Usually I go herabuna fishing on my birthday (an outdated celebration for someone my age – merely a year closer to my own demise), but three consecutive typhoons hitting Japan put paid to any angling plans. Instead I celebrated by burning some assorted shellfish to death and eating them; washed down with copious amounts of shochu native firewater. So it goes.
No fishing for me this time (only work) but lots of fish, including this Satanically delicious triumvirate (ohtoro, akami, chutoro) of Sanriku maguro, to be had at a local kaiten-sushi restaurant.
Iwate remains probably my favourite place to visit in all Japan (of course if you have been reading my blog for a while now you know what happened the last time I travelled to Iwate for a work trip). By strange coincidence, I was taken to dinner to eat a nice meal of Maezawa-breed wagyu and other things at exactly the same hotel I stayed in on the night of March 11th/12th 2011. The lobby looked a lot different this time round, including being turned into some kind of chapel (probably for weddings) – in the corner where I slept most of the night there is now a pipe organ.
It was also odd seeing so much other familiar stuff from that day again: the same gift shop at Morioka station where I was standing with the wind-chimes hanging from the ceiling (they gave the first inkling of the earthquake’s strength) and the beam that was bending inwards; the neon sign at the soba restaurant that was smashed, now replaced; the buses lined up outside the station, no longer swinging crazily on their suspension; the taxi company whose car took us to Akita; the professor’s old office and the restaurant we ate our first hot meal in. I hadn’t been back to Iwate since 2011 but I remember most of it.
At least if you are a tanago angler…
It was hotter and humider than Satan’s codpiece last Sunday in Japan, but out at sea at least there was an occasional breath of wind to relieve the heat. The weather did not interfere unnecessarily with the main objective of the day’s outing, which was to eat a very large amount of tenpura (whiting, megochi, squid, prawns, shiitake, lots of different veg) washed down with beer and shochu mixers.
I rather felt we were on board a sea-going izakaya rather than a fishing vessel, reinforced by the fact that this was a charter organised by my local bar and there were some very serious drinkers and eaters. I had a lot of stuff to do in the evening so tried to avoid getting too roaring-drunk, but met with the immense kindness of my hosts (Japanese hospitality seems to get even stronger when out on the water) who plied me with more shochu, more beer, do I need more ice? and so forth. The hillocks of straight-out-the-pot tenpura, the asari littleneck clams shucked, lovingly skewered on bamboo and grilled with a soy sauce glaze, the infinity of pickles and miso-shiru and rice made me decide I would not need to eat again for about a week (this proved to be wrong, though).
My homemade whiting rod is still giving good service, and occasionally I caught some fish in between the Yebisu beers straight out the cooler.
Thank you very much to Captain Yukio as always, Fukagawa Fujimi and all the regulars at my local izakaya!
To you all! In my neighbourhood two local sumo wrestlers pounded our New Year’s mochi rice cake for us living in the area. A variety of toppings was on offer – kinako powder, red bean paste, grated daikon radish, but I went for zunda: edamame pounded into a paste (being smashed into a pulp is a bit of a theme) and sweetened. It was about 5 or 6°C outside in the morning, so if anything, the wrestlers can be commended for their physical fortitude; and for waving the mochi-obliterating mallet about like it was a small child’s toy, instead of the massive heavy awkward lump of wood it is. In the festive spirit the wrestlers played up to the crowd a little, pretending to smash each other’s fingers with the mallet and carrying steaming handfuls of rice straight out the cooker (don’t try this at home) and yet remained sporting and friendly all the way, allowing local kids and even some admiring young ladies to have their photos taken with them. Incidentally, the mochi was excellent!
To all, as another year passes. I spent my New Year’s Day in Tokyo, starting with a fire-exorcism at my local temple at the crack of dawn. Photography is not permitted during the ritual, but here is a photo of the incense burner, or more like a cauldron, at the entrance to the temple – you put your incense in the pile and waft smoke over your affected or peccant organ that you feel needs divine intervention.
First pilgrimage of the year (hatsumoude) is a fairly serious business here in Japan, and at my local temple a great number of food stalls and hawkers take advantage of the crowds and set up shop all around the neighbourhood. There is certainly a carnival atmosphere, with the more dedicated souls drinking all night at the various o-den or yakitori stalls till the First (already one ambulance was being loaded with a man loudly protesting he was fine, absolutely fine, just as we arrived). In my advancing years I like to go there early in the morning before the crowds pour in, which means a 6am or so start, hardly early for an angler. Even so, at this time of the morning there are plenty of stalls happy to sell you snacks and shochu mixers and beer or hot sake, perfect for the winter cold. There is clearly some message in a religion that welcomes all-comers regardless and lets you drink as much alcohol as you want during your pilgrimage, and makes no restrictions on the foods you can eat. I went for atsukan sake, some yakitori and yakisoba although in the food line there was literally everything on sale from the standard such as spun sugar, okonomiyaki or yakitori, to the absurd: doner kebabs, whole baked potatoes and bananas dipped in icing sugar.
At the fire temple, almost anything can be blessed, for a fee (I’ve seen cars, handbags and shoes being done) by the sacred fire. However, it is only the shinto shrine next-door that sells magical amulets to keep you safe while fishing, so I thought I should buy some of these. One goes on my tackle bag and the other on my lifejacket.
Anyway, thank you for reading my blog over the years, and I hope you have safe travels and many great catches at sea in 2014!
My camera ran out of battery power after photographing my first catch, but my very obliging and generous host Mr. I. took a couple of photos for me on the day.
My homemade bamboo tanago rod is still giving good service, although I need to work more on my hook grinding! Afterwards we indulged in a local specialty, unagi eel, of course with a few sundries beforehand such as homemade pickles, grilled eel livers, tamago-yaki and suchlike.
The pickles I suspect were salted rather heavily, to make sure customers order plenty of drinks; something we did without encouragement. Later in the meal after numerous beers and hot sake, the grilled unagi arrived. Most good restaurants will keep their eels live in a tub and only butcher and fillet them once the customer orders it, requiring a wait of half an hour or more (in this part of Japan the fillets are steamed before grilling). The unagi gourmand of course will spend this time profitably, consuming a variety of alcoholic drinks.
The unagi was received at table with much applause, yet curiously at the moment this photo was taken the deck took an immense lurch to port, even more curious as we were on dry land. It was quite delicious, regardless.
What better way to celebrate the anniversary of the defeat of the Combined Fleet than with yakiniku? We had no Admiral’s flip, or even grog, but instead the Japanese beef was washed down with Asahi and cold shochu mixers.