It’s probably one of those “you know you’ve been in Japan too long when…” things, but there’s a rabbit in the moon. You can see its long floppy ears hanging over the mortar as it pounds mochi. Mochi is glutinous rice cooked then pounded into an even more glutinous lump. It’s supposed to be a New Year treat, but I can’t say I find it too appealing. Maybe that’s the next hurdle? (They have something similar in Ghana called foofoo, made from plantain, yam or, yes, rice.) Anyway, Sunday night was indeed a full moon, and cloudless so there was the rabbit pounding away. This particular Autumn full moon is special: “chu shu no meigetsu” – a harvest moon I suppose – and you’re supposed to eat “imo” or yams, while sipping sake maybe and waxing poetical, and that’s what we did, in a “nabe” (a sort of stew) plus a bottle of white wine. The winter cold is definitely coming on and there was plenty of wood on the fire to hold it at bay for a few hours.
Japan and rice seem so close; both Japanese and foreigners agree on this, and this attachment to rice is common all over the Far East. The word for rice is usually synonymous with a meal and in many countries the rice plant is venerated as a god. However, the “imo” goes back even further, apparently, to before the introduction of wet rice cultivation, and is still held in affection somewhere deep in the Japanese psyche. In the north of the country around this time of year there’s a tradition of “imo ni kai” or “potato party” which is better than it sounds as the imo stewpot usually has other good things in it, and there’ll be some booze too… Actually “imo” covers a variety of potato-like vegetables: “jagaimo” are our familiar potatoes (“Jakarta potatoes”), “satsuma imo” are sweet potatoes, presumably arrived via Kyushu, “yama imo” (“mountain potatoes”) grow wild, are incredibly slimy and disgusting, especially when grated and put on raw fish and therefore much loved by the Japanese (yes, another hurdle coming up), and “sato imo” (“village potato”) are the kind we had in our stew, and used in the imo-ni-kai. These seem to be definitely a kind of yam, smaller than the ones I saw in Africa but with the same broad waxy leaves. They grow well here – you can see those leaves in everybody’s garden once you get a bit out of the city – maybe yams were the staple diet all over this part of the world once, as they still seem to be in some Pacific islands.
The chillies are doing quite well this year as the deer have been kind enough not to break through the 3m net I put round them and eat all the leaves off, and the wet July was followed by lots of sunshine in August and September. Chillies need sun, especially Habaneros, and our small but hot “ishigaki” variety.
Min. temp. 11°C max. 18°C