Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday Snapshot: Kaitenmabushi at Omoikawa Weaving House


As one of the last places still making yuki tsumugi  - an entirely handmade silk fabric - Omoigawa Weaving House is full of stories. One that caught my eye were these rotating boxes for the cocoons. According to Naoyuki Akaishi, the silkworms always wanted to travel upwards, which could be problematic. By rotating these boxes each day until the worms settled down to cocoon manufacturing, it satisfied the worms urge and kept things orderly for the farmers.

Read my articles about Omoikawa and yuki tsumugi at GaijinPot and SavvyTokyo.



Monday, March 20, 2017

My articles on Tochigi's Traditional Handmade Silk

Shizuko Irie, one of the weavers with Sudo Nobuko in Tochigi.

In early February, I had the pleasure of visiting a place in Tochigi Prefecture where silk is still made entirely by hand. Yuki tsumugi is one of the loveliest fabrics I've ever encountered, and for this series of stories I got to visit weaving houses, wholesalers, museums, and even try my hand at the weaving process itself. It was fascinating.

My favorite fact? That it was originally crafted by farmers who didn't want to waste the cocoons that couldn't be used for regular silk. Leave it to farmer ingenuity to give the world something beautifully crafted that lasts for generations.

I should also mention that the incredible photos that accompany the articles were taken by the amazingly talented Lori Ono. As a fiber artist herself, she was able to truly capture the beauty of this traditional art form.

You can read all about our trip and experience here at GaijinPot and over at SavvyTokyo, and then plan your own crafty adventure!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Tokyo and Yokohama Regional Farmers Markets: Saturday, March 18th and Sunday, March 19th

St. Paul Farmers Market

Outside the window here where I'm staying in the US a fine snow is falling even as the robins sing. Crocuses and daffodils sprout here and there, and farmers and gardeners all around gaze longingly at their seedlings and seed catalogs waiting for the weather to turn. Back home in Japan, though, I know the temperatures may be cold, but potatoes and other hearty spring vegetables are already busy literally getting down to the business of growing. Head on out to one of these great markets to meet a few of the earliest ones and get a taste of the season!

Kichijoji Harmonica Yokocho Asaichi
Sunday, March 19th
Early birds on Tokyo's west side should count themselves lucky to find this little market in the warren of shops just north of the station. While fruits and veg are a bit lacking, the market is big on craftsmen and women doing interesting work, excellent baked goods, miso, rice, and other tasty treats. It's worth noting that a number of places offer breakfast deals in the market!
7am - 10am

Koenji Farmers Market
Saturday, March 18th
Spotted a handful of years ago while riding the Chuo Line, this little market is still going strong. A circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre marks the spot where friendly folks with good food and interesting stories await.
11am - 5pm
Map

Nippori Farmers Market
Saturday, March 18th and Sunday, March 19th
This charming market in the heart of old Tokyo abounds with a sense of community and friendliness as well as good food. Small but lively, particularly on Saturday, it features a monthly geographical theme although regular vendors include Tohoku growers and some of the best steamed manju in the world.
No map, but just head out the East Exit and look for the green awnings
10am to 5pm

Yokohama Kitanaka Marche
Saturday, March 18th and Sunday, March 19th
One of the best markets going in the Yokohama area, and it's perhaps no coincidence that they are only moments away from Baird Beer's Bashamichi Taproom. Started by the same folks who created the Market of the Sun, the Kitanaka Marche to be growing steadily with tasty offerings of fresh seasonal veg, fruit, baked goods and preserves. Read my other review over at Outdoor Japan's Traveler Magazine for the full scoop.
10am to 4pm
Bashamichi Station, Exit 2*
Note that the market has moved, so come out of the station, turn right, and take the next right turn. Keep walking past the construction site and keep an eye out for the white tents running along next to the river.

Oiso Farmers Market
Sunday, March 19th
This little gem of a community shindig is one of the best things going outside of the Earth Day Market. Started a handful of years ago, it blossomed into a full-on monthly festival that just happens to feature Shonan area produce in its fresh, seasonal form as well as pickled, dried, and prepared-hot-in-a-bowl varieties. In summer, it transforms into a night market, while year-round a much smaller version takes place every Saturday. Lee's Bread alone is worth the journey. Read my full review at Outdoor Japan's Traveler Magazine.
10am to 12pm
Oiso Port Building

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
This market is an absolute treasure of a small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in or nearby another one of Japan's former capitals. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal-infused bread while you're there. They also make an excellent cup of coffee.
7am until sold out
Map

Ebisu Market
Every Sunday
A small handful of years ago, the Ebisu Market became a weekly Sunday event. Part of the original Marche Japon movement, this market carries on with a nice selection of regional farmers, seasonal veg, baked goods, and the addition of arts and crafts. It does bill itself as all organic, and there are some; however, I recommend asking vendors to be sure. I also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen to fortify yourself with some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

Futamatagawa Farmers Market - Yokohama
Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and other the fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, of course, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

UN University Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that started out as the flagship market for Marche Japon busted out on its own a few years back. Now one of the most happening places on the weekend, the market features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Winter vegetables can be found here, but produce offerings do vary in amount by season. There is a most excellent selection of food trucks whipping up everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken and falafel! Oh, and don't forget the craft beer truck, too!
10am to 4pm
Map

Hills Marche Farmers Market
Every Saturday
The Hills Marche Farmers Market in Roppongi is perhaps one of the best things going in this part of Tokyo. Originally created to serve residents of the nearby high-rise, it is a bountiful and booming event. Don't miss the chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji, take in a little music, and sample a variety of other seasonal delights.
10am to 4pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmers Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, the Yurakucho Market takes its cue from the antenna shops located nearby and features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama do come weekly, though, with some excellent treats.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakucho Station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout, and I'll add it to the list!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thursday Snapshot: Skunk Cabbage Seedlings

Skunk cabbage seedlings in early March.
These little lovelies were spotted while out doing some restoration work on family land in Michigan. My aunt spotted these baby skunk cabbage, and since I hadn't seen them for some time it seemed a good opportunity to take a photo.

I know skunk cabbage best as a leafy summer plant, so these little hooded flowers were a surprise. A wee bit of research shows that skunk cabbage prefer to live in wetlands, and that they are some of the earliest flowers to bloom. They are one of the few plants to practice thermogenesis, meaning that they heat the air around and above them. This serves to melt snow and attract their pollinators - flies and other creatures attracted to things that smell like decay.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Tokyo and Yokohama Regional Farmers Markets: Saturday, March 11th and Sunday, March 12th

Lucky's Sauces at the St. Paul Winter Farmers Market.

Here at home in the Midwest, March is coming in like a lion. Snow and thunderstorms and tornadoes have already passed through leaving everyone in amazement. The first few robins, though, are here, and I'm still waiting to catch the throaty call of the Sandhill Cranes. Here and in Japan snow is melting in fields and greenhouses are filling with seedlings galore. Summer is not so very far away, so don't waste the chance to head to one of these great markets in Tokyo and Yokohama to find some of the best winter vegetables around!

Market of the Sun

Saturday, March 11th and Sunday, March 12th
The newest of Tokyo's farmers markets at two years old, Market of the Sun (a.k.a. Taiyo Marche), professes to be one of the largest. A short walk from Tsukiji Market and its wonderful surrounds, this market is worth a visit for its lovely selection of foodly and crafty items that rivals the goodies found at the UNU Market.
10am to 4pm
Step out of Kachidoke Station at Exits A4a or A4b and look for the tents.

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
This market is an absolute treasure of a small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in or nearby another one of Japan's former capitals. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal-infused bread while you're there. They also make an excellent cup of coffee.
7am until sold out
Map

Ebisu Market
Every Sunday
A small handful of years ago, the Ebisu Market became a weekly Sunday event. Part of the original Marche Japon movement, this market carries on with a nice selection of regional farmers, seasonal veg, baked goods, and the addition of arts and crafts. It does bill itself as all organic, and there are some; however, I recommend asking vendors to be sure. I also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen to fortify yourself with some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

Futamatagawa Farmers Market - Yokohama
Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and other the fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, of course, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

UN University Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that started out as the flagship market for Marche Japon busted out on its own a few years back. Now one of the most happening places on the weekend, the market features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Winter vegetables can be found here, but produce offerings do vary in amount by season. There is a most excellent selection of food trucks whipping up everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken and falafel! Oh, and don't forget the craft beer truck, too!
10am to 4pm
Map

Hills Marche Farmers Market
Every Saturday
The Hills Marche Farmers Market in Roppongi is perhaps one of the best things going in this part of Tokyo. Originally created to serve residents of the nearby high-rise, it is a bountiful and booming event. Don't miss the chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji, take in a little music, and sample a variety of other seasonal delights.
10am to 4pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmers Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, the Yurakucho Market takes its cue from the antenna shops located nearby and features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama do come weekly, though, with some excellent treats.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakucho Station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout, and I'll add it to the list!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thursday Snapshot: Feeding Minnesota Bears

Only feed wooden bears...

Good friends moved up to the Twin Cities recently, and so we took it as an opportunity to visit them, their new home, and their three cats. While out for a walk, I picked up a bag of Minnesota-made licorice. (It's hard to get good stuff in Japan.)  I met this cute little fellow and his parents along Grand Avenue and thought he might like to try a bite.

Monday, March 6, 2017

My article on Kanagawa Prefecture at ACCJ Journal

A heron (look closely!) wandering the rice fields near Izumibashi Sake Brewery.

It has been a busy time of traveling here at home as well as in Japan. Thankfully, I often get to write about what I discover. My latest adventure in Japan took me not too far from home to a few special spots in Kanagawa Prefecture. Read the whole article and find out what fun there is to be had!

Friday, March 3, 2017

March Farmers Markets in Tokyo and Yokohama


Eichten's Cheese has been at St. Paul's Farmers Market for four generations.
(Try the Tilsit!)

Whether in like a lamb or a lion, March is a swing month in terms of weather and crops. The potatoes here are long since in and the onions are coming into the own. The garlic, too, is not exactly bursting at the seams, but those stems are thick and fat. Farmers minds are turning to planting and the busy season ahead even as they come to market with a selection of winter vegetables. It's a good month, then, to think about growing and changing, talking to fellow gardeners and your neighborhood farmer about what's on the agenda for the months to come. Head on out to one of these great markets, and get that conversation started!

Earth Day Market
Sunday, March 5th
I could wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming and global food security. However, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing. Come find some good food and fun!
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine
Map

Greenmarket Sumida
Saturday, March 4th and Sunday, March 5th
Just over the bridge from Senso-ji is the newest market in the heart of the city. A collaborative effort between the local government and the same folks who manage Market of the Sun and Yokohama's Kitanaka Marche, Greenmarket Sumida aims to fill the supermarket gap in this old neighborhood. An excellent selection of food trucks nourish weary shoppers while the Beer Truck is often on hand to slake their thirst.
10am to 4pm
Asakusa Station
Exit the station and cross the river towards the Asahi Building. Turn left and follow the path to the pocket park on the right.

Market of the Sun
Saturday, March 11th and Sunday, March 12th
The newest of Tokyo's farmers markets at two years old, Market of the Sun (a.k.a. Taiyo Marche), professes to be one of the largest. A short walk from Tsukiji Market and its wonderful surrounds, this market is worth a visit for its lovely selection of foodly and crafty items that rivals the goodies found at the UNU Market.
10am to 4pm
Step out of Kachidoke Station at Exits A4a or A4b and look for the tents.

Kichijoji Harmonica Yokocho Asaichi
Sunday, March 19th
Early birds on Tokyo's west side should count themselves lucky to find this little market in the warren of shops just north of the station. While fruits and veg are a bit lacking, the market is big on craftsmen and women doing interesting work, excellent baked goods, miso, rice, and other tasty treats. It's worth noting that a number of places offer breakfast deals in the market!
7am - 10am

Koenji Farmers Market
Saturday, March 18th
Spotted a handful of years ago while riding the Chuo Line, this little market is still going strong. A circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre marks the spot where friendly folks with good food and interesting stories await.
11am - 5pm
Map

Nippori Farmers Market
Saturday, March 18th and Sunday, March 19th
This charming market in the heart of old Tokyo abounds with a sense of community and friendliness as well as good food. Small but lively, particularly on Saturday, it features a monthly geographical theme although regular vendors include Tohoku growers and some of the best steamed manju in the world.
No map, but just head out the East Exit and look for the green awnings
10am to 5pm

Yokohama Kitanaka Marche
Saturday, March 18th and Sunday, March 19th
One of the best markets going in the Yokohama area, and it's perhaps no coincidence that they are only moments away from Baird Beer's Bashamichi Taproom. Started by the same folks who created the Market of the Sun, the Kitanaka Marche to be growing steadily with tasty offerings of fresh seasonal veg, fruit, baked goods and preserves. Read my other review over at Outdoor Japan's Traveler Magazine for the full scoop.
10am to 4pm
Bashamichi Station, Exit 2*
Note that the market has moved, so come out of the station, turn right, and take the next right turn. Keep walking past the construction site and keep an eye out for the white tents running along next to the river.

Oiso Farmers Market
Sunday, March 19th
This little gem of a community shindig is one of the best things going outside of the Earth Day Market. Started a handful of years ago, it blossomed into a full-on monthly festival that just happens to feature Shonan area produce in its fresh, seasonal form as well as pickled, dried, and prepared-hot-in-a-bowl varieties. In summer, it transforms into a night market, while year-round a much smaller version takes place every Saturday. Lee's Bread alone is worth the journey. Read my full review at Outdoor Japan's Traveler Magazine.
10am to 12pm
Oiso Port Building


Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
This market is an absolute treasure of a small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in or nearby another one of Japan's former capitals. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal-infused bread while you're there. They also make an excellent cup of coffee.
7am until sold out
Map

Ebisu Market
Every Sunday
A small handful of years ago, the Ebisu Market became a weekly Sunday event. Part of the original Marche Japon movement, this market carries on with a nice selection of regional farmers, seasonal veg, baked goods, and the addition of arts and crafts. It does bill itself as all organic, and there are some; however, I recommend asking vendors to be sure. I also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen to fortify yourself with some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

Futamatagawa Farmers Market - Yokohama
Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and other the fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, of course, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

UN University Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that started out as the flagship market for Marche Japon busted out on its own a few years back. Now one of the most happening places on the weekend, the market features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Winter vegetables can be found here, but produce offerings do vary in amount by season. There is a most excellent selection of food trucks whipping up everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken and falafel! Oh, and don't forget the craft beer truck, too!
10am to 4pm
Map

Hills Marche Farmers Market
Every Saturday
The Hills Marche Farmers Market in Roppongi is perhaps one of the best things going in this part of Tokyo. Originally created to serve residents of the nearby high-rise, it is a bountiful and booming event. Don't miss the chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji, take in a little music, and sample a variety of other seasonal delights.
10am to 4pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmers Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, the Yurakucho Market takes its cue from the antenna shops located nearby and features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama do come weekly, though, with some excellent treats.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakucho Station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout, and I'll add it to the list!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thursday Snapshot: Handmade Lantern at Ryokan

Kumiko-zaiku crafted lamps at Jinya.

On a recent trip for an article about Kanagawa Prefecture, I visited Jinya, a traditional ryokan in Tsurumaki Onsen. Operating since roughly the Kamakura Period (1185 - 1333 A.D.), Jinya's buildings and gardens are works of art. One of the more fascinating items, though, were these wooden lamp shades made using kumiko-zaiku, a kind of woodworking that puzzles together various pieces of wood in differing patterns for a decorative effect. The detail is often incredible and the precision required mind-boggling. These two lamp shades were the work of local artist, Takeo Sato, and were one of many extraordinary things to be seen at Jinya. Truly inspiring.