Sole Sister

Cruising in the single lane


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Summer spectacular

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Jagged rock-islands as far as the eye can see.

The Shakotan Peninsula’s Cape Kamui eases its way out into the Japan Sea like a advancing dinosaur, the howling wind whipping up waves which engulf the rocks at its feet. On its brow sits a lighthouse steering the seafarer clear of danger. Kamui is one of Shakotan’s three capes: the others being Ogon and the eponymous Cape Shakotan. The peninsula is renowned for its desolate sheer cliffs, plummeting into the boisterous ocean, crystal-clear waters and numerous needle-point rocky island outcrops just offshore, the product of millions of years of wear and tear from buffeting and pounding swells eating away at the coastline. Over the horizon lie Russia, and further to the south, North Korea.

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Shakotan’s Cape Kamui eases into the Japan Sea like a giant dinosaur. 

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Enjoy the spectacular views! 

The name Shakotan originates from two words from the Indigenous Ainu languages, shak, meaning “summer”, and kotan meaning “village”.  Its genesis as a region came through the development of the rich herring industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Herrings became such a money spinner that the nearby town of Otaru, “herring central” in its heyday, became so wealthy from the trade, and such a centre of commerce, it became know as the Wall Street of Japan’s North. Overfishing and climate change killed off these marine versions of the goose laying golden eggs around the mid-195os leaving the townships struggling to find new meaning in life.

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The stunning Shakotan coastline.

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Tourism is stepping into the breech with the sea again offering a lifeline. Shakotan is renowned for its uni and ikura, the much-sought-after bowls of ikuradon and unidon a major drawcard in summer and autumn. Tourists who travel to enjoy the old herring warehouses and canals of Otaru are happy to travel the few extra kilometres to savour a bowl plus the spectacular scenery en route. Along the stunning coastline a scenic, 42-km highway snakes along open stretches and through tunnels around the numerous bays and inlets. Dramatic cliffs drop into the ocean with townships, mostly deserted, scattered along the length. The Peninsula is also a stopping off point for Japan’s only national marine sanctuary. A growing attraction is glass-bottom boat excursions into the Japan Sea.  It’s all giving a new lease of life for the “summer village”.

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Anyone for ikuradon? Unidon? 

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Winding roads and tunnels. 

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Lonely Shakotan shacks.

Thanks to Yogi for some of the photographs.

 

 


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Kawaii…..

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The word kawaii, exclaimed with squeals of delight, is ubiquitous in Japan. It means “cute”, or “adorable”, a quality highly rated by Japanese females, especially young women. The use of kawaii goes into overdrive around most of the country on 15 November each year, the designated day of the Shichi-Go-San Matsuri – the Seven-Five-Three Festival – when the year’s batch of littl’uns turning 7, 5 and 3 dress in their sumptuous national costume, have their photographs formally taken, then head off to the local shrine with proud families for even more photographs, and blessings.

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With two grandchildren in those age ranges I was delighted to be personally involved in the most recent Shichi-Go-San in Hokkaido. There, in northern Japan, it’s held a month earlier so the children aren’t subject to the rigours of biting early winter winds and temperatures that can bring snow falls from late October onwards. On the big day, first there’s the trip to the professional photographic studio where formal shots are taken in full kimono, luckily available for rent given the the cost involved in a complete outfit. An astonishing array of colourful gear is jammed into laden racks around the studio awaiting selection.  There are the so many layers that make up the completed attire – inner garments,  outer jackets, sashes for both boys and girls, zori sandals, trinkets for specially coiffed hair,  oversize bows for the backs of kimono, little handbags and props such as “samurai swords” for the boys. After the lengthy photo session, with well skilled photographers (mostly girls!) managing fidgety children with amazing humour, comes the selection of images, a tricky decision indeed. img_5339

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Then off to the shrine for more photos -and given the intricacy, elegance, colourfulness  and sheer charm of their ensembles the children are naturally greeted with many more squeals of kawaii!

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A roe by any other name

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The freshest ikura and kani don at a seaside restaurant on the Shakotan Peninsula. 

The etymology of words is fascinating.  And so it is with that sought-after Japanese autumn delicacy, ikura, – いくら – the glistening omega3-packed sacs of exquisate piquancy that explode with surprise and flavour on the taste buds. Otherwise known as “red caviar” the Japanese word for the salmon roe sounds a natural part of the language. But in reality it’s borrowed from the Russian for “caviar” – ikra – and directly transposed into the Japanese into which it readily fits. A clue that it’s not a Japanese word is that it is written in a phonetic script, rather than kanji Chinese characters. A little research also reveals that in the Turkish word for caviar is kuru, very similar to ikra and ikura.

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Delicacy double dipping – ikura and uni don. 

Each year the salmon river migration takes place in late summer/early autumn in Hokkaido. Luckily for the salmon using every ounce of their strength to get back home, once they enter the rivers and streams they are protected, except for recreational fishermen who apply for a special licence ahead of time. But that it doesn’t count Hokkaido brown bears and eagles. After spawning, the exhausted salmon depart to fish heaven.

The most delicious ikura is said to come from  roe taken just before the breeding season when the outer film is taut and the roe soft.  The thin membrane that holds the roe in a cluster needs to be carefully removed to separate the individual eggs. They are then marinated before being eagerly devoured, usually with steamed rice. My daughter-in-law’s mother marinates her ikura in a 60/30/10 mixture of soy sauce, sake and mirin.

Separating the roe from its membrane sac; marinating ikura; ready to eat!  

A popular dish in Japan is ikuradon – a bowl of rice topped by glistening, deep red roe. Often it is teamed with other treats such as uni – sea urchin – and kani – crab. Sea urchin is a prized luxury in Japan, especially when it’s in season in summer. My son is a great fan and would weep to hear of seaweed farmers in Tasmania destroying sea urchins with some sort of robotic spear because they are a major predator of their “crops”. There must be an export opportunity there!

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Packaged ikura tops Hokkaido souvenirs at New Chitose Airport’s amazing retail mall.

 


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Happy New Year – 明けましておめでとうございます

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Nengajou welcome the New Year for multiple millions of Japanese.

Happy New Year! As millions of lunar calendar followers around the world welcome in the 2017 New year, those following the Oriental calendar are preparing to wave goodbye to that little scallywag the monkey and welcome in the stately rooster.

In Japan, where Oriental symbolism is synced with the lunar calendar the Rooster has crowed his first 2017 morning call. Multiple millions of nengajou, the little symbol cards that friends and family send each other, rather like Christmas cards, are arriving in special postal deliveries through the day. Across the world revellers are waking to sore heads, or the first day of well intentioned resolutions. The rooster will be in hot demand this year, this famous early morning riser credited with being able to foretell the future. Many will hope that he can see an end to the political upheavals experienced in numerous countries in 2016.

2016 calendars will come down and their replacements will go up. I have written before about the attachments I form to my calendars, which usually include one put together by my photographically talented older brother; another which I order specially from Tokyo’s captivating Blue and White Shop in Azabu Juban; and one which arrives every year from a young Japanese woman who stayed with us as an international language student over 20 years ago.

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Hello new Blue and White, goodbye old; and a sad farewell to this Southern NSW egret image. 

This year I’ll be putting up a beautiful calendar featuring Japanese art treasures, given to me by my Japanese family, which has been published by JAL Airlines for as long as I can remember. The pieces chosen for each month are exquisite, of the quality of treasures I’ve seen in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Oriental section. While a calendar’s not quite as good as the real thing it’s an excellent substitute.

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A section from the January illustration from the JAL calendar. 

Whether you’re an Oriental or a lunar cycle person here’s wishing you a very happy 2017 . May the qualities of warmth, generosity, diligence, sociability and excellent communication skills attributed to the rooster be the overriding zeitgeist in 2017.