Hinamatsuri: Celebrating Girls’ Day

Today is Hinamatsuri, Japanese Girls’ Day. This month on Savory Japan, we introduce the festival, as well as some of the special foods that are enjoyed on this day. The beautiful Odaira-sama (Emperor) and Ohina-sama (Empress) dolls pictured here are our family treasures — given to me by my mother and aunt (my grandmother, sadly, passed away before I was born). They will be handed down to my sister and her eldest daughter (as I have no children), and so on.

In modern Japan, the Emperor is usually seated on the left hand side. We’ve always displayed them in this manner — with the Empress on the left hand side — which is apparently the old, or traditional style.

Read more about the Hinamatsuri Festival.

Robata: Art + Food in Tokyo

We’re in Tokyo, but today we’re featuring a restaurant from our last trip. Why? Well, it took me this long to muster up the courage to ask our friends if I could write about the secret place they take their special guests. It’s such a unique restaurant that to use that word hardly describes it. As soon as you walk into Robata, located in central Tokyo in the shadow of one if its’ most famous hotels, you enter another dimension.

For instance, take a look at the setting here, at the strangely beautiful painting of the maneki neko (becoming cat) behind the irori hearth. I would flip over this if I were to find it at a gallery or antique shop, and yet, I’ve never seen anything like it. And this little corner represents only 1/100th of the collection in this remarkable place.

Every single inch of Robata is filled with something unusual, beautiful and fascinating. It’s too much to take in at one time, and the feeling is just overwhelming. It’s almost better understood in photographs.

And the food, you ask? Oh, I almost forgot this is a blog about food. Honestly speaking, the food takes a back seat to the setting, but it’s home-style, eclectic and full of flavor. The tableware too, is bold and impressive.

While we love Tadao Andoh and Japanese classic and modern minimalist design just as much as anyone, we can appreciate how special Robata is, especially for Tokyo residents who want to escape its hard edges for even a brief while.

 

Mochibana Blooms Brighten the New Year

Our first attempt at making mochibana
Our first attempt at making mochiban

Winter can be so dreary, and every household can benefit from some blossoms to brighten the surroundings. For this, a tradition that started in Northern Japan brings flowers to a season that has none. We have long admired these winter flowers, mochibana (literally, mochi flowers) that are currently in bloom in traditional homes and shops throughout Japan. Cascading gracefully from wall vases perched up high, this traditional Oshogatsu (New Year) decoration – made of willow and pink and white mochi (pounded rice) fashioned into blossoms – always brings a smile and must have seemed magical hanging inside a snow-bound home.

Inspired to bring a bit of spring to our home, we scouted the suburbs for a willow tree, finally finding one near a temple near my parents’ home. We had planned to make mochibana with the kids during New Years day, but as you can see from my previous posts, we were pretty busy and ran out of time. Therefore, we made these on the day after New Years.

It really isn’t as easy as it looks. The mochi is extremely sticky and hard to get to the right texture, and was difficult to get off our fingers. Wetting our hands didn’t really help. Finally, we coated our fingers with rice flour, which helped a little. The pink color simply comes from adding a few drops of red food coloring to the mochi and kneading it. Perhaps there’s a traditional way to add color, but I’m not aware of it.

Once we get the hang of it, we’ll try again next year with the kids, well before the bustle of oshogatsu. But for now, a gentle spray of mochibana cascades gracefully from high up on our wall, helping us bear another frigid and barren winter in Chicago. Perhaps we’ll even keep them up until Japan’s ume (plum) blossoms arrive, in late February.

Here’s a poem by Issa, written in 1813 (translation by my husband):

mochibana [no] kokage nite uchi awawa kana

In the shade
of the mochibana
making baby laugh