Friday, March 7, 2014

7. 蟄虫啓戸: "Insects Begin to Emerge"

(BGM: "Spring Is Here" by Carly Simon)

Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing
仲春, Chushun: "Mid-spring"
Season No. 3: 啓蟄, Keichitsu: 
"Hibernating Insects Awaken"

A busy ladybird beetle inspects a sprig of new mugwort.
The sun shines a little warmer now in the afternoons, gently nudging awake the myriad tiny lifeforms snuggled comfortably in their earthy beds. Though the term keichitsu literally implies insects, this vernal expression can refer to any small creature that hibernates underground, including reptiles and amphibians.

Climate No. 7: 蟄虫啓戸
Sugomorimushi To Wo Hiraku:
" Insects Begin to Emerge" 
(March 5-9)

Mosquitoes swarm outside my window (Shiga Prefecture)

"At my poor hovel,
  There's one thing I can offer-
    Small mosquitoes." -Matsuo Basho

Yesterday, as I sat in an office lobby with a smartphone in one hand and a squished mosquito in the other, I noticed a seasonally appropriate photo uploaded from my host father in Chiba. While rotating his rice field in preparation for spring flooding, his tractor had safely unearthed a sleepy little frog all bug-eyed and covered in smooth, silky mud. Despite cold morning temperatures still hovering around 0C throughout much of Japan, life still finds a way to push itself through into the daylight. What never fails to mystify me is the timing of nature, how the frogs know to wake up when their food (mosquitoes) is hatching from freshly melted waters, or how the birds know it's time to prepare nests for their growing families. It's astonishing! And yet, I recognize in myself the same instinct to press on.

Taste of the Season: 鰆, Sawara, Japanese Spanish Mackerel

Also known as seerfish, the sawara (Scomberomorus niphonius) is a regional specialty of prefectures lining the aquamarine waters of the Seto Inland Sea. The Chinese character for sawara means "fish of spring," and this species of true mackerel has long been associated with this season of emerging wildlife. I was lucky enough to be served at my place of work a nice couple chunks of this delicious fish in season, salt-grilled and drizzled with a spoonful of nutty, savory sesame seed sauce.

Grilled sawara from the Seto Inland Sea, served with sesame sauce and mixed vegetables.
The texture of the flesh was pleasingly smooth and gently flaky, like lean well-cooked tuna, but without any hint of fishiness. Had it been breaded and deep fried, I probably would have easily mistaken it for chicken breast. Spanish mackerel is one of those universal fish that can be prepared in a variety of ways, from raw sashimi and sushi to simmered or baked.

I say "lucky" because this delectable fish is actually in risk of being labeled a threatened species in my region (but plentiful elsewhere in east Asia). I had no idea that the Japanese Spanish mackerel fishery of the Seto Inland Sea had even collapsed at one time, as this IUCN Red List report suggests. Efforts to revive this particular fishery must have been met with some success, otherwise a sawara wouldn't have made its way onto my lunch plate and those of my coworkers.

It was unsettling to learn that by eating my lunch, I was unwillingly participating in the Seto sawara stocks' demise. Perhaps only recently, the chance to enjoy a bite of this fish from this part of the world might've only been a privilege for Japan's elite or some super fortunate fisherman who caught one on a line.

Seto Inland Sea Sunset (Kure, Hiroshima)
The whole experience taught me never to take anything I consume for granted. As I write about the seasonal dishes of Japan, I'm well aware of the toll relentless demand has taken on the environment over the years. For that reason, I try to make sure that every time I go shopping, I only buy the most local food possible (that is, if my sweet neighbor hasn't already given me a bundle of veggies freshly plucked from her garden plot). If it's not made in the region or country where I live, I try to do without it.

Hubby helping a farmer bring in his early spring carrot crops. (Taga Town, Shiga)
Hubby's ample payment for his labor (and boy were they ever GOOD!)
I realize that as long as I'm alive on this earth, I'm still "part of the problem" as a consumer of so many products just to survive. But if I buy as much as possible locally, at least I can try, if only in a small way, to reduce my carbon footprint and my burden on the environment that sustains me. In Japan, buying produce and fish directly from small-scale operations still directly benefits the community as a whole. That just can't be said anymore in many parts of other developed nations, where people can only get their food from impersonal warehouse-style supermarkets.

May we all learn to support and protect our local farmers and fisheries, and may each season be a season of gratitude and thanksgiving. From now on, I pledge to become more aware of where my food comes from. 

Copyright 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

No comments:

Post a Comment