Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Chiba Prefectural Boso-no Mura

"When you look at Japanese traditional architecture, 
you have to look at Japanese culture and its relationship with nature. 
You can actually live in a harmonious, close contact with nature 
- this very unique to Japan"

Tadao Ando
Japanese self-taught architect



The shouka-no-machinami (商家の街並) or "merchants street" at Boso-no Mura.

One hidden gem in Chiba Prefecture, where you get to get a tantalizing time slip experience of traveling to the olden days of Japan is Chiba Prefectural Boso-no Mura (千葉県立房総のむら) or Boso Village. This is an unique museum that reproduces a Japanese scenery of 150 years ago at the Boso area. Here, visitors get to learn about the history and deepen their understandings of traditional skills and lifestyles in Boso area not only by the exhibitions but also by their own experiences. Among the interesting attractions in this village are old samurai residences, farmhouses and old buildings.  

This place is basically divided into two areas, namely "Fudoki-no-Oka area" (風土記の丘エリア), where visitors can learn about history and nature from the many excavated artifacts from tombs and ancient temples in Chiba prefecture,  and "Furusato-no-Wazataiken area" (ふるさとの技体験エリア), an area where visitors can experience first-hand various types of Japanese culture such as traditional crafts and events that have been passed down through the generations.


An unidentified person with a basket covering his head, blowing to a flute walking along the street.


Hello from Boso-no Mura!


Sakura-do (佐倉堂) is a pharmacy (薬の店), where several types of traditional medicine prescriptions and equipments are displayed.


Woodwork factory (木工所), called Nagara-ya (長柄屋). There are many types of wooden clogs displayed on the shelves inside this shop.


Kendama is a traditional Japanese hand-held game which is very popular in Japan and enjoyed by people of all ages. The modern Kendama has a wooden handle (ken) with three shallow dishes (sara) and a bluntly pointed tip (kensaki) which the player uses to catch a wooden ball (tama) using a variety of fun techniques (waza).
  This game got so popular that an international competition for this game was introduced recently.


  Guess what is this? It used to be a taxi in those days. Amazing, isn't it?


Got the chance to take a hold on a samurai katana (sword), which is made of errrrrr.... aluminium lol!

The "Furusato-no-Wazataiken area" is mainly divided into two parts - "Shouka-no-Machinami" (商家の街並) or "merchants street" and "Bukeyashiki & Nouka-no-yousu" (武家屋敷・農家の様子), which translates "Samurai residence and farmhouses". Machinami (街並) is a reproduction of a typical commercial street consisting of 16 shops, an information office, a guardian deity for children, the town square and Inari shrine, modeled after those found in Katori city (formerly Sawara city). These buildings were commonly found from the last years of the Edo period to the early years of Meiji period.

A short walk along this street gives a feel of bustling town market through the demonstrations done at most of the shops.


Kazusa farmhouse (上総の農家), a reproduction of the village's headman's (or nanushi (名主) in Japanese) farmhouse in Oami-Shirasato town (大網白里町). 
There is a mezzanine in the main building of the house.


Yo Yo requested for a photo together, which I gladly acknowledged. The gap between our height is just [fill in with an adjective] .... lol!


A reproduction of a middle-class samurai residence built in the latter half of the Edo period.


 A picture perfect shot at one of the tatami rooms of the farmhouse (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).


 This is how the kitchen in the olden days look like.


Dried chillies and other kinds of herbs harvested from nearby farm are being dried under the blazing summer sun.

Bukeyashiki (武家屋敷) represents middle-class samurai's warriors residence of Sakura clan in the last years of Edo period. Bukeyashiki of Sakura clan is characterised by the construction on high premises.   The main building is modeled on Takei's house in Miyakoji (宮小路) in Sakura city. 

It consists of guest's room called genkan (玄関) and zashiki (座敷), and family's rooms that include ima (居間), chanoma (茶の間), daidokoro (台所), and doma (土間). There are many bukeyashiki in Miyakoji at present, which remind us of the Edo period.


One group photo of the Chiba Kun Ambassadors with the performers at the village (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).


※ INFORMATION ※
Chiba Prefectural Boso-no Mura (千葉県立房総のむら)
Address: 1028 Ryukakuji, Sakae-machi, Imba-gun, Chiba Prefecture, Japan (千葉県印旛郡栄町龍角寺1028)
Opening Hours: 09:00 - 16:30
Closed:
Mondays (Tuesday if Monday falls on a holiday), beginning and end of the year, other extra holidays
Admission: 300 yen (adults), 150 yen (high school/college students), free admission (senior citizens of 65 years and above, junior high school students and below)
Website: http://www.chiba-muse.or.jp/MURA/index.html (Japanese); http://www.chiba-muse.or.jp/MURA/e/index.html (English)

Email: mura@chiba-muse.or.jp
Tel: 0476-95-3333
Parking: Available for free (155 cars, 12 buses)
Access: Train: From JR Narita Station (JR成田駅) on JR Narita Line (JR成田線), take bus by
"Ryukakuji-dai-shako" (竜角寺台車庫) for about 20 minutes and alight at "Ryukakuji-dai-2-chome" (竜角寺台2丁目). Walk for approximately 8 minutes, (bus schedule here - Japanese only), ※ There are 1 to 2 buses going in either direction every hour.
Car: 20 minutes (15 km) from Higashi-Kanto Expressway Narita Interchange.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mouthwatering Unaju From Kanetaya

"Japanese eel is said to be 
the most expensive fish in Japan"
Froese and Pauly 2011





Golden-brown and spitting hot unagi fillet, served over rice as unaju, in square lacquer-look box.

Unagi, or eel may sound like a foreign ingredient to most of us who are not familiar to Japanese cuisine. However, when unagi is served, it always looked like a typical fish fillet to me. To be honest however, I find it hard to connect the dots between the snake-looking fish in the water, and the "fish" I was eating. For better or for worse, that experience did not stop me enjoying unagi all these years.  The combination of delicious warm rice and glistering sweet caramel-like unagi sauce (we call it "unagi no tare") over the perfectly grilled unagi is simply irresistible.

For those of you who pays visit to sushi restaurants from now and then, unagi sushi or anago sushi (salt-water eels) should be a common menu you find there. However, the satisfaction from eating freshly-grilled unagi on top of warm rice is completely a different and incomparable experience. The aroma of the sauce is more than enough to make anyone's mouth water.



Kametaya - a restaurant that specializes on traditional Japanese cuisine.

Our lunch during the second tour of Chiba Kun Ambassadors took us to a traditional Japanese restaurant - Kanetaya. We had two options to choose - between the unaju or makunouchi bento. It was a pretty straight-forward choice between the two; I opted for the former. As is standard practice, it is served either in a two-tiered lacquer container with the rice separate; laid on top of the rice in a fancy square or rectangular box - unaju (うな重); or on rice in a wide bowl - unadon (うな丼).

This style of cooking is called kabayaki (蒲焼き), similar to teriyaki (照 焼き). It is a very typical way to prepare unagi but other fish that can be prepared the same way as well.  Basically the fish is split down the back (or belly), gutted and boned, butterflied, cut into square fillets, skewered, and dipped in a sweet soy sauce based sauce before broiled on a charcoal grill. In the Tokyo region, the skewered eel is first broiled without the sauce, and we call it shirayaki (白焼き). Then the unagi are steamed, before being dipped in the sauce and grilled again.



Here comes our scrumptious unaju set. They come in several sizes - jyo (上), nami (並), matsu (松), take (竹), ume (梅), etc. This nami unaju cost 2,000 yen.



Side dish which tastes very much like the Chinese shumai, but with an interesting twist; notice how they made the skin with sliced wonton wrappers, topped with a dash of chopped ginger and boiled green mustard.



Colourful pickles made of radish and green mustard.



The Shoukadou (松花堂) makunouchi bento, or traditional Japanese lunchbox, is a highly lacquered wooden box divided into quadrants, 
each of which contains different delicacies - fish, meat, pickles, eggs and vegetables along with rice and an umeboshi.

Freshwater eel, especially when broiled in the savory kabayaki style, is credited with the marvelous ability to provide energy in face of the debilitating heat of mid-summer. Unagi is rich in vitamins A and E, and omega-3 fatty acids. From Edo Period (1600-1850), the Japanese have a tradition to eat unagi on a particular mid-summer day called doyō-no ushi-no-hi (土用の丑の日) in order to gain stamina from the hot summer heat.

Finally, our highly anticipated unaju made its entrance. Like everything else here, it is simple and just as good as you would expect. The melting-soft texture of the fish is basted with a rich, savory tare sauce that oozes into the rice. A dash of color and texture is provided by the small saucer of pickles.



For dessert, we got a pleasant surprise as we were served a special home-made black beans castella (黒豆カステラ). One word to describe it - orgasmic!

 

Each of us were given a little token of souvenir after our satisfying meal - an origami with the lyrics of a Japanese folk song.

Thank you for reading, and do make it a point to drop by this restaurant if you are looking for palatable Japanese cuisine in this area of Chiba.


※ INFORMATION ※
Kanetaya (金田屋)
Address: 3692 Ajiki, Sakae City, Imba Gun, Chiba Prefecture, Japan (千葉県印旛郡栄町安食3692)
Opening Hours: 11:00 - 22:00
Closed:
The second Wednesday of every month
Reservation: Available
Website: http://kanetaya.jp (Japanese only) 

Email: mail@kanetaya.jp
Tel: 0476-95-1105    Fax: 0476-95-8855
Parking: Available (40 spaces)
Access: From JR Awaji Station on JR Narita Line, walk for 12 minutes; Car: 20 minutes (15 km) from Narita Interchange. 

※ Free shuttle bus available for groups more than 10 peoples.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pear Picking In Kamagaya City

"There are only ten minutes in the life 
of a pear when it is perfect to eat."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
American essayist, lecturer, and poet




Pears plucking in Kamagaya city in Chiba prefecture.

One thing I love about living in a seasonal country like Japan is the chance to enjoy different kinds of delicious fruits throughout the year. Autumn is often associated with fruits like pear, peach and persimmon (looks like all of them start with the letter "P" hmmm...). The Japanese pear is more commonly known as nashi, which are generally larger, crispier and have a similar but lighter taste and a rougher skin compared to the Western pear. Furthermore, they are spherical rather than "pear-shaped". Nashi are mostly found during the late summer and autumn, and are generally eaten peeled. They have been cultivated by the Japanese since pre-historical times.

The second tour for the Chiba Kun Ambassadors took us to a pear plucking tour in the city of Kamagaya, in the northern region of Chiba prefecture. For the record, Chiba prefecture is the number one producer of nashi in Japan, while Kamagaya city ranks third in terms of the nashi produced in Chiba.


Ogawa Farm is one of the many fruit farms in Kamagaya city that offers visitors to experience plucking the fruits themselves.


Posing with the mascot of Kamagaya city - Kamatan, who came to welcome the Chiba Kun Ambassadors. By the way, was he blushing? Lol!


The list of fruits available for picking today - Niitaka pear, Niagara and Steuben grapes.

Fruit picking is a popular activity in Japan, both among the locals and tourists alike. Many farms across the country offer fruit picking opportunities to visitors. The typical procedure is for the visitor to get charged for a certain time period during which he/she can pick and enjoy the fruits on the spot.  Farms usually charge between 800 and 3000 yen, depending on the fruit being picked. The time allowed typically ranges from 30 to 60 minutes. Sometimes, farms charge based on the weight of the fruits retrieved, instead. The time of the year in which a particular fruit is available depends on the location and the weather. 

There are no less than 10 farms in Kamagaya city that offers fruit plucking for visitors. Among the fruits that are popular during autumn are Japanese pear, peach, grapes and blueberries. There are also stalls set up temporarily along the street that offers direct sale of these freshly harvested fruits, which sometimes the local call the street as the "nashi kaido" (梨街道) or "pear road".


How it looks like from the top of the pear trees.


The pear trees are usually about 1.5 meters tall; so even kids get to enjoy plucking the fruit by themselves.


Harvest them when they are fully coloured and detach easily. Roll them upward with a twist.


Found my pear, and ready to twist them around lol!

This time, we were taken to Ogawa farm, which is just five minutes walk from Kunugiyama station (くぬぎ山駅), running on the Shin-Keisei Line (新京成線). After a short introduction of the history of pear cultivation in this city, which apparently started more than 200 years ago, we were taken into the farm. In this farm, they have the popular Kosui (幸水) and Hosui (豊水) cultivars, and also Niitaka (新高), which is what we would get to enjoy on the day.

The branches of the tree was made to grow just about the height of average human's height; so that it will be convenient for people when they pluck the pears while standing below the tree. However, for an over-average person like me, it was quite a nightmare to walk around the farm, to be honest hahaha! I had to keep my body in a bending posture mostly all the time. Only once in a while, I get to stuck my head out through the openings at some spots.


The pears were so huge, that even the paper bag got torn off.


My harvest of the day. The cultivars that we pluck on the day was Niitaka (新高).



Enjoying the freshly harvested Japanese pears under the tree (photo credit: Madoka Usui).


A photo with Ishikawa-san (Director of Chiba Prefecture General Planning Department International Affairs Division)
and Usui-san from the International Affairs Division of Chiba Prefectural Office.


Kamatan thanking us for the visit. By the way, visitors can also buy back pears as souvenirs from the shop.

Basically, the eat-all-you-can concept is common in most of the fruit plucking farms. However, for our visit this time, we were limited to pluck only 2 pears per person. There were however, freshly cut pears on the table, which was specially prepared for the Chiba Kun Ambassadors. Nothing beats the feeling of eating these juicy pears under the pear trees. Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, "there are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat." 

There is something so sensuous about biting into a pear in its prime: first, the sweet juiciness; then the mild, but distinctive, sensation of texture. Enjoying the perfect pear requires patience; pears are one of the few fruits that don’t benefit from ripening on the tree. In fact, pears left unpicked tend to rot from the inside out. So pickers in prime pear-producing states are trained to identify when a fruit’s sugars are at their peak and time the harvest so that the fruits reach the market (or arrive by mail-order from companies) just as they achieve the perfect balance of sweetness and texture.

If you are planning for a pear plucking experience, Kamagaya is definitely the place to go!


※ INFORMATION ※

Ogawa Farm (小川園)
Address: 4-4-3 Kunugiyama, Kamagaya City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan (千葉県鎌ヶ谷市くぬぎ山4-4-3)
Opening Hours: 09:00 - 17:00 (August 25 to mid-October)
Admission Fee: 900 yen (adult), 500 yen (children under 13 years old) (special discounts available for groups)
Website: http://www.kamagayasikankounougyoukumiai.info/ (Japanese only)
Tel: 0478-35-5071       Fax: 0478-84-7472
Parking: Available
Access: From Shin-Keisei Line Kinugiyama Station, walk 5 minutes

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kiyose Sunflower Festival 2014

"Keep your face to the sunshine 
and you cannot see the shadow. 
It's what sunflowers do."

Helen Keller




"Live, laugh, love!"

The arrival of summer is often associated with the much-loved himawari or sunflowers. Along with morning glory, sunflowers are the representative flower of this this season throughout Japan. You find them at schools, houses, roadsides, and of course florists. There are several spots in the Kanto region where you get to visit the sunflower fields and one of the popular one is in Kiyose, a city in the northern part of Tokyo.

Here, visitors get to view a rare sight of Tokyo - a field full of over 100,000 sunflowers in full-bloom, all at once! This field measures about 24,000 meters square (that's the size of more than 2 football field!) and was originally a wheat field. After the wheat are harvested in June, they grow sunflowers as green manure and make it an annual event. This festival was started in 2008 and during the festival, besides enjoying the beautiful sunflowers, there are also stalls selling locally grown vegetables, including Kiyose's famous carrot shōchū (Japanese distilled beverage) and carrot jam. For photography enthusiasts, there is also a photo contest to take part at this sunflower festival.



A wonderful weather to make an outing to the sunflower field.



The scientific name of sunflowers is Helianthus; Helia for sun and Anthus for flower.  

Sunflowers originally came from the United States. However, the former Soviet Union grows the most sunflowers and it is no coincidence that sunflower is the national flower of Russia. 
There are more than sixty different kinds of sunflowers growing in the United States, Europe, Japan and Russia.



Sunflowers are one of the fastest growing plants. It requires only 90 to 100 days from planting to maturity and they can grow 8 to 12 feet tall in rich soil within six months.



Sunflower plants can be from 3 to 18 feet tall.  The tallest sunflower ever recorded was in the Netherlands (776 cm (25′ 5.5″) tall) grown in 1986 by M. Heijmf. That is more taller than a two-story tall building! 



There is only one flower on each sunflower stem. Sunflower heads consist of 1,000 to 2,000 individual flowers joined together by a receptacle base. The large petals around the edge of a sunflower head are individual ray flowers which do not develop into seed.   



One sunflower can have up to 2000 seeds. There are two kinds of sunflower seeds - black and stripe. Oil is made from black seeds. Snacks are made from striped seeds.


A well-known sunflower characteristic is that the flowering heads track the sun’s movement, a phenomenon known as heliotropism. The daily orientation of the flower to the sun is a direct result of differential growth of the stem. A plant-growth regulator, or auxin, accumulates on the shaded side of a plant when conditions of unequal light prevail. Because of this accumulation, the darker side grows faster than the sunlit side. Thus, the stem bends toward the sun.   

It is pretty easy to get to there sunflower field. Visitors just need to get to JR Kiyose station (清瀬駅) on the Joban Line, which is under an hour from Tokyo station. There are bus platforms at the north exit of the station and visitors just got to hop onto the Seibu bus (西武バス) #61 bound for JR Shiki station south exit via Green Town (グ リーンタウン経由志木駅南口) on platform #2.

The bus ride takes about fifteen minutes and get down at Shitajuku-iriguchi (下宿入口). Once you alighted from the bus, there should be signboards showing the way to the sunflower farm. Here is the bus time-table and the method of getting to the sunflower farm from Kiyose station (both in Japanese only). Reference page here.

 

   Sunflowers are a great choice for planting to attract birds to your yard.

Thank you for reading.