仲夏, Chuuka: "Mid-summer"
Season No. 10: 夏至, Geshi:
The longest day of the year has come. The sun might be at its highest point in the noontime sky, but we can't see it for the mist and rain. The moisture hanging all around us like a gauze net is offset by the sweet, woodsy dryness of burning incense and mosquito coils. It's the perfect time to go temple-hopping; the mist adds a mental coolness that accentuates the peaceful ambiance of these Buddhist retreats.
Climate No. 28: 乃東枯
"The Self-heal Withers"
(June 21 -June 25)
|Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris subsp. asiatica) on its way out (Otake, Hiroshima).|
Yet as I ponder this reminder of inevitable death and withering in a season of vibrancy and life, I am reminded of my own mortality. No matter what the season, some things must fade. People go away. Situations change. I can appreciate the dousing of freezing-cold reality in this hot season of flaring passions and creation. Many organisms are mating all around me (like butterflies and stinkbugs), while others are falling back into eternity, to be reborn as living energy for still more life that feeds on it. It's hard to feel remorse when looking at life as a neverending cycle.
I have a feeling that the self-heal plant will be aptly named to me from now on because of this revelation. ;-) Nature is quite the teacher, isn't it?
Event Of The Season: 鵜飼, Ukai, Cormorant Fishing
|A painting celebrating the ukai tradition in Uji, Kyoto.|
But soon after
The cormorant boats."
|Two dolls greet customers-to-be at an ukai kiosk in Arashiyama, Kyoto.|
|Hard work requires comfortable shoes (Arashiyama, Kyoto).|
|A poster advertising ukai under the Kintaikyo Bridge in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi.|
|A royal send-off (Arashiyama, Kyoto).|
|Ukai fishing in Arashiyama, Kyoto.|
Still, if I come across ukai again in my travels, I just might fork out the dough to see the show up close. Some hotels and tourist establishments offer dinner cruises where guests can eat their freshly-caught fish. Even though ayu is my absolute favorite fish on the planet, I'm not sure I could swallow it, knowing it spent time in another creature's body. Even though the Emperor, himself, eats cormorant-caught sweetfish several times a year, I'd still feel guilty and be tempted to chuck it back to the bird who caught it. (But that's just moi).
Taste Of The Season: 鮎, Ayu, Sweetfish
|Fresh-caught sweetfish grilled over hot coals for the Amano River Firefly Festival (Maibara, Shiga)|
But for me, it's this small, unpretentious little river fish, silvery with yellow fins and full of white flaky goodness. Ayu (Plecoglossus altivelis) is just oily enough to go down easy, yet dry enough to make you feel like you're enjoying something healthy. When properly cooked, you can eat the entire fish, from below the gills to the tail. The bones in the lower body, when fried, become as brittle and crispy as potato chips (and are just as delicious, if not moreso).
|Scrumptious sweetfish sits atop a bed of fresh-cut soba noodles (Awa, Tokushima)|
But hands-down, my favorite way of savoring this aquatic delicacy is shio-yaki style: skewered, rubbed with salt and grilled over hot coals to brown, bubbly perfection. This is perhaps the most popular way to eat ayu in Japan (and rightfully so), often featured in yatai food stalls at festivals, truck stops and riverside campgrounds all around the country.
|A sweetfish vendor on Castle Road in Hikone, Shiga.|
|Pure, unadulterated, crispy YUM!|