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!
While we’re on the subject of sculpture, I’d like to show you a trend in Japanese public art that I haven’t noticed in any other country: insects! Insect figure largely in Japanese mythology and there most Japanese boys go through a phase between 5 and 15 when they collect or even breed insect for fun, as the perfect pets for crowded city apartments. You’ll often see young children out catching and playing with insect and there are many professional breeders of insects, the most popular being the giant kabutomushi. Even samurai warriors created personal armors in the shape of insects to instill fear in their enemies and draw upon the positive aspects of insects, often seen as silent, uncomplaining and extraordinarily dedicated to their allotted tasks – very much like the ideal Japanese citizen! So I guess public art in the form of giant insect sculptures are to be expected. Here’s two sculptures I came across last year, one is a grass hopper in Tokyo’s financial heart of Marunouchi and the second is in Nagano, near Obuse town a kabutomushi I believe. Long time readers of this blog might remember the spider statue in Roppongi as well. Any other that I missed? Let me know in the comments!