In a quiet Japanese tatami room, a women in her 50’s slowly slides open a paper fusuma door while seated in seiza style. She bows in respect to her tools in front of her, then enters the room sliding forward on her knees. She begins by wiping the bowl and pouring hot water in it to warm it. She adds matcha, the green tea powder, into the tea bowl and stirs it quickly with a bamboo whisk. Every move she makes is perfectly performed, without any wasted motion. She turns towards the guests to serve the tea. Continue reading The Japanese Yoda
by M. Yuki
Something is looking at me with the glare of eyes from a plate…..It’s a Chirimen Jako!!! I loved it before, but without notice, I became not to like it, even feel gross. Their eyes look like as if they are blaming me.
About one month ago, I went to Aki city with my friends for sightseeing and ate lunch there. We got in one restaurant, and the waitress recommended “Chirimen don”, or rice covered with Chirimen Jako. Of course I refused, but my friends ordered. They seemed to be moved by the Chirimen don so much and tried to make me eat that! Then I noticed that there were no bad smell of fish and no glare in their eyes. So I timidly took a bite of it….. “How delicious it is!!!” I was moved. This is my first encounter with Chirimen don.
Chirimen Jako is probably not familiar to most non-Japanese people, but it is very popular here. It is the genetic name of young fish of eel, ayu, and sardine. They hatch in the ocean and have clear body. They are very nutritious food which contain a lot of calcium, vitamin, and minerals.
Chirimen Jako’s “Chirimen” means a kind of silk fabrics that have fine wrinkles on the surface. And “Jako” means different kinds of young fish. The name “Chirimen Jako” is said to come from the view that those fish are spread and dried on the beach as if there are silk fabrics.
Chirimen Jako has another name, “shirasu”. In Kochi, it is popular to call them Chirimen Jako, but in other cities, people usually distinguish those fish by size and dry level.
Aki city has been famous for Chirimen Jako for a long time.
According to fishermen’s cooperative in Aki, the catch last year was 612t. It means that in the Aki city, Chirimen Jako occupy about ninety percent of fishry share. And In catch of Kochi prefecture, it always comes on first or second.
Fishermen dry Chirimen Jako in the sun without any machines by a method passed on from the past. It brings about good flavor and soft texture. Finally, a lot of Chirimen Jako are covered piping hot rice and put vinegar of yuzu, or a kind of citrus. This has been eaten as home cooking and liked everyone there.
Recently, there is a movement that make Chirimen don special food to appeal Aki outside. The Aki Chirimen don Association was organized by some different volunteers like Aki Chamber of Commerce and Industry, JA Tosa Aki, and so on two years ago. This group is leading the movement. To be specific about their activities, they sell Chirimen don at events for public relations, produce sightseeing menus like experiencing drying Chirimen Jako, and makes Websites, brochure and a map for eating tour of Chirimen don. On the map, there are 15 stores that serve Chirimen don now and each stores devise the flavor and topping. We can enjoy 15 different Chirimen don!!!
Last year, to promote PR, they got a powerful partner “Chirimen don chan”. She was born by Yanase Takashi, who made “Anpanman” or very famous character in Japan. She is a cute girl who has eyes like Chirimen Jako and a small mouth.
The Aki Chirimen don association are also trying to make Chirimen don popular as a “B-grade dish”: which are delicious, but have reasonable prices and we can eat with nothing special.
According to Yamamoto Miei, who is a chairman of the Aki Chirimen don association, “Chirimen don stands out in them because it has simple taste while other “B-grade dishes “tend to be heavy and rich. Besides it matches the health boom and will be loved by people of all age.”
In April 2012, Chirimen don has topped “TheTosa B-1 Grand Prix” which is food festival of “B- grade dishes” in Kochi prefecture. It helped Chirimen don to be known by many people. Now they are thinking of participating in the contest of “B-grade dishes” on a national this year.
Those are so meaningful activities.
“They connect to promote using materials of primary industry, processing and selling them in the city. This flow can promote sightseeing, make employment, and many good things.” said
Ozaki Masanao, governor of Kochi.
Aki is one of the cities in Kochi that are suffered by serious aging and depopulation, and they are great help for enlivening Aki city.
I visited Aki and ate Chirimen don again. The store I went this time served Chirimen don with grated radish and myoga, or Japanese ginger. And the store’s original vinegar of yuzu is so fresh. It made me feel like ordering second and third helpings. There I asked an old woman what she thought of Chirimen don.
“Uh, for me, Chirimen don don’t have the freshness,” she answered, “because I have grown up eating Chirimen don. But I’m happy that many people come to Aki to eat that. I feel something proud of in my childhood.” and laughed.
Then I told about my story that I scared of Chirimen Jako, but somehow I could eat it and feel delicious here.
“Yes,” she answered, “it’s because Chirimen Jako in Aki have hospitality in their eyes.” and laughed again warmly.
Please visit Aki in a sunny day. You can see many white spots where Chirimen Jako are spread on the beach. And walk around Aki with Chirimen don map. You will be welcomed by Chirimen Jako and people there with great hospitality.
By Keisuke Toda
It was sunny day that the sun beat down unsparingly, as if it was a sign of summer. I visited Mr. and Mrs. Komatsu to eat phantom chicken that is called “Tosa Jiro”. The bus moved through a steep, narrow mountain road for 40 minutes from Aki station, to the little village of Hatayama where there was a guest house “Hatayama onsen ikoi no ie” (畑山温泉 憩の家)” run by Mr. and Mrs. Komatsu of Aki city, Kochi, Japan.
The guest house is surrounded by greenery and ajisai (Japanese hydrangea) blossoms in full glory and this good atmosphere made my heart leap with anticipation. The guest house also serves as a restaurant and there is also hot spring. That day, I had a rich chicken lunch in the guest house and learned so much about the Tosa Jiro chicken.
I was served chicken sashimi that included parts of organs, tataki that is breast meat lightly grilled on the outside, a bowl of rice topped with chicken and eggs cooked together. The dishes were so delicious because Tosa Jiro chicken has a strong clear and juicy chicken taste. And I had never eaten chicken’s sashimi before. I ate chicken’s heart, white meat, liver, gizzard, cookstomb, and milt. Each part had a lightly sweet, amazing taste.
“‘Tosa Jidori’ is a Kochi prefectural natural monument,” explained Ms. Komatsu, “so, it is forbidden to eat ‘Tosa Jidori’.” But its offspring, ‘Tosa Jiro’, is quite delicious.
Ordinary, chicken meat cannot be eaten raw, but Tosa Jiro is because of the special methods they use to raise them.
“Broilers are the main chicken that are sold in common supermarkets” said Keiko Komatsu. “They are raised for about 30 days, given a large amount of food, and shipped to market. The bigger chicken farmers make,” she pointed out, “the more they can get money. For the poultry industry, the main goal is high quantity at low cost. And it’s not an easy job because the cost of chickens is 20 to 30 yen per 100g. But most growers don’t consider the chicken’s healthy and don’t raise it to be eaten raw. In short, people usually eat immature chickens that have been made fat unnaturally.”
But that’s not what Komatsu-san does.
“Tosa Jiro are raised by a completely different method,” she explains. “They are raised for 150 days without rushing in an environment as close to nature as possible, and shipped as a healthy, adult Chicken.” They breed their chickens in large place on the ground and feed them mainly non-modified corn,and fish meal, rice, organically produced vegetables and so on. They also eat grit for their gizzards.
“This is what makes Tosa Jiro tastes so delicious,” Seiichi said.
A chicken’s gizzard is the thick-walled part of a bird’s stomach used for griding food, typically with grit. But it is still working without food, and grit are fined out by rubbing against each other. Fine grit is pulverized and absorbed as minerals in the blood and circulate around the body. It causes a loss of body odor in the chicken.
Chickens were originally prey in in the wild and developed this means to protect themselves from predators. In the modern bird, the meat loses the chicken’s peculiar odor and becomes delicious as a result.
Like many rural villages in Kochi, Hatayama has been in long, slow decline. In 1954, it merged with Aki city and as a result, the population began decreasing. Many local people left there to look for work, but Komatsu is one of the few stubborn holdouts. He determined that if there were few jobs, he’d better just make one for himself.
“I knew if I built a business around Tosa Jiro chicken, it’s gonna be the only one like it,” said Seiichi Komatsu. He and his wife are farmers, the only people who are raising Tosa Jiro for meat in Japan (other farmers raise it for its eggs). Komatsu was once a carpenter, but he quit his job and started the new Tosa Jiro industry in 1988.
There were many problems about breeding Tosa Jiro, and he has gotten through then.
There are some problems about Tosa Jiro now. But those problems will make Tosa Jiro special.
“If everybody can make it easily, it won’t true a local speciality, ” said Seiichi Komatsu.
Now, 5000~7000 people, including celebrities and magazine writers visit them to seek ‘Tosa Jiro’ per a year. But celebrity is not Komatsu’s main focus. It’s all about chicken.
“I can PR, appeal Tosa Jiro with confidence,” said Keiko, “for people who are seeking security, safety, delicious food. I think Tosa Jiro is great chicken. And the business might be critical for the local area. But, I don’t want to think about only the economy.”
She put all her cards on the table. “I truly want to breed Jiro to be like Jiro.”