流しそうめん 箸に掛かって 重きこと

In a corner of Kogawa Village, Izumi City, there is an agricultural facility called ‘Izumi Fureai No-no-Sato’ (Izumi Interaction Farm Village). This facility holds various agricultural-related courses, vegetable cultivation workshops, and experiential classes like bamboo craft, providing opportunities for recreational activities and promoting health through agricultural experiences. Participants can enjoy vegetable and fruit harvesting experiences, as well as cooking local dishes using the harvested crops.
One scorching summer day, I participated in a ‘Soba noodle-making class’ at this facility. Adjacent to the classroom, there was an area where they were hosting a ‘Nagashi Somen’ event, and several families were enjoying the delicious flow of somen noodles. It was a quintessential summer scene.
Recently, I saw a sign that said ‘Somen Nagashi’ somewhere, which piqued my curiosity. So, I looked it up on the internet. It turns out that ‘Nagashi Somen’ and ‘Somen Nagashi’ are different things. ‘Somen Nagashi’ is when you eat the noodles with an artificial water current flowing around the table, while ‘Nagashi Somen’ is when you eat the noodles using a bamboo flume with a natural water flow. The places of origin are also different, with ‘Nagashi Somen’ originating from Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki Prefecture and ‘Somen Nagashi’ from Tashiro Gorge in Kagoshima Prefecture. It’s quite fascinating, and interestingly, both places are not too far from each other.
By the way, when I looked up ‘Somen Nagashi,’ I was surprised to find that there are many electric household products available for it online. This was yet another surprising discovery!


願わくば 戦火に替えたい 揚げ花火

The news reported that the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, a summer tradition in Tokyo, was held on the 29th after a four-year hiatus. Approximately 20,000 fireworks adorned the night sky over the downtown area, attracting around 1.03 million spectators. In recent years, many fireworks festivals had been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they gradually resumed from 2023 as various restrictions were eased. However, this year’s event appears to have made a full comeback.
With about 900 fireworks festivals held across the country, big and small combined, it is evident how much Japanese people love fireworks. While the 40,000 fireworks launched at the Suwa Lake Festival in Nagano Prefecture are astounding in number, the world record goes to Dubai with 500,000 fireworks launched in just six minutes. However, international fireworks festivals primarily emphasize performance, focusing on the number of fireworks launched, their size, and overall scale.
On the other hand, Japanese fireworks place great emphasis on beauty, showcasing the exceptional craftsmanship and launch techniques that stand out on a global scale. Recently, Japanese fireworks festivals have been held in various parts of the world, further fueling the international enthusiasm for Japan.


宇治金か いちごか迷う この暑さ

On the way back from the gym, I entered a shop, drawn in by the sign made of ice. It was somewhat crowded, probably because it was lunchtime. Since I planned to have lunch at home later, I decided to order something cold for the time being, along with a shaved ice dessert. I hesitated between splurging on the Uji Kintoki (shaved ice with green tea and sweet red beans) or going for Strawberry. When I checked my purse just to be sure, I found only a coin purse inside, and to make matters worse, I had just enough money to order the Strawberry. Well, what a nerve-wracking and sweat-inducing moment amidst this heat!
By the way, I heard that Japanese shaved ice is immensely popular among foreign visitors. While shaved ice exists in other countries as well, apparently, Japanese shaved ice is in a league of its own. It’s not as hard as the shaved ice found in other countries; instead, it’s fluffy and the flavors are significantly more delicious. Among them, the Uji Matcha and Kintoki combination evokes a distinct matcha flavor along with the sweetness of red bean, and it seems to be a huge hit.
Hmm, but I must say the strawberry flavor was delicious too!


夕顔の 儚さとは 裏腹に

When I was watching NHK TV this morning, they showed the process of sun-drying ‘Mizuguchi Kanpyo’ (dried gourd strips). When it comes to the early summer scenery in Mizuguchi, it is said that nothing represents it better than the sight of Kanpyo drying. ‘Mizuguchi Kanpyo’ is a specialty product from Mizuguchi-cho, Koka City, and has been made since the Edo period. It is even depicted in Utagawa Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e series ‘The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido.’ Kanpyo is an essential ingredient for making rolled sushi, but it is also used in various other culinary forms. It may not be the star of the dish, but it is an indispensable ingredient with its unique taste and texture.
Interestingly, not many people know that Kanpyo is made from the fruit of the Yugao (evening glory plant). Asagao (morning glory), Hirugao (daylily), Yugao (evening primrose), and Yorugao (night blooming cereus), which all bloom around this time, have flowers that look quite similar, but only the Yugao belongs to the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae), while the other three are from the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae).

Speaking of Yugao, she is known as tragic woman in ‘The Tale of Genji.’ Although she appears only a few times in the story, she leave a lasting impression as delicate, graceful, and cheerful woman. Genji, captivated by the beauty of such woman, became infatuated with her and continued to cherish her memory even after her passing.


猛暑日も 何するものぞと 武者震い

The temperature is rising rapidly. Today’s forecasted temperature in Osaka is 38 degrees Celsius, the highest for this summer. However, it is not expected to stop there. Tracing back the highest temperatures in Japan from the past, on July 25, 1919, in Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture, a record of “40.8 degrees Celsius” was set, becoming the highest temperature ever recorded in Japan, and this day became known as the “Highest Temperature Memorial Day.” This record remained unbroken for a long period. Then, 88 years later, on August 16, 2007, temperatures of 40.9 degrees Celsius were recorded in Kumagaya City, Saitama Prefecture, and Tajimi City, Gifu Prefecture, surpassing the previous record. Furthermore, on July 23, 2018, Kumagaya City in Saitama Prefecture recorded a temperature of 41.1 degrees Celsius, and on August 17, 2020, Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, also recorded the same temperature of 41.1 degrees Celsius. This temperature currently stands as the highest recorded temperature in Japan.
Last year, there were high expectations (?) that this record would be broken, but on July 1, the highest temperature recorded was 40.4 degrees Celsius in Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture. However, on that day, this temperature of 40.4 degrees Celsius was simultaneously recorded at six locations nationwide, which was the first time in recorded history. This year’s summer is abuzz with anticipation as to whether a new highest temperature will be recorded and if it will surpass 42 degrees Celsius.


鬼灯(ほおずき)は 狐の灯りぞ 日暮道

On both sides of the temple town’s approach in the sunset, red Hozuki hang like bells. Ahead, two women in yukata, perhaps heading to a Bon dance, have fans tucked into their obi sashes. I take out my smartphones, first capturing the Hozuki and then attempting to photograph the yukata-clad women in front of me. When I look up, the two women have vanished. It feels like I was spirited away by a fox. Perhaps the two women were merely illusory creations conjured by these Hozuki. It’s a mysterious experience that leads me to think that way. Come to think of it, the origin of the name Hozuki seems to be related to the cheek when it comes to sound, and when written in kanji, it is written as  ‘鬼の灯’ (ogre’s light), so the sound and spelling are completely inconsistent.The origin of the kanji ‘鬼灯’ likely comes from the resemblance of the red fruit to a traditional Japanese lantern. As ‘鬼’ refers to deceased individuals, it is probably connected to the custom of offering lanterns as a guiding light during the Bon festival. By the way, in English, the Hozuki is called the ‘Chinese lantern plant.

昏れなずむ寺町の参道の両脇に赤くなったホオズキが鈴なりに垂れ下がっています。その先に浴衣姿の女性が二人、盆踊りにでも行くのか、背中の帯に団扇を差しています。スマホを取り出し、先ずホオズキを撮り、次に、前を行く浴衣姿の女性の撮ろうと先を見たら、二人の女性はいません。狐に摘まれた感じです。ひょっしたら、二人の女性は、このホオズキ達が作り出した幻影かもしれません。そう思える様な不思議な体験です。そう言えば、ホオズキの名の由来は、音は頬に関連がありそうだし、漢字で書くと鬼の灯と書くから、音と表記では全くチグハグ。鬼灯の漢字の由来は、赤い実の見た目が提灯に似ていることからきたのでしょうし、「鬼」は亡くなった人のことだから、まさしくお盆のお燈明に見立てて鬼灯となったのでしょう。因みに英語ではホオズキはChinese lantern plantといいます。

なにわっ子 天神さんで 夏が明け

Yesterday was the evening ceremony, and today is the main ceremony, spanning two days, the grand festival known as the ‘Tenjin Festival’ is being held, adding vibrant colors to Osaka’s summer. Alongside Kyoto’s Gion Festival and Tokyo’s Kanda Festival, Osaka’s Tenjin Festival is counted among Japan’s three major festivals. Last year, some events were cut down, including the dedicatory fireworks, but this year, after four years, it has made a full-fledged comeback and is celebrating with great enthusiasm. Particularly on the night of the 25th during the main ceremony, the ‘Funatogyo’ (boat procession) takes place, with numerous boats traversing the Okawa River (formerly Yodo River), accompanied by dedicated fireworks. The Tenjin Festival is also known as the ‘Festival of Fire and Water,’ with its bonfires, lantern lights, and fireworks reflecting upon the Okawa River. Various other colorful traditional ceremonies are also performed, bringing a surge of excitement to the summer in Naniwa (Osaka). Located in Osaka’s Kita Ward, the ‘Osaka Tenmangu Shrine’ enshrines Sugawara no Michizane, revered as the god of learning, as the Tenjin deity, and is affectionately referred to as ‘Tenjin-san of Tenma’ in Osaka.


宿場町 今は人呼ぶ 水中花

In a cool and flowing clear stream, a waterborne flower blooms resembling plum blossoms, known as “Baikamo”. It bears white flowers resembling plum blossoms from early summer to early autumn. Baikamo is a native species of Japan and thrives in cool waters, hence it is widely distributed in waterways and rivers in northern Japan. However, in western Japan, it is confined to areas with upstream or spring water. It does not grow in stagnant waters; instead, its stems can reach almost 2 meters in length along the clear streams. The optimal temperature for its growth is around 15°C, and it withers if the temperature exceeds 25°C.
The photographed Baikamo is found in the Jizogawa River in Samegai, Maibara City, Shiga Prefecture. Samegai is the 63rd post town on the Nakasenndo Road, an inland highway that stretches 534km between Tokyo Nihonbashi and Kyoto Sanjo Ohashi. Samegai has been depicted in ukiyo-e prints by the artist Hiroshige Utagawa and was already renowned for its pure waters from the Isame no Shimizu spring and the waterborne flower “Baikamo” blooming in the Jizogawa River.


待ち切れず 口に頬張る 夏しらす

While freshwater eel during the midsummer days is delightful, the shirasu (fresh-caught baby sardines) of summer fishing are exceptional too. The newly caught shirasu, measuring about 2 to 3 centimeters in length, have a transparent silvery-white body color and an indescribable texture. However, shirasu lose their freshness quickly, and they are best eaten immediately after being caught. Most often, they are quickly salt-boiled right after being landed. The ones salt-boiled to retain about 80% moisture are called “kamaage shirasu,” while those dried to about 70% moisture become “shirasu-boshi,” and when reduced to 50% or less moisture, they are referred to as “chirimen-jako.”
Urban dwellers seldom get the chance to taste even “kamaage shirasu.” The shirasu fishing season varies by region but is generally from March to October. The peak seasons are from April to June and from August to October, with September to October being especially known for its delicious fatty shirasu.
The shirasu during this time are called “summer shirasu,” still small and with a mild taste. Some people even prefer these over the “autumn shirasu,” which comes later in the year.

土用の鰻もいいですが、夏漁のしらすも格別です。取り立てのしらすは体長2~3センチほどで、透きとおった白銀色の体色をしていて、えもいえない歯ごたえがあります。しかし、しらすは鮮度が落ちるのが早く、生しらすが食べられるのは水揚げ直後です。多くは、水揚げすると直ぐに塩茹でにします。塩茹でしたしらすで水分量8割ほどのものを「釜揚げしらす」、干して7割程度の水分量にしたものを「しらす干し」、5割以下になったものを「ちりめんじゃこ」と呼びます。 都会人には「釜揚げしらす」も滅多に口に入りません。しらす漁の時期は地方によって異なりますが、3月から10月くらいまでです。旬の時期は4~6月と8~10月で、特に9~10月の間は脂がのって美味しいといわれています。 今の時期に取れるしらすは「夏しらす」と言って、まだ小さくて、味もあっさりしていますが、「秋しらす」よりもこちらな方が好きだと言う人もいます。

夏休み ラジオ体操 一、二、三

This morning, I started my day with NHK Radio Taiso, which begins at 6:30 AM, just like I have been doing for many years. Especially during this time of year, the annual summer touring Radio Taiso, which started on the 20th, gives me even more energy. It’s a live broadcast from various locations across Japan, starting with introductions of each town. During the exercise, you can hear the commands of ‘1, 2, 3’ from the participants, creating a lively and immersive atmosphere for the morning Radio Taiso.
When they announce, ‘For those of you listening from overseas,’ it makes me feel a sense of solidarity that extends beyond Japan to the rest of the world. The first country to broadcast Radio Taiso was the United States, back in 1922. At that time, it was also broadcast in other countries like the Nordic countries and Germany. The original concept of Radio Taiso in Japan was based on a radio exercise program broadcast by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of America, which started airing within the United States in 1925. In Japan, it began broadcasting in 1928 as part of the celebration of Emperor Hirohito’s enthronement and has since become a national tradition.
Since then, NHK’s morning Radio Taiso has a history of over 95 years. Now, over ten million people participate in Radio Taiso every morning, and it is well-known to every citizen in Japan. Interestingly, in its birthplace, the United States, there are few people who know about Radio Taiso, and those who discover it through YouTube are amazed at its popularity in Japan. They express their desire to participate in Radio Taiso when they visit Japan.