It is the end of September which in the world of Japanese confectionary and pomiculture (is there really no word in the English language for the cultivation of chestnut trees?) means it is time to start thinking about harvesting and making use of the extraordinarily sweet Japanese Chestnut (Castanea crenata). The trees are quite simply gorgeous, unlike any of the varieties of Castanea that we have in Europe, and the ripe fruits are encased in the sharpest needles you could ever imagine. Being used to our European varieties where the needles are often a bit soft, I learnt with much pain that these Japanese Chestnut are seriously spiky. Fresh they are half a percent fat and loaded with vitamins so quite healthy even as fruits go. Japanese use them for everything from ice-cream to jellies, candies, jams, sweets, roasts and in creams and lotions, and even as a topping on hot rice. I saw these specimen in a lovely garden in the lovely little town of Obuse in Nagano Prefecture, way north of Tokyo. Enjoy!
A couple of months ago I mentioned on the blog how I had visited Kamikochi National Park in Nagano Prefecture, north of Tokyo. Here are some photos from this trip, more specifically some of the wildlife I met walking around Taishoike, the lower parts of the river that is the centre of the national park. Due to it’s high elevation, it remains pretty cool even in the summer and nights tend to get chilly, as I discovered trying to sleep rough on the way up there to save on hotel money. As with all Japanese national parks, it is not the most tiring of hikes, easily enjoyed even for the elderly and children. I guess the Japanese perception of nature plays in here: no matter how much we wish to preserve nature, there’s a few vending machines even here! Still, for a long weekend out of Tokyo, it is hard to beat in terms of sheer beauty! Entrance is free but the ride there can get very expensive.
While visiting Nagano north of Tokyo last month I drove up a narrow mountain road and came upon as small parking lot. Now, people don’t build parking lots in the middle of nowhere for no reason and naturally I stopped to check it out. Turns out it was the entrance to a small path leading down to a fall, Zengoro-no-taki, Zengoro Falls (善五郎の滝), one of several falls on the Koonogawa (Koono River). Not the most beautiful of falls, but nevertheless. Being a hardcore Tokyoite I take every opportunity to spend a moment extra in any sort of nature. Being drenched in a fine mist of clear mountain water didn’t make things worse either. If you are every up driving in the mountains, remember to take the time to stop at unexpected scenic places! There’s tons of hidden gems not marked on your GPS navigator. Enjoy!
Fear not – Tokyobling will never turn into an Ornithology blog (even though I have blogged about birds quite a lot so far…). However, one bird above all others deserves a mention – the Japanese Bush Warbler (in Japanese: uguisu, 鴬 or ウグイス). Few birds in Japan are as famous as this one while being so relatively unknown. It’s tiny size and shyness makes it very hard to spot. If you’ve been to Tokyo you might recognize this bird from one of the least used stations on the Yamanote line, Uguisudani (lit. the Valley of the Bush Warblers). Few people have seen this bird but many people have heard it, it has a very distinctive call that has become a symbol for the Japanese spring and summer. It’s easily my favorite bird in Japan. Most Japanese agree with me and this bird is one of three “official song birds of Japan”, together with the Japanese Robin and the Blue and White Flycatcher.
If you want to hear it, go to the Wikipedia entry, there some very short sound clips to hear.
Not only is this birds droppings traditionally used as a skin whitening agent (if you have the chance, get a bottle of “uguisu no fun” at some of the better department stores and enjoy a 100% natural beauty product), but it has also given the name to a color that we would say is a mix between olive green and khaki. I have heard that this is due to a poetical error hundreds of years ago, as this color is nothing like a real uguisu bird.