Flavor of the Month: Yuzu (柚子)

Have you ever experienced a yuzu bath (柚子湯: yuzu-yu), a special bath prepared in Japan on the shortest day of the year, toji (冬至) or winter solstice? On this particular day, and only on this day, yuzu, a type of citrus, is put into a readied bath, the hot water helping to release a pleasant aroma from the fruit. Floating, yet partly submerged, the yellow fruits add a calming visual to the aromatic atmosphere. On some occasions the yuzu fruits are placed in a bag made of thin toweling and dunked in the hot bath, then squeezed to extract the fragrant juice. Are you wondering why people go to such trouble? Well, taking a yuzu bath is believed to bring you wealth and assure good health. While the origin of this custom remains uncertain, it is perhaps linked to the yellow color of the fruit, which symbolizes nobleness according to Chinese tradition. In fact, in Japan we also eat yellow pumpkins on the same day.
The yuzu tree originated in China and was brought into Japan during the Nara Period (8th century). It first gained popularity with the noble classes in the Kansai region, and later spread to other warm regions around Japan. In summer, small white blossoms cover its branches, temporarily disguising the sharp thorns that often make picking yuzu a troublesome task. In our garden at home my wife and I have two yuzu trees, both over twenty years old. Every year they delight us by producing lots and lots of fruits, often far beyond our needs. We usually end up giving many of them to our friends and neighbors.
When it comes to cooking, the aromatic rind of the fruit does an excellent job in enhancing the flavor of our dishes. From late summer to early autumn, the trees provide us with a supply of small green fruits. Adding some of the pungent green rind, sliced or grated, to soup or some other dish gives it a truly delicious flavor. Then in late autumn when the fruit ripen and turn a brilliant golden-yellow, the flavor and fragrance change and we can once again look forward to special yuzu dishes. It may be this unique characteristic that makes yuzu a hit with many Japanese, and is possibly why it is preferred to other Western citrus fruits such as lemons and limes.
Now that your taste buds have been excited, I'd like to introduce an interesting dish known as yuzu-gama (柚子釜), literally meaning "yuzu-pot". It goes particularly well with sake or white wine.
Recipe:
Cut off the stem end of two yuzu fruits and remove the contents, taking care so as not to break the rind. Squeeze the contents to produce a juice, then add several drops of vinegar to the juice. So far, you have made what is called yuzu-su (柚子酢: yuzu vinegar). Next, mix
two teaspoons of this yuzu-su with three tablespoons of white miso (白味噌: white soy-bean paste), one tablespoon of mirin (味醂: Japanese sweet liquor), and two tablespoons of dashi-jiru (出し汁: broth). This will give you sufficient dressing for two yuzu-pots.
In each of the hollowed fruits place three shrimp, one-half of a fresh shiitake mushroom (椎茸), a mitsuba leaf (三つ葉) and several drops of sake. Heat the stuffed fruits in a microwave oven for a minute and a half. Then, add about half of the above-mentioned dressing to each and heat for half a minute again - that is all there is to it! Now you can prepare an elegant starter dish for two with the utmost of ease, yet the utmost of flavor. Bon appetite!
T. Fujii


Getting Hitched in Japan

What comes to mind when you think of weddings in Japan? Nowadays I expect there are few people who still think Japanese only marry by omiai (お見合い), an introduction or "meeting" organized by a matchmaker for people seeking marriage partners. Instead, images of "an interesting mix of traditional and adopted customs" or "lavish and expensive receptions" may form your impressions.
In recent years wedding styles in Japan have become quite diversified. For instance, a wedding ceremony held in a church, even by non-Christians, is no longer uncommon, while some couples simply register their marriage and forgo the ceremony altogether. With the number of extravagant receptions in large hotels on the decrease, people are seeking economical and alternative ways to celebrate their "special day".
To gain a better understanding of the situation, I decided to conduct a survey on Japanese weddings, focusing on the following questions;
1) What do Japanese think about traditional customs or superstitions relating to weddings?
2) What customs do people actually adopt?
3) To what extent have Japanese weddings diversified in terms of style?
4) How much are people willing to spend on their wedding and who will pay for it?
I sent out my questionnaire to many acquaintances, ranging from young people in their twenties to elderly folks in their seventies. Although lacking the scale of a "national census" and keeping in mind that wedding customs vary according to locality, the survey does, nonetheless, provide an insight into what Japanese people currently think about weddings, offering an interesting glimpse of Japanese society in general.
Before doing this survey I had assumed most respondents would have conducted their engagement or wedding ceremonies on taian (大安), the "luckiest day" in the 'six day week' of the lunar calendar. Surprisingly, however, only 30% of respondents actually held their ceremonies on this day. If the majority of Japanese people ignored such a superstition, why is it that the days of taian or butsumetsu (仏滅) - "unlucky day" are still printed on today's calendars and hotels and wedding halls are packed on the "lucky days". It is probably because superstition has long been an element of Japanese society, and this particular type of superstition is the simplest and the most accepted form of fortune telling. Although, not everyone follows this type of fortune telling. One respondent, a woman in her twenties, said,
"Taian and butsumetsu etc. just exist as a guide for the general public, so I don't see them as that important or relevant to me personally. This is why I consulted a fortune-teller to decide the best day for my spouse and I.
The survey findings also revealed that when most couples got engaged they had a yuino (結納) ceremony. It usually involves the exchanging of money, a ring, silk material for a kimono, and the sharing of special foods and sake. Each of the items exchanged is selected for its "good fortune" (see picture). The ceremony symbolizes a special bond not only between bride and groom, but also the two families. The bride's family receives from the groom ceremonial money, the amount generally three times the groom's monthly salary. It actually turned out this was the case with most of the respondents. In return, the bride's family also contributes gifts, for example, an expensive chest of draws - sometimes even a car, to the couple for their new life. Of course, if the groom cannot afford to pay money, he just gives a ring.
In regard to wedding expenses, it appears most parents shared at least some of the burden. This tendency was most evident in the higher age groups, partly because marriages in Japan have long been considered a formal tie between one family and another. The wishes of the bride and groom were of minimal importance, as the parents decided their offspring's partners, conducted the ceremonies and covered all expenses. Nowadays, however, young people choose their partners and share marriage expenses, and therefore have a greater say in how their wedding ceremonies are conducted. But, it is also interesting to note how maintaining "face" particularly in the case of the parents, can influence opinions. A man in his forties said:
"Extravagant or simple, it is your wedding. You deserve the right to conduct it however you like. I have no problem with people who don't have a ceremony or reception. However, I would oppose my son or daughter if either of them planned a very simple wedding, or wanted to forgo the ceremony altogether. I don't want to hear people talking behind my back saying, "He does not have enough money to help his children, I really feel sorry for them."
His honest opinion clearly demonstrates Japanese honne (本音) "one's true feeling's" and tatemae (建前) "one's formal stance, or public position". I think this (his) particular stance is held by many Japanese parents. It may be good idea to view the results and opinions presented considering honne and tatemae.
In conclusion, the opinions of many of the older respondents were not as conservative as I had expected. Regardless of age, respondents expressed varying opinions based on personal experience, though some trends did arise. While wedding costs were born by parents in the past, today it is a shared obligation. Many older people had to obey their parents even if they didn稚 believe in a certain superstition, or want an extravagant ceremony. Through their experience, some respondents even suggested younger people avoid unnecessarily expensive ceremonies out of vanity. Superstition, although playing a greater role in the past, has not entirely given way. Lastly, while most parents were not against "untraditional" weddings, all wanted to play a part in deciding how their own children conducted engagement and wedding ceremonies.

Survey Results:
Q1. Did you marry on taian -"lucky day"
・Yes 30%
・No. 50%
・Don't remember 20%

Q2. To those who answered YES to Q1. Who chose the day?
・I did. I thought this was the most suitable day for my wedding. 60%
・Parents or relatives insisted. 40%

Q3. To those who answered NO in Q1. Why didn't you choose taian?
・I don't believe the superstition.80%
・ I married on butsumetsu "unlucky day". On such days, ceremony halls are not very crowded
and provide a discount. 10%
・The day was decided by a fortune-teller. 10%

Q4. Did you exchange yuino?
・Yes. 90%
・No. 10%

Q5. What did you give, or get as yuino?
・A set of yuino, an engagement ring, and money. 60%
・A set of yuino and money. 20%
・A ring only. 20%

Q6. What did you give as a return gift?
・Return gift set of yuino and money. 45%
・Did not give anything, but shared a meal together. 11%
・Necktie pin. 22%
・Some other things. 22%

Q7. The average of amount of yuino money is said to be three times the groom's monthly salary. What was it in your case?
・Average. 67%
・Much lower. 11%
・The amount of the ring and money
was about average. 11%
・Others. 11%

Q8. Did you receive financial assistance with yuino and wedding reception?
・Yes, parents paid everything. 22%
・Yes, parents paid most. 44%
・No, I did not ask for any help. 34%

Q9. Who brought yuino to your partner's house?
・Go-between, parents and I. 44%
・Parents and I. 33%
・Go-between only. 33%

Q10. Where did you marry?
・At a Shinto shrine. 50%
・At a church. 30%
・A ceremonial hall. 10%
・Partner's house. 10%

Q11. To those who married at a church. Are you or your partner Christian?
・Yes. 33%
・No. 66%

Q12. If both of you are not Christian, why did you marry at a church?
・Wedding at a church is romantic. 66%
・ So friends can attend the wedding ceremony. (Only family can attend a Shinto style wedding
ceremony) 34%

Q13. To those who had a wedding reception, who was invited?
・Family, relatives, company colleagues and friends. 50%
・Family and relatives. 40%
・Family and relatives, and had another reception with friends.
(Usually expenses are shared by those who attend.) 10%

Q14. How many times did bride change robes.
・Once. 60%
・Twice. 10%
・Three times. 30%
・Did not change. 10%

Q15. Do you think weddings in Japan cost too much? Please give any comments you have regarding weddings.

- In truth, I think wedding expenses are far too much. But, to make your wedding ceremony memorable, considerable expenses can't be helped. (20s, woman, married 1996)

- Basically, the style and cost of wedding depend on the couples getting married. If your parents are concerned about what other people might think or say, I think it is important to consider their wishes. (50s, woman, married 1977)

- Rental wedding dresses are too expensive! (20s, woman, just married!)

- I have no problem with people who register their marriage, yet don't have a ceremony. But, I would object if my son or daughter wanted to. I'm prepared to share the cost of the wedding. (40s, man, married 1979)

- I think you should use your money for your new life (eg. I bought a new home.) I am not against only registering a marriage. (50s, man, married 1968)

- From my experience of my son and daughter's weddings, I can say that it is silly to use a lot of money unnecessarily. It is smarter to spend your money on your new life. (60s, woman, married 1958)

- Since marriage is still considered a connection between two families in Japan, you must take into consideration your family's opinions. If there is disagreement, it is important to work through any problems until both sides are satisfied. (30s, man, married 1994)

- Just registering your marriage is not very exciting. I would like to celebrate with my family and friends. Rental dresses are very expensive, but there are some ways to save money. The ceremony itself does not cost that much. (20s, woman, just married.)
K. Kimura



Passage of Time:
Millennium Impressions

How to cope with excess information in the 21st Century
With the rapid progress of information technology in the new century, we are likely to face an information over load or glut - we will simply produce more information than we really need. So it will be important for us to determine what information is necessary and useful and then discard the unnecessary. Otherwise we will simply be buried under its volume. Since a computer can not properly evaluate and select information, we have to do it ourselves. I think the ability to make judgements using a sharp awareness along with deep thinking will become more and more important in our daily lives in the 21st Century.
T. Fujii

Making the Most of Life
The reunion of my elementary school is held every Olympic year. Needless to say, it was held again this year in September. I had been very much looking forward to the event, but on attending was saddened to find out that one of my old friends had passed away. I last spoke to her on the telephone two years ago. She had told me how happy her life was. I never thought it would be the last time I would speak with her. Who could predict such a thing? It makes me recall the Japanese phrase, "Ichi go ichi e". It means to do everything as if it were "a once in a lifetime opportunity".
I. Hashimoto

Entering the 21st Century
Killing, injury, drug abuse, theft, bullying, robbery, juvenile delinquency, car gangs etc. Unfortunately these things have become everyday occurrences during the latter half of the 20th century. Lack of morality! Lack of human feelings! Lack of mutual understanding! How deplorable!
The 21st century is just around the corner. We ought to improve the world and make it as comfortable as possible before we pass it down to the next generation. Human nature must be good fundamentally. I do believe our world could be a better place if only each person tries to be a little more kind and considerate. "Many a little makes a mickle"
Y. Matsuda

The Millennium Year
The Year 2000 will soon slip by. Looking back, I have certainly had some unforgettable experiences this year, some good and also some sad. Firstly, my mother-in-law passed away on the 1st of January, aged 96. Although taking care of her had been difficult for me, I miss her terribly.
Japan currently has the highest number of elderly people per capita in the world, yet effective measures to deal with this situation have only recently been implemented. I hope it is not a case of too little too late.
Secondly, this year has seen further expansion of the Internet, which even I have recently had connected to my home. I couldn't help thinking I don't want to miss out on something as important as this.
Lastly, I traveled to France in June of this year. There, on top of the Eiffel Tower, which rose up brightly in the night sky, I saw the glowing red illumination "2000" It left me with a vivid impression, and a wish I'm sure everyone shares. "A desire for world peace and prosperity for human kind"
N. Suematsu

Welcome - The 21st Century
As a century is quite a long time, in looking back, I think I should stick to what happened during my days. Compared to my mother's generation, women's lifestyles have changed significantly. While I may be an ordinary middle-aged homemaker, I have not limited myself to the home environment.
I still have a job and can afford to take the occasional overseas vacation. Almost everyday I use a computer, and drive my car to work or somewhere. Today women, including myself, are gaining more freedom and seem generally happier for it. But we live in a consumer society in which buying pre-packaged food, even rice balls, not to mention bottled water and tea is not unusual. These are all items previously prepared at home. I wonder how surprised my mother would be if she were here to witness these times.
Incidentally, my first grandson entered the world this past autumn. My millennium boy is going to row his way through the seas of the 21st century. I hope his future and my elderly days will be peaceful in the coming new century.
M. Matsushita

Cherish Time
Year by year everything is changing and developing faster. The use of computers and mobile phones has become commonplace. Household affairs can be completed with but the push of a button. Of course I'm grateful as almost everything can be done faster with less labor. It is true such convenience helps our life. This advancement will continue to develop radically during the 21st century.
Although I go along with this progress in the world, I think it is still important to retain one's sense of "self". I need to be able to stop and think sometimes, to take a moment to enjoy and savor the passing of time. Taking a leisurely walk in a temple garden, sipping green tea in a traditional Japanese style room only lit by candle light, shutting out artificial sounds and just reflecting in my timeless world, what do I see?
I live happily here in Kyoto, and hope to continue to introduce to you some of the many interesting aspects of this charming and historical city. My other wish is for more "kokoro-no-yutori" (心のゆとり), "peaceful moments", time to myself free from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Remember, once in a while, "take the time to smell the roses".
A. Tara

Towards a Peaceful Future
I never imagined my life would span over two different centuries, much less an historical transition from one millennium to another. Having been born in the post war period, I have enormous respect and gratitude for the sacrifice endured by those who came before me. In our present environment, we enjoy freedom of choice in almost every aspect of life, far beyond that of past generations. However, I cannot help but feel ashamed at our lack of appreciation. Why do we continue to commit atrocities against our fellow human beings? Did the countless souls who laid their life on the line, and in many cases, lost their lives in the hope of a peaceful future die in vain? Take a moment to reflect on the grief we have created for ourselves this century, and lets work towards a more peaceful 21st century.
S. Sakae