I really love all the traditional New Year celebration in Japan. Apart from the already introduced Osechi Ryori there are so many things to enjoy and to do. Although there are many activities to be done, all is enjoyed in a leisurely pace. The first step towards New Year starts already before the year end. Originally with a truly big cleaning the home should sparkling including the darkest corners latest by December 31. The goal of all this cleaning is to welcome the deity of the new year the Toshigami-Sama (年神様). This originally had religious significance, as it was believed that the God of the New Year visits each household which welcomes them. Of course with these expectations to have a god or potentially several gods coming home for a visit, the house has to shine. In addition to Toshigami-sama there is another group of gods that can be expected coming to respective, suitable homes: The Seven Gods of Fortune (七福神 Shichi Fukujin). Usually they arrive on their treasure ship as depicted below. These seven gods can be visited as well at their respective shrines at the New Year (article with pictures will follow).
Then after midnight with the start of the year typically soba is eaten, but at our home the traditions are a bit different. We have home-made udon. To make udon from scratch is rather time-consuming, but having something so delicious to start off the year, no matter how hard the effort, it is still my favorite way to welcome the New Year.
Another activity at the start of the new year is to write some calligraphy with a personal motto. In my case I have used a rather aggressive approach: Furinkazan (風林火山) which actually means “Wind, Forest, Fire and Mountain”.
Takeda Shingen (Sengoku period daimyo) became famous with this battle approach: “Move as swift as a wind, stay as silent as forest, attack as fierce as fire, undefeatable defense like a mountain.” Personally I prefer some adaptions for a more peaceful approach of “either acting quickly or relax like being in a forest, plus not being afraid of taking actions or otherwise being unmovable when no action is necessary”. It might be a too free personal adaptions, but I still like the concept.
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)
Posted in culture, history, Japan, Japanese society, pictures, Udon | 5 Comments »
Days have already passed since the change to the year of 2013 and the marvelous Osechi Ryori is already digested. As I had promised earlier, I am posting the actual picture of this years feast. It was as delicious as expected and it was more than two truly hungry people can eat. Traditionally special rice wine is drunken with Osechi Ryori, but at our home we have a different tradition. Usually we either select a one of a kind champagner or white wine, meaning we are only willing to pay that much for this special beverage once a year. This year it was a special white wine from New Zealand, which tasted perfectly with the rather sweet and strong-tasting food.
The actual Osechi this year had three layers:
Most impressive this year was the quality of the fish or vegetables. I will not forget the softness of the bamboo sprout!
Additionally the fish cakes (red and white) and the small sweetish fishes are my favorite each year.
The good news is that I have to wait now less than one year for the next Osechi Ryori.
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)
Posted in culture, Japan, Japanese society, pictures | 1 Comment »
Personally I think nothing beats or comes even close to the taste of the Japanese New Years dish Osechi (御節料理, Osechi Ryori). Although it is completely different to any gorgeous meal in the West its variety of taste has caught my heart. There are so many different small samples of meat, fish, seafood, fruits and vegetables all available in one dish!
The origin of this special once a year osechi dish is back in Heian period and actually each component has a special meaning to celebrate the New Year (prosperity, good health, good harvest, happiness, prosperity, long life, going on and on). Some of the households still make their whole creation on their own, but I have given up before even trying. I have been spoiled by the sold variety and I cannot imagine how many days it would take me to create the same luxury. The picture above shows a small variety of the offered selection. The choices seem endless. Yes, considering the price for a osechi lacquer box – actually called jubako – the cost can be easily compared to a high-class French meal. You might wonder why to pay so much for just one meal, but I can tell you it is worth the money you spend.
Quite unusual from a Western perspective is the fact that all is eaten cold, because based on Japanese tradition the kitchen should not be used around the New Year’s day. The dishes are prepared in advance with lots of sugar or pickled (added vinegar) in order to preserve them.
I am already exited to get our Osechi Ryori delivered by the end of this month. If you have not ordered it yet, there is still the opportunity to get this delicacy in the next few days at a good department store. The money invested in a proper Osechi Ryori will be directly proportional to the “ahh” and “ohh” that you experience.
Some actual pictures of this year’s Osechi will be added next year.
An already hyper and exited waiting for the year-end Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)
Posted in business practice, culture, history, Japan, Japanese society | Leave a Comment »
The election of the “new” Prime Minister in Japan has occurred and we can start to look back on the most recent election on who represents best the interests of the Japanese society in the Japanese Diet.
Based on a recent survey on gender equality by the Cabinet Office (information based on Yomiuri Shimbun) 51.6 percent of respondents supported traditional roles for married couples. Personally I am surprised that this percentage has increased by 10.3 percentage points from the previous survey in 2009. While some are arguing Japanese society has reconsidered the value of a family since the March 11 earthquake and prefer to value family time much higher, I cannot agree with this viewpoint. Common families have to survive on an increasing tighter budget combined with the continued dark economic outlook, I believe most Japanese simply yearn for the good old times: There was a time when one salary could fully support a family and the common choice was the woman could stay at home. I just wonder how many families can actually still afford to have the wife to stay at home. Or there is another option: Japanese men have become more creative on how to survive on a tighter budget. Based on the Japan Times the pocket money of salarymen is at its lowest level since 1982 with ¥39,756 per month.
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)
Posted in business practice, culture, government, Japan | Leave a Comment »
Every year there is the tradition to send out a specially made New Years card in the form of a post card called Nengajo (年賀状 in Japanese). Commonly for business purpose pre-printed cards are used, but in general for private use everyone is creating their own card. It might not sound like an interesting business opportunity, but considering the large volume of books, magazines or software that is sold every year I can only assume a rather good profitability. Furthermore around December commercials from printer manufacturers are increasing, because most cards are printed at home on an inkjet printer; or then the post office is reminding everyone that in order to be thoughtful and polite person one should be sending out a Nengajo. Every year I am sending out my bundle focusing on a simple personal style. This year’s card is shown above.
Most important make sure that you are dropping off your card in time. The Japanese Post Office recommends to send out the cards by December 25th. If you have not done so, you need to rush.
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)
Posted in business practice, history, Japan, Japanese society | Leave a Comment »
Having an upcoming two-day trip to Yamanashi area this weekend I was happy to find some figures on how much is usually spent by Japanese for a pricier local hotel or ryokan stay. Based on a review done by Nikkei Shimbun (618 participants, half male and half female) the result showed with 39% percent the typical amount spend for a stay including dinner and breakfast lies in the range of JPY 10,001 to 20,000.
In my case the goal will not be on the excellent food provided at the place we stay, but much more having access to a private outdoor rotenburo (outside hot spring bath). I cannot wait to soak in the hot water and relax. For sure I love to be pampered with amazing local specialities at a ryokan, but for this trip we would like to focus on tasting local Udon unique to the Yamanashi prefecture. We will be focusing on two very specialities: One is Yoshida Udon close to Mount Fuji (described as tender and chewy at the same time) and then another version of Udon: Hoto (flat udon noodles in a thick soup, related to Udon, but actual preparation of the Udon itself is different).
Coming back to the money spent for accommodation; in our case we will have no food included and will be staying for JPY 10,000, which is reasonable considering we will have our hot spring bath for ourselves. In general the Nikkei Shimbun review found:
Up to JPY 10,000: 7 percent
JPY 10,001 to 20,000: 39 percent
JPY 20,001 to 30,000: 37 percent
JPY 30,001 to 50,000: 12 percent
More than JPY 50,001: 1 percent
Not traveling: 4 percent
For sure Japan is a country of travelers, because there were only 4 percent who did not spend money on accommodation!
I hope the upcoming travel will be a unforgetable experience, because the timing is right to see mountains full of fall colors, eating wonderful udon, plus having a relaxing spa experience combined with a promising Inka exhibition. What could I wish more!
Wishing you a wonderful autumn,
Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)
Posted in culture, Japan, Japanese society, Udon |
The reason why I love Udon so much is very simple. There is so much variety in the forms and tastes of Udon, plus even more choices exist with the soup or flavors added to the noodles. Udon come in many shapes and forms all depending on the regional origin. Furthermore this type of Japanese noodles is served chilled in the summer and hot in the winter. For me it seems there is an endless variety for me to taste.
Yesterday I stumbled upon a marvelous building from the Taisho era in Akasaka, which contained an Akita style restaurant serving inaniwa udon (稲庭): Mugendo. Inaniwa Udon is very unique as the noodles are stretched to their form (good explanation with pictures found here) and a lot of manual labor is needed to create its unique taste. Because I am a big fan of black sesame I had to get the black sesame tantan style set.
The presentation, color and smell of the dish was very promising, but I have to say, I was disappointed about the actual taste. While I truly liked the consistency of the Inaniwa udon – much softer than other style udon – I missed the strong hearty taste of black sesame. It was definitely a nice down to earth flavor of the soup, but for a sesame lover like me, the flavor was too bland. Tasting the soup of my hubby’s udon (very basic hot udon) I have to say the taste of his soup seemed much more well-rounded than mine (great umami). I really liked the taste of my husband’s dish, but there was a disadvantage in his set menu. It was a great deal and looked good as you can see below…
but the quality of fish was questionable as my hubby considered it quite chewy. Considering the location rising the price would not be an issue, especially if the quality of the ingredients improves as well.
Bottom line (best possible rate is 5 stars):
For sure we both liked the consistency of the Udon and the taste. While my hubby’s soup was an excellent extract of fish and seaweed, my sesame soup was good, but lacking in content. Sadly the quality of the fish affected the impression of the restaurant. Too bad, especially as udon were great and the building is a jewel.
Overall: 3 stars
Udon by itself: 5 stars
Soup by itself: 2 stars (mine: 1 star, hubby: 3 stars)
Tasted by Sibylle & Kazuo Ito (伊藤シビル&和男)
Posted in Japan, Udon | 4 Comments »