I have always wanted to have a Japanese garden. The Japanese are true masters in turning nearly everything in their culture to an artform, and the garden is no exception. Many of the famous gardens in Japan are located within Zen monasteries, an influence that is often conjectural at best. There must have been important religious influences on early garden design as well, given the significance of natural objects in Shinto beliefs. Although its original meaning is somewhat obscure, one of the Japanese words for gardenâ€”niwaâ€”came to mean a place that had been cleansed and purified in anticipation of the arrival of kami, the deified spirits of Shinto, and the Shinto reverance for great rocks, lakes, ancient trees, and other “dignitaries of nature” would exert an enduring influence on Japanese garden design. The individual elements of Japanese gardens can fill a book, and often has. This includes waterfalls, rocks, bridges, islands, flowers, water and of course, trees. Here are my favourite ones:
The temple of Jisho-ji is more popularly known as Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion. Both the pavilion and the garden were part of the retirement villa of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth Shogun of the Muromachi Period, who began construction in 1482. The complex became the very center of Japanese aesthetic concerns during the eight years of Yoshimasaâ€™s residency, particularly in the areas of art collecting, flower arranging, and the tea ceremony.
Popularly known as Kikokutei Hall Garden, this is currently part of the Higashihongan-ji Temple (although separated from it physically). Its landscapingâ€”attributed to Ishikawa Jozan and Kobori Enshuâ€”dates to the Edo Period, but the large pond may originally have been part of the Heian estate of Minamoto no Toru, younger son of the Emperor Saga. It is one of a number of such Kyoto ponds that are all that remain of the great gardens of the Heian aristocracy.
Founded in 1509 by the Zen priest Kogaku Sotan (1464-1548) upon his retirement as abbot of Daitoku-ji. The hojo, his residence, was completed in 1513, and the most famous of the gardens that surround that structure probably dates from the same period. While the theory that other early Zen gardens were intended to imitate Chinese landscape paintings or their Japanese equivalents is open to question, there can be little doubt that this was the intention at the Daisen-in. The garden that flanks two sides of the hojo is a miniature landscape whose vertical rocks suggest the mountains from which a waterfall and its resulting river flow.
Posted September 30th, 2010 by geisha+ | Comment (1)
masks belong to a highly developed theatrical tradition. Its purpose used to be strictly religious but this has long since changed. Of all the Japanese masks the Noh
mask is said to be the most artistic one. The origins of Noh theatre go back to the thirteenth century. At that time a very popular performance was ‘Dengaku no Noh’ which translates as ‘Field-music Performance’ and it had its root in rustic acrobatic and juggling exhibitions. By the fourteenth century, however, Noh had become a kind of opera in which the performers recited while sitting next to each other and then danced. As the fourteenth century went on, another type of Noh, Sarugaku, which used a lot of buffoonery, developed into a serious dramatic performance.
In 1647 the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (the Shogun was the Japanese military ruler) ordered that no variations were allowed in Noh performance. At that time stage directions were written down, costumes and masks were clearly defined and actors were allocated fixed positions on stage.
Elaborate costumes are a very important part of creating a striking performance. If a play begins rather slowly it is likely that the audience will get bored, therefore the Noh actors choose bright and colourful costumes. Costumes can also help to communicate a special context, so a broad-brimmed hat made of bamboo would suggest country life. These expensive costumes were often gifts to a famous actor by his admirers, something that still happens today.
Stage props on the other hand were hardly needed at all. More important than the costume was the Noh mask. Masks are only worn by the main character, his mask would stylise the person it represents and show them in a truer light than reality could do by depicting only the absolutely essential traits of character. There are five categories of Noh masks: gods, demons, men, women and the elderly.
The masks used in Noh theatre generally show a neutral expression so it is up to the skill of the actor to bring the mask to life through his acting. The parts are all acted by men, so the task of performing as a young woman is one of the most challenging for any actor. The masks are comparatively small and they only cover the front of the face having only small holes for eyes, nostrils and mouth.
Noh masks have to be very light because they are worn throughout a performance that lasts for several hours. They are carved from one piece of cypress wood. After the masks has been carved to the desired thickness, holes for eyes, nose and mouth have been cut, it is then coated with layers of gesso mixed with glue. This coating is then sanded down, giving the mask its final shape. Finally it is painted in the colours prescribed for the particular character and some parts of it might be gilded. Some of the masks’ eyes are inlaid with metal leaving a tiny hole. The hair and the outlines of the eyes are traced with black ink.
Posted September 24th, 2010 by geisha+ | Comment (0)
Nihon-cha (Japanese tea) contains catechin (giving astringency), caffeine (giving bitterness), and tannins (giving sweetness). Tea is said to be effective in preventing colds and cancer. The tea used in the tea-ceremony is called matcha. From the sprouting of the new buds in mid-April, the whole tea field is covered so that the leaves can grow protected from direct sunlight. Owing to the protection from direct sunlight the nutrients from the roots collect in the leaves, and unique types of amino acids called tannins (which only green tea possesses) increase. You can see this kind of tea field in Yamashiro Area of southern Kyoto. Ordinary tea is called sen-cha, with the soft tips of the leaves being brewed to make tea. Aside from the ryoku-cha (green tea) mentioned above, the free tea served in some restaurants called houji-cha is made from soft stalks and hard leaves.
Posted September 17th, 2010 by geisha+ | Comment (0)
I have been craving for more Japanese food so after some feasting at my local haunts, I headed for the Japanese supermarket with a mission: to create an authentic tempura- which is an archetypal Japanese food. All the essential qualities of Japanese cuisine are reflected in its preparation: the use of absolutely fresh ingredients, the artful presentation, and the perfection of technique by a skilled chef. The result is one of the triumphs of Japanese cooking — a fried food that is light and fresh-tasting rather than heavy and greasy. It’s a cooking style in which the essence of the ingredient itself completely defines the taste.
It comes as a surprise to most foreigners to learn that tempura was not originally a Japanese dish; it actually owes its origins to the visiting Portuguese missionaries of the sixteenth century. But tempura, like many imported ideas, gradually adapted itself to Japanese needs and tastes. By the late nineteenth century tempura was a popular fast food in Tokyo, sold from sidewalk stalls and roaming pushcarts, and today’s modern tempura (made by deep-frying vegetables, fish and shellfish) is no longer a foreign food at all, but a completely Japanese cuisine.
Seafood and vegetables are the raw materials of tempura, and only the freshest specimens are used. It’s not unusual to see live shrimps jumping around on the preparation counter, or buckets of slithering eels being carted through the kitchen. In addition to using the freshest ingredients, the next most important factor in good tempura is the quality of the batter, which is made from eggs, flour, and ice water. The batter shouldn’t be mixed too thoroughly, but should be lumpy and full of air bubbles. To achieve this consistency the batter is made up in small batches immediately before it’s used, and each batch is thrown away when it starts to settle.
The vegetables and seafood are cut, washed, dried, and dipped in the batter to give them a thin, almost transparent coating. After this they’re dropped one at a time into the oil (a combination of vegetable and sesame oil), which must be constantly kept at exactly the right temperature. Finally, the tempura must be cooked for just the right amount of time, pulled out of the oil the precise moment it’s done. If all goes well, the final product is perfect tempura — crisp, golden brown, hot, and delicious.
A few tempura restaurants offer variations on the basic recipe, adding extra ingredients to the batter to change the texture or flavor. One variation is to add chopped noodles to the batter for a rougher and crisper coating.
As you can see, making tempura is a delicate process, and lots of things can go wrong. It’s possible to find many different levels of quality in restaurant tempura, ranging from fairly bad (too greasy) to absolutely perfect (heavenly). As a general rule, tempura tends to be better at specialty restaurants rather than at all-purpose Japanese restaurants.
Before you dig in, remember some etiquette. The first rule of eating tempura is to get it while it’s hot. If you’re sitting at the counter, the chef will transfer each piece directly from the vat of hot oil to the counter in front of you, placing it on a sheet of white paper to drain off the excess oil. Even if you’re sitting at a table, every effort will be made to get your tempura to you as hot as possible. You can show your appreciation by eating it as soon as you can (although you might want to wait a minute or two to avoid burning your mouth).
When you use the dipping sauce, it’s a good idea to dip the tempura quickly and avoid lengthy soaking. The sauce may come with a small mound of grated radish, which can be mixed in. Some tempura fans forgo the dipping sauce entirely, using just a bit of salt or lemon for seasoning.
Posted September 13th, 2010 by geisha+ | Comment (1)