Yokohama, Japan Today, May 5 or 5/5, is Children’s Day, one of the string of national holidays this week. These holidays are collectively known as Golden Week, which doesn’t mean much to me, because my academic work doesn’t end, but it’s really nice to see people enjoying themselves at the neighborhood park or among the crowds in Shibuya, where I ran errands yesterday.
I didn’t realize until I looked it up just now that today is called Children’s Day and is supposed to be for both genders as of 1948. I thought that strange, because I somehow thought it was Boys’ Day, considering the images of Kintaro (the golden boy) and kabuto (samurai helmets) that contrast with the dolls of Girl’s Day, celebrated on March 3 or 3/3. Politicians can change the name, but they can’t change traditional festivals, I guess. It’s just unfortunate that in effect, “children” means boys today. I’m all for the boys having a festival, but call it what it is!
Yokohama, Japan At the end of last summer, which ended in late September for me on the Japanese academic calendar, I realized I had not taken advantage of my free time and decided to leave the Tokyo metropolis on a little trip. Photographs by a friend of mine who had been to Kumano earlier in the year had caught my fancy, and combined with the significance of Kumano as a pilgrimage destination in the Japanese middle ages, I thought it a suitable place to go.
I went for a total of two nights, staying at an onsen resort on an off-season, no-meals attached rate. The complex was in a small valley surrounded by greenery, which was a beautiful respite after a hot summer in the city. The day I arrived, the weather was rainy, and the forests and mountains were interwoven with low clouds that snaked through valleys and between trees like dragons.
Tokyo, Japan It rained today, but I had a strong urge to get out and do something, so I went to the Nezu Museum for the last day of an exhibition that included Ogata Kōrin’s pair of folding screens depicting irises (kakitsubatazu).
The museum is located in Omotesandō, an area where many upscale fashion designers have elaborate boutiques, and yet the Nezu Museum itself bridges contemporary design and tradition. It’s main building was recently rebuilt in metal and glass. Yet its vast tile roof, deep eves, and dim lighting are reminiscent of traditional Japanese architecture.
Behind the museum gallery, the large traditional garden has four tea houses, all of which were in use today by women in gorgeous kimono ostensibly engaged in private tea ceremonies within the clay walls, paper covered windows, and thatched roofs.
A long time ago in China, King Xiang of Zhou proceeded to the Cloud Dream Pavilion accompanied by the poet Song Yu. Beholding the peak of Gaotang, they saw a single cloud billow and rise straight up, suddenly changing and shifting within a short time.
The king asked Song, “What kind of spirit is this?”
This was the most popular post I wrote in my first blog, which was about my cooking adventures while living in Kyoto right after finishing my bachelor’s degree and working first at Berlitz and then at Iori Machiya Co. with Alex Kerr. This post included my memories of a trip to Naha at Christmas as an undergraduate.It also mentions a café I loved that was closed when the old machiya it was in was torn down. Take a look at the deluge of comments this post got from former service members!
Lightly edited on January 31, 2022.
Kyoto, Japan Although I had never even heard of taco rice before I had it in Japan, this dish can easily cure the I-want-food-from-home syndrome [home being the US]. It is a concoction created on the southern Japanese archipelago of Okinawa, where a large population of American military personnel still controls half of the main island. I can just imagine a homesick US military person wanting some tacos, but not having the right ingredients for it, sticking the taco fillings on top of some rice, which like in all of Japan is abundant.
I remember the first time I had it on a trip to Okinawa over Christmas with three friends who were studying with me in Kyoto. On Christmas Eve, we arrived in Naha on a warm day and stretching our legs, found our stomachs to be in need of sustenance. On the main street of Naha, filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, and obvious American influences, the first place we saw offering food was a small cafe or bar with a sign out front “Taco Rice.” After polling the group, we decided to go inside and ate a large hearty meal that was simple, delicious, and reminded us of home.
Recently, however, I rediscovered it in Kyoto in a cafe that is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, Sarasa on Tominokoji somewhere between Oike and Shijo. Their taco rice is much more delicately done than the simple one I remember having a few years ago in Naha. What I like most about their dish is the cheese baked over the rice and the chili powder dusting the top of the lettuce.
My variation is a close approximation of Sarasa‘s, with the addition of fried onions and garlic mixed into the steamed rice. The result is pure taco, with a subtle reminder that I’m still in Japan.