Bebe Taian: June 2012

June 27, 2012


Sukiyaki is normally made at the table in an iron hotpot, but today, you can make it on the stove. ^_~ Always use the freshest ingredients possible for sukiyaki. It really makes a difference!

Serves 4 - Prep Time: 20mins - Cooking Time: 10mins

1lb very thinly sliced sukiyaki steak or sirloin beef
2 thin leeks, cut diagonally into 1/2" slices
9oz spinach, with stems discarded. If leaves are large, cut in half.
1 bunch shimeji mushrooms, trimmed (these are thin mushrooms; if you can't get them, use more shiitake)
8 shiitake mushrooms, trimmed
1 block firm tofu, about 10oz, cut into 1" cubes
7oz shirataki, roughly cut (if not, use different vegetables)
1tbsp vegetable oil
4 eggs (optional)

Cooking Sauce:
1c dashi
6tbsp sake
6tbsp mirin
6tbsp shoyu (soy sauce), plus extra to taste

Arrange the vegetables on one serving plate, and put the raw beef on another. Make the cooking sauce by whisking in a bowl, or shaking it in a container. Place a cast-iron skillet on the stove (or get a portable electric hotplate for the table). Melt the veggie oil in the pan. Cook a few slices of beef first, then add some of the veggies and pour in some of the cooking sauce. When the sauce thickens or evaporates, add more. Check the taste and add more water or shoyu, if you like. I'm a big fan of grated daikon on just about anything. ^_^

If using eggs, beat them and divide between four small bowls. Diners serve themselves by taking the cooked veggies and meats and dipping them into the raw egg, or eating them plain. Continue frying veggies and meat until you run out or until everyone is full.

June 21, 2012

Welcoming the Summer Solstice

Today marks the Summer Solstice, called 'Geshi'. Technically it means "extreme summer". I wish I knew of some holiday event that comes with the day; the old Celt calendar held that the solstices were very important for religious purposes, but it seems that nothing similar exists in Japan.

As for myself, I will be slathered in sunscreen and avoiding the middle of the day as much as possible. I am not a fan of the sun. I don't actually like the heat very much. Anything over 75F is nearing intolerable, and Florida in the middle of summer is way hotter than that!

June 19, 2012

6th Month: Minatsuki

Minatsuki or Minazuki appropriately means "Month of Water". As we delved into Tsuyu last week, the rains and clouds have poured down, and we stored away our precious silks into places that (hopefully) won't be invaded by insects.

Ah, well. The rain is a good thing! It will flood the fields for better rice, a necessary activity that will yield good crops by Fall.

So wear your tougher fabrics if you think it'll be rainy (and cold) out, your synthetic gauzy fabrics if it's just hot and muggy. This season called for sha or unlined, but not transparent fabrics. However, even though sha is transparent, anyone who lives this far South might be OK with sheer fabrics due to the overwhelming heat. As for myself, I'm thinking deep blues and silvers today, with maybe a pop of earthy chocolate brown or hints of pale green. Think water colours, irises, wisteria, morning glories! I prefer 'black' morning glories myself, with deep eggplant purples, aqua blues, and white.

I used to watch geisha photo blogs all the time for what they were wearing... but most of all, I miss Onihide now. I love the ozashiki photos others post, especially because they include song lyrics and translations, a real view of what a geisha does at work when she isn't a living doll on the streets of Kyoto... but I also miss the ethereal qualities of the photos of the 'outer lives' of the geiko and maiko.

Tanefumi of Miyagawacho, June 2010 (Onihide)

June 13, 2012

Coveted Kimono: Taisho Dragons

I have a thing for dragon motifs. I think it's because they are snake-like (and I adore snakes), and also because they're a symbol of power. Dragons are notorious for being tough, intellectual, self-assured, passionate, and loyal. They are also known for being demanding, overbearing, imperious, and violent. "Do what it takes to get what you want" has a whole new meaning in a dragon's eyes. Yep. It's pretty much my dominant nature.

But it's a little unusual to find a women's kimono with a dragon on it. Despite how many women are born during Dragon years, the dragon is still seen as primarily a masculine symbol. More and more now, we can find clothing (especially obi) with dragons on them, but a kimono for women is rare. Maybe for special classes of women, such as yakuza's wives, or tayuu (now virtually extinct), but not for ordinary women. As a consequence, I'll take what I can get! But even these would set me back $1000, minimum. x.x

I recently found two rosy pink obi from Taisho era featuring dragons. Both appear to be hand-embroidered, and very intricately so. I recently picked up a book on how to do embroidery Chinese style (a style which was later imported into Japan, so I can feel secure in the stylistic accuracy, even if the motifs are different).

Unfortunately, both are very fragile. I would have liked to see them remade so that they are wearable. I have to wonder what kind of women wore these nearly 100 years ago. Surely, they weren't willowy, delicate girls- or perhaps they were, and wanted to invoke a sense of power and grace in themselves.

In any case, I also can't help but wonder what they might have worn these with. Pale yellow? A matching red? Something bold, like dusk-blues with pinks, reds, and silvers like peonies on the river? Dragons are associated with water as much as clouds. A wave-pattern kimono would have made sense.

Obi like these make me question why kimono ever went out of fashion.

June 11, 2012

Mannered Monday: The Cultural Importance of Rice

This post is typed verbatim from Keys to the Japanese Heart + Soul, an excerpt from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia with additional input from Wikipedia.


(Kome). As rice was the most important food for the Japanese, its cultivation was traditionally regarded as a religious act- an invocation of the inadama or spirit of the rice plant. Supplications to the deity survive today in various forms of folk performing arts.

Each stage of rice cultivation was marked by a religious rite performed either by the family or by the village as a unit. As the rites were held at the same time every year, they formed a basic calendar of annual observances. The first rite took place around 15 January, when incantations were performed. When the seeding season arrived, azalea branches were placed around the paddy sluice gates and roasted rice was offered to the god of the rice fields. During the season for transplanting seedlings there were rituals to welcome and send off the god, and various abstinences were imposed. From the early summer to the inflorescence stage, there were many occasions for prayer. When beset by insect pests, the ritual of mushi okuri was performed; in drought years, prayers for rain were said; some areas held wind festivals (kaza matsuri) to fend off typhoons. When the grains started maturing in the fall, a few green sheaves were offered to the god of the rice fields at hogakematsuri. Finally, when harvesting was completed, a harvest festival was held.

Previously: The Art of Gift Presentation
Next: Goze, Folk Performers and Spellcasters

Nyuubai: Entering the Rainy Season

Tsuyu has started in Japan, and I can't say that it hasn't also here, all the way across the world. The season of rain in the summer is also called baiu (Plum Rain). If you live in Hokkaido, count yourself lucky! The rainy season should not affect you as much (barring any significant changes due to global warming), and you might get some nice days this month. Although, Okinawa-area residents have been putting up with this weather for a month now already. Umbrella companies must be having a party! It's going to be humid and wet- hide away your nicer silks and wrap them in something to keep out moisture. Fill your closets with Damp-Rid or something similar. And watch out for moths fleeing the rain! They just love eating nice fabrics.

As for Florida, it has been raining all week. All. Week. Nonstop. Rain, rain, more rain. Incredibly hot, and then more rain. Stops for ten minutes, and then- what's that up ahead? Down the road... a WALL of rain! O_o I lost my kitty umbrella. It was so cute! It was neon blue, and when it opened, it had a cartoon cat face printed on one side with ears that would stick up when the umbrella opened! And somehow I lost it- can't find it anywhere! Auuugh! Well, I bought a blue plaid umbrella now. We also have a smaller umbrella that is more compact; purple with red, green, and yellow polka dots.

We need the rain, not just because of fear of drought, but also for political reasons: companies like Zephyrhills, Pepsi, and Coke drain our aquifers until the normal citizens' homes (and sometimes the citizens!) are collapsing into the resulting sinkholes while paying next to nothing for the privilege. Meanwhile, our water prices are being raised because of the shortage, and homeowners and landlords all over the state are now paying thousands of dollars a year for the sinkhole insurance. We don't have water for farming or watering our lawns, but we can buy all the bottled water we want from Pepsi for $1.50 per tiny bottle! So more rain, as much as possible, might ease some of the restrictions we're facing from lack of water.

I missed out on Natsu Matsuri, sadly. I wanted to go so much- I prepared all week, took the day off work, advertised... but it was unavoidable. I came home from work on Friday when I found that Dante was walking funny. She's an older cat, and she's had some brain-related issues (like seizures, poor eyesight, etc), so I was worried. I ended up spending the money I'd intended for the festival tent on her vet bill that night. Even though it meant not being able to attend Natsu, Dante is okay. She had a claw bent and curled pretty deeply into her paw pad, and ended up getting it extracted. Poor girl. She's walking better now, albeit she's more skittish than before.

Rain was forecast for the entire day of the festival, and if it was anything like the rain we'd been getting all week, there was no way I was going to expose my kimono to the torrent without some kind of protection. That tent was really all I needed, but I couldn't find one to borrow in the short amount of time I had left. Auugh! ::frustration:: Ah well. I ended up taking a job with a friend that night. Nothing exciting. Just some housework she needed help with. Even though it wasn't nearly as cool as the festival, it was still good to catch up with someone I haven't seen in awhile. And wouldn't you know it- that night, I come home and see the pics from the festival... SUNNY!

Not my day.

Supposedly, it is going to dry up later this week. We'll see. Until then, it's cotton kimono that are proven to be colourfast for me!

June 9, 2012

Book Review: Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat, by Naomi Moriyama

Another one of the books I picked up from my local library. This time, I'm on a quest to learn to cook Japanese food. When I was at my homestay mothers' house, it was like magic: delicious food would just appear, mysterious and so, so unbelievably good, but so radically different from anything I knew at home. Before, I had decided that the ingredients could only be obtained from specialty markets, and they were too expensive and foreign to mess with myself. Now, I think differently: I must learn the secret to Japanese cooking! So, a rotating stack of cookbooks is finding it's way to my apartment. Borrowed, of course. I couldn't afford all the books I'd really want, and it's nice to read them for free before deciding whether or not to pay.

June 6, 2012

Niku-jaga: Simmered Beef + Potato Soup

It's a peasant dish, but it's pretty good. It's the Japanese version of steak + potato soup. Beef isn't really a "Japanese" thing; it came with cows when Westerners were introduced to the country. Most folks up until that time had a largely vegetarian diet, sometimes supplemented with fish or bird meats. Normally, it's just cooked with a few ingredients, beef and potatoes being the main ones. You can add onions or daikon for flavour.

NIKU-JAGA: Beef + Potato Soup
Serves 4 - Prep Time: 25mins - Cooking Time: 35-40mins

1tbsp sesame oil
1 onion, halved + thinly sliced into half-moons
1tbsp vegetable oil
10oz sirloin beef, thinly sliced and cut into 2" long pieces (almost shaved)
4 small potatoes, peeled, quartered, and soaked in water
2c dashi
3tbsp sake
5tbsp sugar
1tbsp mirin
5tbsp shoyu (soy sauce)
sea salt
1" piece ginger, peeled and finely shredded

Heat the sesame oil in a deep saucepan and stir-fry the onion over high heat for about 3mins, until soft. Remove the onion from the pan and set aside. Add the vegetable oil to the pan and stir-fry the beef over medium heat, about 3-4mins until it turns pale. Drain the potatoes, add them to the pan, and stir-fry a minute longer. Return the onion to the pan.

Pour the dashi, sake, sugar, mirin, and shoyu into the pan. Stir, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil. Remove any scum from the surface (as some starches and fats may rise to the top). Lower the heat slightly and simmer for about 20 more minutes, covered, turning the bottom contents of the pot to the top once, until most of the liquid is absorbed.

Divide the cooked meat and veggies between the four bowl and shred the ginger over top. Add salt if desired.

June 5, 2012

Boushu: Grain in Ear

Boushu means "grain in ear", when grains are beginning to grown awns, or whisker-like growths. We're nearly halfway through Summer now, but things are only just beginning to heat up!

Grains growing now are probably winter-planted, as it can take rice and wheat 5-6 months to reach maturity. Then, in some cases, the rice fields can be flooded to yield a second crop by November.

Kimono in this season should be unlined (hitoe) but not transparent, like ro or sha fabrics. Keep them as lightweight as possible, and cool colours are preferred. The idea is to inspire a feeling of 'coldness' on the most humid of days. Obi should be unlined, and your juban can be unlined and sheer, if you like. If you wear a haori, go for sheer or lace items!

This fabric of this kimono is illegal to produce in America.
I prefer hemp for this weather, but real asa is kind of hard to get now that it's illegal to grow in most places. It's a shame; hemp is indispensable as a resource- it grows remarkably quickly, it's incredibly strong and durable when made into ropes or fabrics (and not uncomfortable to wear at all!), it can be easily made into paper, and it's leaves are often medicinal. Hemp oil is wonderful for the skin and hair, and the seeds are high in essential fatty acids and B-12s!

For those who do not know, hemp is a member of the plant Cannabis Sativa. Yep. There is your political reason for it not being used right there... even though hemp itself comes from a relatively low-THC strain, meaning that is has no value as a drug, as opposed to the strain marijuana comes from, which is high in THC. ::facepalm:: We could partially solve issues with deforestation, paper production and consumption, and all kinds of other issues, if only our American government knew enough 3rd grade science to understand the difference between a strain of plant with no psychoactive properties, and a different plant in the same species that does have psychoactive properties. And the whole thing would be a moot point if any of them could read above a 6th grade level (that of a 12 year old), where they would then be able to go through JAMA and numerous other well-founded scientific studies showing that even the psychoactive members of Cannabis have innumerable benefits to very sick people when used properly.

A famous traditional pattern featuring a plant few living
Japanese have ever seen in person.
If you can get a hemp kimono, lucky you! Hemp-growing is now largely banned in Japan, thanks to American involvement after World War 2. There is a small plot of land where hemp is still grown, but it is only to be used for the Imperial Family, as hemp fabrics are sacred in Shinto, and must be worn to attend certain religious rites. Some few people have licenses to grow industrial hemp or psychoactive hemp for research purposes only, but these are very difficult to get and are few and far in between. Traditional spice mixes also included hemp seeds, which probably helped the Japanese stay healthy despite their diet being relatively low in meat. Hemp products are still allowed to be sold in Japan, but they are made of imported materials, mostly from China. Today, if you get caught growing either variety without a license, you are looking at years of jail time or, in foreigner circumstances, deportation. It's a disappointing reality, but it is the truth.

If you would like to make your own kimono from asa fabric, your best bet is to import it from China or one of the small surrounding islands. You can often find it cheaply by the bolt on Ebay. Sometimes it comes dyed, other times, you will have to dye it yourself. Make sure that you inspect the weave and softness beforehand. I have only one asa kimono, which is relatively soft and feels very similar to a thick denim, from late Taisho - early Showa era (before the ban). It is only this piece that I can use to compare 'foreign' hemp fabrics to Japanese fabrics. But as the kimono is nearly 100 years old, I can promise the durability of a hemp kimono makes the expense of owning one well worth it!

June 3, 2012

For Sale: Shiromuku, 24GP Sake Set - Longevity

I had the good fortune to import some beautiful 24k gold-plated sake sets lately. Many cups are 'standalone', meaning that they have no match, but some came in sets. One such set is this one, with the kanji for 'longevity'.

I'm spending the day cleaning up the entire lot, around 20-25 cups, but this immediately struck me because they are in three different sizes, the way san-san-kudo wedding cups are! And a long life together (presuming it is a happy union) is a very auspicious thing to drink to on that day, don't you agree? I am past the marrying years now, but it looks like they could bring someone else happiness...

Speaking of marriage, I am also looking for a new home for this shiromuku kakeshita. <3

Pattern: Tatewaku
Fabric: Synthetic (easy care!)

Length: 175CM
Width: 110CM
Sleeve length: 107CM

Not getting married? No problem!

Be creative- maybe this year at MetroCon or AnimeCon you can do Sagi Musume or Yuki-onna! For either one, you basically need an all-white long kimono and some accessories. For Sagi Musume, you'll need a red juban and a black obi with a white marukuge. For Yuki-onna, you'll need an all-white ensemble, as she is a snow creature. For both, you might need a second shiromuku or a soft tsunodashi (literally, "horn-hider", a hood that Japanese brides wear). If you want to be more macabre than beautiful, you could go as Ohaguro-bettari! Ohaguro-bettari is a monstrous youkai those poses as a beautiful woman, usually a bride, from behind. Then, when the person is entranced, she stands up and turns to face him... and wa! She has no face- only a large mouth, revealing a wide grin of blackened teeth! But, I don't know how you would go about 'blanking' your other features while still being able to see. That would be some cosplay!

June 1, 2012

Kinyoubi Kimono Challenge 6

Previously, "My favourite coordination(s) so far."

6. What you like and dislike about kimono.

I love the way kimono drape and feel on my skin. I have a lot of nerve damage, so some days I'm OK... and then some days, every gust of air is like knives, it feels like someone is putting out thousands of lit matches all over, and every hair follicle feels like needles are growing out of my skin. O.x Everything. Hurts. And there's no fix for it. The only thing I can do is minimize the pain by wearing fabrics that irritate me the least and not move too much. If I had a pool, that would be one thing, but even then I can only stay submerged for so long, right? My solution is really soft kimono silks. I can curl up in a kosode tied shut with a koshi himo or heko obi and hang out around the house. Even cottons are too rough, and wool is absolutely out of the question. Silk kimono save me on those days.And since a friend of mine has similar issues, I've decided to pursue making him something to wrap up in as well.

I also love how kimono are generally wearable. A properly-tied kimono must be of specific measurements to work on you, but wearing kimono in a modern "high fashion" way means that it doesn't necessarily have to fit perfectly. I recall wearing a black and silver kimono tied a little higher than my knees, worn with black stockings, tall combat boots, and a black obi here in the States. I wouldn't wear anything like that to a Japanese event here, or to Japan (I'd have to dress it up with another obi like I did last time, likely using my pink dragon obi). But if I gain five pounds, my kimono will still fit. My jeans do not. If I grow a few inches, my pants will be awkwardly short. My kimono is not.

Utamaro, Silkworm Culture #10
What I hate about kimono?

Most of the ones I have cannot be washed, and are impossibly expensive to dry clean. Some colours run or waterstain when they get wet, and I can't risk ruining an expensive piece. The only thing I can really do is try not to get the majority of them dirty or exposed to insects (nearly impossible in Florida), and air them out as frequently as possible. If they start to smell musty, I try to hang them up and burn incense. This has to be done one kimono at a time until I get a garment rack. As I have drawers of them, this is a long, tedious process. I have to watch the cats around my things because they have torn items more than once. Losing the beauty of my turqouise and purple Taisho momiji obi was devastating. And there's really no way to shut them out of the room at the moment. x.x

Then there's folding them. I love wearing kimono. I hate folding them. I need the entire bed to lay them out and put the seams right. There's usually a cat to move, and a tonne of fur on EVERYTHING, even if I freshly washed the sheets. Which means that if there wasn't any cat fur on my kimono before, there will be now. Arrrrgh. So frustrating!

Overall, though, I think the hassle is worth it. Some women starve themselves for the sake of beauty. I just have to stop being so lazy and actually fold and put away some clothes. :P

Next: Kimono confessions. Did you know that…