Saturday, December 31, 2011
Friday, December 30, 2011
I like the starkness of Winter, I confess. I like the cold air that freezes my throat and lungs a bit when I breathe it in. I like the contrasting colors of a gentle snowfall that sketches the texture of tree branches and bark so that I feel as though I see them all for the first time. I like the drifts that look like frozen time that the wind deposited. I like the snap of stars on a cold, cold night, and the squeak it makes when I walk. There is nothing so beautiful to me as a moonlit night of still, bitter cold on that white, blue, and black landscape. It thrills me with a sense of magic and life like no other moment.
Winter feels in its frozen grace like life. Perhaps it is the contrast with what we so often think of as representing life - green lush leaves, bright petals waving at passing bees - that appeals to me. It is the potential for life just under the ice and snow, the knowledge that these branches so clear to me now will be obscured by a bounty of green leaves in a few months.
Yet, that does not feel like the right answer, either. And perhaps it doesn't matter. The cold wind fills me with joy when I breathe it in, and comforts me as it sings me off to sleep. The glint of sun or moon on a hillside is pure happiness.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
|Mikiko and Satoru|
The Mitaka Vegetable Store, opened just recently by Satoru and Mikiko, does something so simple it borders on the profound. In a day and age when it is easy to find tomatoes from Okinawa, apples from Yamanashi, or potatoes from Hokkaido in the local supermarket, these two showcase produce from the nearby urban farmscape. Carrots, komatsuna, and small red daikon join the aforementioned vegetables to make a small but splendid display of winter produce. Sourced from conventional as well as organic farms (including the organic family farm C-Cafe partners with for its monthly organic buffet), the store sells Mitaka vegetables to Mitaka citizens.
"Mitaka has many good vegetables and farmers, and people don't know," said Satoru when I asked him why they decided to start their business.
And I couldn't agree more. While I love the abundance of Tokyo farmer's markets and the amazing people I meet there, I also often wonder why Tokyo farmers aren't represented. Even in Kichijoji's market, one train station east of where I stood talking with Mikiko and Satoru, there wasn't a grower or producer from the neighborhood that I could find. It seemed mildly absurd to me that one of Tokyo's greatest resources - it's urban farmers and their fantastic offerings - weren't represented.
"We can talk with the customers and build a relationship," they said one day as we harvested haksai for delivery to our nearby Ito Yokado. The surplus that the big supermarket won't take lands at a table just outside the farmhouse gate where it gets snapped up almost immediately by passers-by. Those in the know venture one block over to find us in the greenhouse or field for a chat and to sometimes even choose for themselves. These visits result in conversations about the weather, cooking, family, current events, and even the occasional bit of gossip.
Yet, people are shocked to learn that our farm exists and even more so when they learn that we sell to the local branch of a major supermarket. Many believe the names and photos of farmers often featured on packages or signs in the produce section are simply part of a grand marketing scheme to entice them to buy. I've heard people laughing as they see the tag for our Musashi Sakai broccoli or cabbage, doubtful of its origins. I can't blame them, but as someone who prepared that field, planted that crop, and probably helped with that very harvest it feels a little heart-breaking. (Now that I'm more confident in my language skills, I would probably introduce myself and let them know that in this particular case what they see is true.)
There aren't so many farms left in Tokyo, but I'm a firm believer that we should support those that are still here and keep them in business. Not only are they are unique feature of our cityscape and a living segment of history (farmers were encouraged to settle the Tamagawa plain during the Edo Period to feed the city's growing population), but they are something to bank on for a future in a country with a low food-security rate and declining population of farmers. And there's nothing so delightful as finding a field of eggplant, trellised kiwi vines heavy with fruit, or nashi orchard in full bloom in a sea of concrete and glass.
Monday through Friday
11am to 5pm
Directions: Exit Mitaka Station from the south side and head down the escalator to the street level. Cross to the left side and walk down about two blocks and look for two enthusiastic people with a great variety of seasonal local produce. (Map and detailed location information soon to follow!)
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Photo Note: This photo was taken in March, 2011 while I was on crutches and a few weeks after the earthquake. The garden was the only place I found peace in those days, so it seems a good fit here.
When I was a kid I hated gardening. My mother asked me to help her in the garden, and I'm pretty certain I whined and was such a miserable companion that she finally found great relief in letting me just stay indoors to read or watch TV. It was too hot. It was boring. It was dirty. And tomato hornworms were just too gross for words.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Handcrafted Foods – If making your own gifts isn't an option, consider heading out to one of Tokyo's many farmer's markets for some season-a-licious treats and more. There you'll find a fun atmosphere in which to sample as well as buy jams, pickles, vinegars, wines, breads, juices, and even some great craft items. Rice – black, red, or white – also makes a unique and tasty gift, as do heirloom varieties of soybeans and miso. Really, the sky (and the carrying capacity of your shopping bag) is the limit.
Classes – Events or workshops are something most of us dream of participating in but always manage to put off for a later day. Classes are a great way to meet people, try something new, and warm up those chilly days with a bit of exercise or a new recipe for a perfect winter dish!
Big Picture – For the person who has everything, including a table heaped with holiday food, why not consider giving a donation of some kind in their honor? Such gifts go a long way toward improving our world and telling the other person it's extra special because they are in it. For a slight variation on that theme, consider purchasing items from Tohoku or those specifically made using fair trade practices.
Photo information: We took this photo in January on a trip to Hida Takayama in the old part of town. Housed in one of the Edo Period warehouses there, this little shop is home to, as I understand it, Tanaka Shinsaku's woodblock prints. Usually made into mokuhangawashizara (wood block on paper plates), here crafted into animal shapes in cloth printed with his designs and stuffed with momigara. Utterly brilliant and beautiful, these would also make excellent gifts.
Got some other good gift-giving ideas? Drop a note and let me know!
Friday, December 16, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Winter Salad Set – If summer feels too far away, why not consider a few winter vegetables? A wide variety of edibles enjoy winter's cooler temperatures and friends will enjoy a fresh taste of the season. Leafy greens such as komatsuna, mizuna, or spinach adore this time of year as do peas, kabu, violas, and herbs like cilantro and parsley. Head over to a nearby nursery for seeds or even seedlings, a cute pot, and give an edible gift that's green in more ways than one!
Handmade Tokyo – A creatively written work documenting a community workshop examining one of the best and greenest things in this metropolis: its gardens. Braiterman and Berthelsen's work combines photography and text to share and explore green spaces large and small and their meaning to Tokyoites and beyond. Arriving in its own handmade wrapper fashioned from cast-off kimono's, there's no wrapping to worry about!
Tokyo Flower Walks – Sumiko Enbutsu's classic should be in the hands of any resident of Tokyo or visitor who happens to be a garden lover. Her seasonal walks range over the city and guide followers of her detailed directions to some of Tokyo's best corners. Clear maps mark the route as well as local points of interest, recommended restaurants, and shops. Each section introduces a particular flower or plant with a narrative description of its relevance to Japanese culture. A great way to explore the city and start developing satoyama sense!
Got some ideas of your own? Let me know and we'll add them to the list!
Photo credit: The favorite spouse took this during our trip home in February while out for a ski on the family land. It was a perfect, perfect day.