Umeboshi (梅干し) is one of the must have items for Japanese meal. It´s a type of pickle and made of plum and we use them for many things. There are many food products using umeboshi in Japan; as a spaghetti source, tea even for the sweets. After miso soup (misoshiru / みそ汁), this umeboshi may be the soul of Japan.
Michio Mado (まどみちお) was born in Yamaguchi prefecture in 1909 and started working as a poet since 1934. His fuel of creating poems is the frustration and dissatisfaction with the politic, the government, the education, the economic or the unnecessary wars.
His most well-known poem, "zousan" (ぞうさん/ elephant) and "yagi san yuubin" (やぎさんゆうびん/ goat´s mail) are the ones all Japanese have listened or sung at least once or twice in their life.
In 1994 he received Hans Christian Andersen Award and in 1992 "The Animals (どうぶつたち)" was published in the US. All poems in this book were selected and translated by the Japanese Empress, Michiko.
He is now 101 years old and still active!
In 2009 as the celebration of his 100 year birthday, there were many special exhibition and events held in Japan.
If you liked Shuntarou Tanigawa, I think you´d like Mado Michio as well. His works are humorous and gentle at the same time.
Most of the poems were for children but I think they are more than good enough for adults, too.
In Japanese, we use so many onomatopoeia. It almost works as adverb in our language and in my opinion, onomatopoeia is the key to make your Japanese more lively. Today I introduce some onomatopoeia using one of the greatest Japanese poets, Mado Michio.
In Japanese, Minazuki is written as ¨the month with no water (水無月)¨. 水 (mizu) means water, 無 (nai) means there is none and 月(tsuki) means months in this case. However, June is a month of rain in Japan. So how come it´s a month with no water? Is it a sarcasm?
No. Actually this 無 (read as ¨na¨ in the word ¨ minazuki ¨) doesn´t mean ¨nothing¨ but works as a preposition ¨of¨. Therefore Minazuki means ¨the month of water¨.
Before the Gregorian calendar was introduced to Japan, the 6th month of the year was called Minazuki and it was a month of starting to fill the water into the rice fields. By the way, June in the lunar calendar corresponds to between the end of June and the beginning of August in the Gregorian calendar.
This is Minazuki flower, scientific name, Hydrangea paniculata 'Grandiflora', kwon as PeeGee in English.
Minazuki is also the name of summer sweet in Japan which is eaten on the 30th of June. This day is the middle of the year and people eat this sweet by the meaning of purification of all the bad things in the first half of the year and of a prayer for all the best in the rest of the year.
This is made of steamed rice cake and on the top sprinkled azuki beans. Azuki beans imitate crushed ice but also these beans are believed to protect us from the bad spirits. The triangle shape of the rice cake also imitates the shape of ice block.
Now most of the part of Japan has entered Tsuyu (梅雨/ rainy season of the year). The first and a strong typhoon already attacked Japan. We are expecting rainy and stormy summer this year.
Oden (おでん) is a one of Japanese typical winter dish consisting of several ingredients such as daikon radish (the creamish colour one at the front), processed fish cakes (the brown one at the back), kelp or boiled eggs cooked in a light soy based broth.
In different regions, ingredients are often changed.
This is the full dress for the battle in the war period in Japan. Only the armour weighs 22-26kg, then they carried swords, arrows and a bow. With the full gear, it must've weighed nearly 40kg. I have no idea how they managed to ride on the horse and fought considering that Japanese people in that era were around 145cm of the height. Some had a beautiful decoration which weighed them even more.
This is Kabuto (兜 / helmet).
This is Kacchuu (甲冑 / amour).
Only wearing this weighs you enough not to scratch your head easily.
This is just a torso part. It fits your body tightly.
This is a Kenshin Uesugi's yoroi (鎧 / armour). Very sporty design, I think.
This is at the back.
At the end put this jin-baori (陣羽織 / coat)
Today the 21th of March is Shunbun no Hi in Japan, spring equinox day in English which is the beginning of the spring. In theory apart from today, the winter finishes and the day time is getting longer.
Shunbun no Hi is one of Nijuushi Sekki and in 1948 this day was decided as a bank holiday in Japan. Supposedly this is the day of "praise the nature and cherish animals".
In buddhism during this term the sun settles in due west where corresponding to the east gate of Gokuraku (heaven in Japanese). Therefore praying the sunset is same as praying towards the entrance of Gokuraku. In this sense, the 21st of March is the closest day to the heaven.
Before and after Shunbun no Hi, about a week period is called Higan means other side of the shore. If I say Nirvana, maybe easy to enderstand but I will explain about in another occasion. During Higan most of Japanese people visit cemetery to pray for the souls of the dead.
The most common food to eat for Shunbun no Hi is Botamochi. This is also called Ohagi which is something like sweet mashed rice ball wrapped with sweet azuki bean paste. Sorry doesn't sound so tasty… But look at the photo, now yes, look tasty.
Actually there are two Higan in a year, in spring and in autumn. Somehow this sweet changes the name, Botamochi in spring and Ohagi in autumn. Don't get confused, they are exactly the same looking and taste. It's believed that the red of azuki beans protect us from bad spirits.
After Botamochi, this Kusamochi is eaten commonly. This green colour is Yomogi leaf (mugwort in English) added in mochi paste. Tastes quite freshy. There is azuki bean paste inside. Caution, don't eat the leaf outside unless you are goat…
Then Gomoku Chirashi zushi. Gomoku means mixed more than five ingredients. Chirashi is a tpe of sushi.
People also eat Inari zushi. People make or buy these food not only to eat but also to take to the cemetery for their loved ones.
Shunbun no Hi this year must be a very difficult day for all Japanese people. Probably they are not in the mood of enjoying warm spring days.
In some regions in Japan they have traditional functions.
For example in Motosu City in Gifu prefecture, Komekashi festival (米かし祭り) is held in Kasuga Shrine.
The day before Shunbun no Hi, men with Fundoshi (Japanese traditional underware/swimsuit) run to the mouth of the flume, go into the frozen river, wash the rice and take some water from the river then all come back to the Shrine.
This function is for to appreciate the people who built the flume and to pray for a rich harvest in autumn. I sympathise with those guys in this cold and promise to eat everything I'm served.
More about Higan
Nijuushi Sekki (24節気) is 24 phases in traditional East Asian Lunisolar calendar which matches a particular astronomical event or signifies some natural phenomenon.
It separates 1 solar year into 24 by the number of the date (Heikei method- 平気法) or the position of the sun in the ecliptic (Teiki method-定気法) then names on the each parting date.
This method was introduced to adjust the difference between the lunisolar calendar months and actual cycle of the season.
Originated in China then had extended to other East Asian countries such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam.