I parked my bike to get a photo of a traditional store front in an older part of central Saiki, and noticed the camera crew just as I had figured out that it was a koji shop. (Koji is a fungus used in the fermentation of miso, sake, natto and other traditional Japanese foods.) Making a mental note to stop back here to buy miso on another day, I threw my camera into my bike basket and got ready to pedal home…
From behind, I heard “Hello, hello!” and turned to see a smiling woman beckoning me from across the alley. “Do you like pizza?” “Yes, I love pizza!” “Then come in and join us, we just made pizza for the camera crew.” I hesitated and she kept asking me questions about where I was from…We switched to Japanese and she told me that she thinks she must have been American in a previous incarnation. Since visiting Plymouth, Massachusetts many years ago, she feels a strong affinity for the US and its people. She has never forgotten the kindness and generosity extended to her while she was there.
We walked across the street and I joined Myoho’s family and the camera crew for a feast of pizza, pickeled mackerel, natto, bread, and other foods prepared using koji. Her family has run the Saiki Koujiya for 300 years and her 25-year-old son has decided to continue the business.
They were all curious about why I was there and I explained where I was living and what I was doing here. The 83-year-old man next to me asked, “Are you related to Kuma-san?” Kumao is Jiro’s father….it turns out that Myoho’s father was a good friend of Jiro’s father from junior high school. So now we had more reasons to be sharing in this meal together. I spent an hour with them and promised to stop by soon.
“In 2004 Professor Emeritus Eiji Ichishima of Tohoku University called the koji fungus a “national fungus”-much like national flowers and animals-in the journal of the Brewing Society of Japan, a proposal that was approved at the academic society’s annual meeting in 2006.”(Fujita, 2008)
The cherry blossoms are incredible. Today I will meet up with some folks for an international hanami. And after that I will be going to dance practice for the spring festival (春祭り）next weekend.
I also prepared bamboo shoots yesterday. It is one of my favorite spring foods in Japan.
Our neighbor dropped off two fresh shoots and I scrambled to relearn how to prepare them for cooking. I used to be pretty good at the rural life, but I’ve been out of practice. The internet makes it so easy…video instructions for preparing bamboo shoots.
It was a crazy morning..driving ba-chan to her friend’s house. She couldn’t remember how to get there and I had never been there before. All it took was a phone call to figure it out.. a drive past the cherry blossoms diffused my frustration and her embarassment.