bike ride + cherry blossoms + serendipity= great day

Saiki Koujiya

Saiki Koujiya

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…

Kouji feast

Kouji feast

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.

Myoho Asari and son

Myoho Asari and son

“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)

Cherry blossom path

Cherry blossom path

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.

Takenoko-bamboo shoot

Takenoko-bamboo shoot

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.

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