in the Kokinshu and Gosenshu) can be considered as genuine. Nearly all her poems are about passionate, but unhappy love and the infidelity of men. They are verbally complex and contain difficult to translate puns. Ono no Komachi's life has become the stuff of legends, whereby it is rather convenient that practically nothing is known about her. She is considered to have been very beautiful in her youth, but also haughty and cruel towards her lovers - for that last attitude she was "punished" with an unhappy old age. 

[Ono no Komachi as an old woman]

Most notable among the legends about her cruel treatment of her lovers is the one about Captain Fukakusa, a high-ranking courtier. Komachi promised that if he visited her continuously for a hundred nights, she would become his lover. He visited her every night, regardless of the weather, but died (of exhaustion, or the cold?) on the ninety-ninth night... Another type of legend tells how, as punishment for her mistreatment of her lovers, when her beauty had faded, she was forced to wander around in rags, looking so wretched that all mocked her. There is even a legend about her death: how her skull was left in the fields, the wind blowing through the eye sockets with an eerie sound... (I taste some male revenge in these stories). In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Ono no Komachi of legend became the subject of five Noh plays and even Mishima Yukio continued the tradition by writing a play about her. The present poem fits nicely into that tradition of legends and may in fact have formed the basis of it.

Visiting
As the pictures show, the Zuishinin temple in Kyoto's Yamashina ward, propagates its association with Ono no Komachi (she presumably found a refuge here later in life; others say it is supposedly the place where Captain Fukakusa visited her), but there is no historical proof for that - just as, for example, the association of Murasaki Shikibu, the author of the Genji Monogatari, with Otsu's Ishiyamadera is spurious. 

But Zuishinin is a pleasant temple and well-worth visiting. It is only 5 min on foot from Ono Station on the Tozai subway line.

Another Kyoto temple associated with Ono no Komachi is Onodera (Fudarakuji) near Ichihara Station on the Kurama line of the Keifuku Dentetsu.


References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 8 (Priest Kisen)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 8

waga iho wa
miyako no tatsumi
shika zo sumu
yo wo Ujiyama to
hito wa iunari

わが庵は
都のたつみ
しかぞすむ
世をうぢ山と
人はいふなり

though I live contentedly 
in my hut in Uji
southeast of the capital,
it seems people call this
"Grief Mountain" 

Priest Kisen (early 9th c.)

[Scenery in Uji]

Notes
A contented life as hermit in Uji. ”My cottage stands (in Uji) to the southeast of the capital (Heiankyo), and I spend my days tranquilly. Nevertheless, people think I live here because the world is irksome to me."
  • tatsumi: southeast
  • shika zo: the same as shikari, "so, like this". However, it is ambiguous what that refers to - the general interpretation is, that it refers to his life as a hermit, and that it therefore must mean something like "tranquilly, peacefully."
  • Thanks to the use of an intricate kakekotoba (pivot word), this poem is almost impossible to translate. In the last two lines ("yo wo Ujiyama to / hito wa iu nari") in fact two different sentences have been overlaid, playing with the fact that the "u" in the name Uji (or Ujiyama, Mt Uji) can also mean "irksome." So the poet says "yo wo u," "the world is irksome," and at the same time "Ujiyama to hito wa iu nari," "it seems people call it Ujiyama." So: "people say that I, finding the world irksome, live in Ujiyama."

By the way, with this poem we leave the Asuka and Nara periods (of which 7 poems have been included) and enter the early Heian period, which is usually dated from 794 to about 900 (poems 8 to 25).

Uji
Uji is a place name and utamakura that is often used in waka poetry. "Uji" can also be read as "ushi" (in early poetry no kana vocalization markers were used) and ushi means "sad," or "sorrowful." Both the Uji River and Uji Mountain were associated with gloom, as many now famous scenic spots were in the past, as they were more lonely and distant than at present. The meaning of the poem, however, is contrary to that: the poet says that he lives contentedly in his hermitage in Uji, southeast of Kyoto. People of the world (or worldly people) may think that he leads a life of bitterness and difficulty, without the amenities of the capital, but on the contrary, to him life in the world is full of bitterness.


The Poet
Priest Kisen is a legendary figure, just like Sarumaru of Poem 5 and Semimaru of poem 10. Although his name is mentioned in the preface to the Kokinshu (Ki no Tsurayuki, the compiler, choose him as one of the Six Poetic Sages, Rokkasen), only this one poem can be firmly attributed to him and nothing is known about his life - but that fits a hermit, of course.

[Byodoin, Uji, Kyoto Pref.]

Visiting
For modern eyes, Uji (a city in southern Kyoto Prefecture) boasts a striking natural setting, with attractions as the scenic Uji riverside, but also several famous temples, as Byodoin with its Phoenix Hall built in 1053 and its wonderful Amida statue, or Manpukuji, the head temple of the Obaku Zen sect built in Chinese Ming style in 1661.


[Manpukuji]

Famous is also the Ujigami Shrine built in 1060. The last ten chapters of the classical novel The Tale of Genji have been situated in Uji as well and that has led to the establishment of the very pleasant Tale of Genji Museum (in line with the negative view of Uji, this final part of The Tale of Genji is particularly gloomy and dramatic).

And, finally, Uji is famous for its green tea ("Uji cha") - you'll find many shops selling tea along the road leading to the gate of Byodoin.


[Ujigami Jinja]

Uji is connected to Kyoto by frequent trains along the Keihan (leaving from Sanjo and Shijo in the center of Kyoto) and JR Nara lines (leaving from Kyoto Station). Both lines take about half an hour, Keihan to Keihan Uji Station (note that you have to transfer in Chushojima to the Keihan Uji line), and the JR line directly to JR Uji. Both stations are convenient for Byodoin, about 10 min on foot. JR Uji Station lies south of Uji River, while Keihan Uji Station is across Uji Bridge to the north of the river. Keihan UJi is more convenient for the Ujigami Shrine and the Genji Museum. The Uji Keihan line is the only option for Manpukuji, which stands just next to Obaku Station on that line. In addition, Mimurotoji is a 15 min walk from Keihan Mimuroto Station.


[Uji River]

References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).

All photos in this article are by Ad Blankestijn.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 7 (Abe no Nakamaro)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 7

ama no hara
furisakemireba
Kasuga naru
Mikasa no yama ni
ideshi tsuki ka mo

天の原
ふりさけ見れば
春日なる
三笠の山に
出でし月かも

raising my eyes
to the plain of heaven
I see the same moon
that once shone
at Kasuga's Mt Mikasa

Abe no Nakamaro (698-770)



[Mr Wakakusa in Nara]

Notes
"Composed on seeing the moon in China", is the first of several poems on the moon in the Hyakunin Isshu. It is also an expression of longing for the poet's native land, especially Nara, written while the poet lived and worked in China.
  • amanohara: the heavens, the skies
  • furisake mireba: sake here means "distant", so "to look around into the distance" 
  • Kasuga naru: at Kasuga, referring to the general area of the Kasuga Shrine
  • ideshi: -shi indicates the past tense: "that came out over"
  • ka mo: expletive (word to fill out the sentence that doesn't add to the sense)

Mt Wakakusa
Mt Mikasa is presently called Mt Wakakusa, it is the hill that looms above Todaiji and the Kasuga Shrine in Nara. It is part of Nara Park. The 342 m. high hill is covered with turf and is known for the turf burning conducted every year on the 4th Saturday of January.  Just as Mt Mikasa / Wakakusa now dominates central Nara, so it was in the Nara period, when the present poet saw it as a symbol of his hometown and country.

Envoys to China, as Abe no Nakamaro was, used to pray in Nara's Kasuga Shrine for a safe return. So Nakamaro compares the moon he sees in China to the particular moon that rose the night he prayed at the Kasuga Shrine before he left Japan - it is not a general comparison of Chinese and Japanese moons!




[Kasuga Grand Shrine]

The Poet
Abe no Nakamaro (698-770) was in 717 sent to study in China, with a Japanese embassy to the Tang court that also included Kibi no Makibi and the priest Genbo. Such embassies represent Japanese efforts to learn from Chinese culture and civilization in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. Knowledge and learning was the principal objective of each expedition. Priests studied Chinese Buddhism, officials studied Chinese government organization, doctors studied Chinese medicine, and painters studied Chinese painting. Between 607 and 838, Japan sent 19 missions to China. Approximately one third of those who embarked from Japan did not survive to return home.

Abe no Nakamaro remained in the Chinese capital Changan where he took the Chinese name "Zhao Heng" and entered the National University. He next sat for the Tang imperial examinations and became a member of the regular Tang bureacracy - a severe case of "going native" (although it must be admitted that there were only very few chances to return). He also established a literary reputation in Chinese and is said to have befriended such major Chinese poets as Li Bai and Wang Wei. In 753 he attempted to return to Japan with the embassy of Fujiwara no Kiyokawa, but was shipwrecked on the coast of Annam (showing how dangerous sea travel was at the time, the ships were often driven completely off course by typhoons). He then became governor-general of Vietnam (at that time under Chinese control) and finally died in Changan after 54 years of absence from home. We have only two poems by Abe no Nakamaro, but the present one is very famous and opens the "Travel" section in the Kokinshu.


[Abe no Nakamaro gazing at the moon 
by Toshioka Yoshitoshi]

Circumstances of the poem
In fact, the circumstances of composition of our poem have been documented, both in the Kokinshu and in the Tosa Diary by Ki no Tsurayuki (ca 935). That last document tells how Ki no Tsurayuki, by ship on his way back from Tosa (Kochi Pref.) to the capital Kyoto, saw the moon rise out of the sea, and not above the rim of the hills as in the capital. That fact reminded him of Abe no Nakamaro, who must have seen that same "moon rising from the sea" when he wrote his famous moon poem. At that time, as Ki no Tsurayuki tells, Abe no Nakamaro was about to board a ship back to Japan at the coast of China (placing this in the year 753, the year of Abe's failed attempt to return to Japan). Chinese officials gave him a farewell banquet in the evening (when an extraordinarily beautiful moon had risen) and they composed Chinese poems for each other. But Abe no Nakamaro was moved to write a poem in Japanese as well, as "in our country we have composed poems since the age of the gods." The Chinese were of course unable to understand it, but the poet explained the meaning in Chinese. After they had it thus interpreted for them, the Chinese were able to judge its feeling and appreciate it. "China and this country have different languages, but since the radiance of the moon is the same for both, men's feelings about it must surely be the same." (translation from Japanese Poetic Diaries by Earl Miner). 

[Wakakusayama on a moonlit night seen from the Heijo Palace site in Nara]


Visiting
The Kasuga Grand Shrine stands in the midst of verdant woods, just behind Nara Park. The distinguished shrine imparts a great atmosphere of peace and sanctity. The vermilion-painted shrine was founded in 768 as the tutelary shrine of the Fujiwara family, and rebuilt several times over the centuries. The interior is famous for its many bronze lanterns, as well as the many stone lanterns that lead up the shrine. The four deities worshiped here known collectively as Kasuga Myojin, were carried to Nara on the backs of deer. The inner shrine begins at the Nandai-mon, beyond which is a courtyard. The Chuo-mon is the next gate. Visitors can not go further than this, but it is possible to look through the Haiden (Oratory) to the four individual shrines of Kasuga Myojin.

The shrine organizes several important festivals:
Setsubun Mantoro (February 3) and Chugen Mantoro (August 14–15), when 3000 shrine lanterns are all lit at once.
Kasuga Matsuri (March 13), the main shrine festival featuring gagaku and bugaku dances.
Kasuga Wakamiya Festival (at the Wakamiya Jinja, December 15-18).

Kasuga Taisha is 25 min on foot from Kintetsu Nara Station - a nice walk through Nara Park.

Mt Wakakusa
lies behind Nara Park, and between Todaiji and the Kasuga Shrine. At only 350 meter, it can be easily climbed and there is a good view over Nara. It is a 35 min walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. There is a small admission fee and the mountain is closed from mid December to late March.

The Wakakusa Yamayaki is an annual festival during which the grass on the hillside of Mt Wakakusa is set on fire. This is usually preceded by a fireworks display. The festival takes place every year on the 4th Saturday of January (the date may be changed in case of bad weather). Because of Mt Wakakusa's position, both the fireworks and the grass burning are visible throughout Nara.

For more information about the Kasuga Shrine, Mt Wakakusa and Yamayaki: https://www.visitnara.jp/



[Yamayaki festival, Nara]

References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).

Photos:
Mt Wakakusa: jetsun, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons;
Moon over Mt Wakakusa: Degueulasse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons;
Yamayaki: 名古屋太郎, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
Kasuga Grand Shrine is my own photo.