March 28, 2014

The Mu-chi Legend


It all started with a phone call from my grandma last night.

I'm a letter writer and I don't really like phone calls. But my grandma likes to call me because it's much easier than writing a letter and going through the whole stamp and post office thing. So we have this routine where I write letters and send pictures to her, and she calls to say she got it.

Well, I got a call last night and our chat about food reminded me that I still hadn't posted my photos of the mu-chi we ate in Okinawa last year!

So here it goes...

Mu-chi is the Okinawan dialect for the Japanese word mochi, which is known as rice cake in English. Although made slightly different from the mainland mochi, mu-chi is traditionally made on December 8th of the old lunar calendar in Okinawa. It's said to be one of the coldest times of the year (although not THAT cold because hey...it's Okinawa!). Many people eat mu-chi to pray for good health and ward off evil spirits on this special day, often together with family and relatives.

I never really knew why Okinawa had this tradition until the ever resourceful Ru sent me this tweet:



You can click on the link above and read the story (in Japanese) but it tells the legend behind the tradition of eating mu-chi in Okinawa. For the English readers, here's the short story:


Long time ago, in the land near Shuri Castle lived a brother with a younger sister. They always got along very well until one frightful day the older brother suddenly turned into an Oni and began attacking villagers and their livestock.

Realizing something must be done to stop him, the younger sister devised a plan. She made his favorite food, mu-chi, but included a piece of iron in his. She called over her brother/Oni to the side of a cliff to eat together and enjoy the view. But because his mu-chi had the piece of iron in it, he could not chew on it, no matter how hard he tried. All the while his sister is munching on her mu-chi and enjoying it.

The brother/Oni could not understand why he couldn't eat his mu-chi. His eyes then went to her lower body and he demanded to know what what going on with her "mouth" down there. She in turn lifted her kimono and closed in on her brother/Oni saying, "My mouth up here is for eating mu-chi...and my "mouth" down there is for eating Oni!"

 This outburst surprised the brother/Oni so much so that he stumbled off the cliff and died. The younger sister was hailed a hero by the villagers on this very day, December 8th, and would be forever known as a day to ward off evil spirits.


As legends go, there are many different variations of this story. Some include more details about how the brother became an oni. Some say the younger sister already had children and they were almost eaten by her brother/Oni when they tried to help.

And obviously in the more censored version for children, the part about the lower "mouth" is left out and the brother/Oni falls to his death by the sister pushing him or just falling from the surprise of not being able to eat his favorite mu-chi.

I found myself laughing just a little over this legend, not because of the "mouth" bit, but because of how both the male and female are portrayed in this story. The wild uncontrollable male and the strong smart female. I know it's an island stereotype. But I feel like there is some truth in how many women are seen as stronger than men in Okinawa. The ones that hold down the fort.

Am I the only one who sees this?


The long dark green leaves in the back (left side of the photo) is the Gettoh plant.


Anyways, back to mu-chi...they typically look like the photo above, wrapped in gettoh leaves.

My grandma tells me that gettoh (also known as Shell Ginger) is a plant that many people have growing in their yards in Okinawa. These leaves are also sold in supermarkets by the dozen around January, which is when December 8th was on the lunar calendar.

Mu-chi is made from mochi powder, sugar, and water. It's a simple recipe. Some add flavors like kokuto (muscovado) or beni-imo (purple yam) into the ingredients. Once mixed, they are rolled into balls, flattened onto a gettoh leaf, wrapped, and tied with a string. They are then steamed together for about 30 minutes and that's it!

It is one of my favorite Okinawan treats and my grandma makes it for us every time we visit. The beni-imo flavor (above) is my favorite. I am already counting down the days until I'm back in Okinawa and eating mu-chi...yum yum!

I hope this gives you an idea of what mu-chi is. If you've never had a taste of it before, don't you want to try it now? x

The pretty gettoh flower in my grandma's yard.

March 27, 2014

The Kind of Moving Treasure Hunt Scarves


Aren't these scarves beautiful?

My love of all things maps stumbled upon these silk scarves designed by Kind of Moving, a brand by Amsterdam based Japanese designer Kumi Hiroi.

I love the use of simple city maps in pretty colors. The scarves have maps of Tokyo, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Ghent, and Paris printed on it. But it doesn't end there. There is actually a little mark hidden on the scarf that will lead you to a treasure in each city!

A treasure hunt scarf, how fun is that?



(photos via Kind of Scarf)

March 26, 2014

The TOMagazine


When I went to Book Apart, the bookstore in Okurayama, I discovered a new magazine.

For the past few years, I've stayed away from magazines because they come out so often and it takes up a lot of space. Plus you usually only read through it once before it's old news. But I couldn't stop myself from getting this one.

TOmagazine, or its current name TOmag, is a city culture magazine that features one ward of Tokyo in each issue. Tokyo has a total of 23 wards and you could say that each has their own characteristics. So I was quite intrigued by this idea of publishing a magazine for each ward.

The very first issue was dedicated to Adachi-ku. The magazine was filled with photographs, data, and stories that as a whole give you a peak into the lives of the people who live there. And not just the people but also the places and the history of the ward. It was interesting and I realized that even living in Tokyo, there are still a lot of things I don't know about our 23 wards. 

The second issue is dedicated to Meguro-ku, which is already out in bookstores now. Another issue on Nakano-ku will be in stores next month. Apparently the editors move their office along with the issue that they are covering, so they get first hand experience residing in each ward and interacting with the locals, which I thought was interesting. TOmag is written mostly in Japanese but it's worth it just to see the photographs and the beautiful layouts, if you're into things like that.

For me, it'll be a great way to get back to reading in Japanese. My reading skills definitely need work and this is a topic I'm willing to struggle to get through. Definitely my kind of magazine.

Do you read magazines? What are you favorites?

March 25, 2014

The Afternoon at Aoyama Flower Market Tea House


My friend M and I went to Aoyama Flower Market Tea House for lunch on the day it snowed in Tokyo. It was the perfect place to be on that cold day because this cafe is like a greenhouse. Super warm and cozy with wonderful fragrance of flowers.

M was here in Tokyo visiting her family with her fiance and his family. So you can imagine how hectic their schedule was. But the sweetheart that she is, she found some time for me. And we spent the whole afternoon talking and laughing. It was just what I needed!

M and I went to university together but it wasn't until we graduated that we started becoming really good friends. We were both saying that we couldn't remember how the friendship initially started. But now she is one of my greatest friends and I feel incredibly blessed to have such a brave and kind soul in my life.

 Isn't it interesting how friendships are born? x





March 24, 2014

The Tuna Bora Illustrations

Björk


I have never been able to draw so I'm always absolutely in awe of anyone who can. Especially portraits. I feel like it takes a lot to capture someone's facial expression and characteristics than, say, a building.

I stumbled upon these gorgeous illustrated portraits of musicians by Tuna Bora on her facebook page. How awesome is her name and is it possible it's her real name? She is apparently an Istanbul born artist currently based in Los Angeles.

I love her use of colors, don't you?

Santigold

Marcus Mumford

Daft Punk


Chela

Dev Hynes

PS: Her sketchbook is pretty darn amazing, too!

March 23, 2014

The Plum Blossoms in Okurayama

 

I know, I know. Plum blossom season is over.

But when I went to the bookstore the other day, I saw some of the prettiest plum blossoms at a local ume-matsuri (plum festival) and I had to share! Better late than never, right?

It was a beautiful day out but still very chilly. Very very chilly. But despite that, there were quite a few people enjoying picnics under the plum blossoms. I am guessing a lot of alcohol was consumed to ward away the chills.

There were also many festival stalls selling different kinds of food. In my recent obsession over dorayaki, when I saw the ume-flavored dorayaki in one of the stalls, I had to get it. It ended up being the very last one...lucky me!

Next to come are cherry blossoms! Are you ready? x

March 22, 2014

The Book Apart in Okurayama



Hello, hello! How have you been?

I seem to have forgotten about my blog for a little while, hounded by that thing called "real life." It can be so time consuming sometimes. But no worries. I'll be making up lost time by posting like a maniac the next few days ;)

So a couple of weeks ago, I finally made my way to Book Apart.

Book Apart is a bookstore that opened last year in Yokohama. It's owned by Shuhei Mita, who also owns, Book Truck, a mobile bookstore. His selection of books are wonderfully vast and diverse. But the books were not the only reason this bookstore pulled me in. I mean, books are always enough. But there was an extra cherry on top (for me).

You may have guessed from the name, this bookstore is housed in an apartment. Okurayama Apartment, to be exact. This apartment building was designed by Kazuyo Sejima, one-half of the world renowned SANAA architecture firm. They're famous for architectural designs such as the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa prefecture and the Musée Louvre-Lens in France. You can say they are currently one of the most influential architects in Japan, so I was really interested in the apartment itself.

The apartment had three-stories, very uniquely designed. Large windows, white walls, and simple concrete floors made the place look quite spacious. The bookstore used various sections of the apartment to highlight different books. Children's books by the bedroom, cooking books in the kitchen, travel books by the patio.

I was there for hours, first browsing, then sitting down with a book, then browsing some more. It was definitely a treasure box. I finally settled on a magazine that caught my eye and I headed towards the register on the first floor. With both books and architecture to tickle my toes, you can bet I went home with a smile on my face.

What do you think of this bookstore? Here are some photos:




Okurayama Apartment I
3-5-11 Okurayama, Kohoku-ku
Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa

神奈川県横浜市港北区大倉山3-5-11
大倉山集合住宅I(アイ)号室

*2min walk from Okurayama Station
on the Tokyu Toyoko Line

Hours: 12:00pm-9:00pm
Closed Mondays

March 3, 2014

The Old Photos: Hinamatsuri


Today is Hinamatsuri (雛祭り) in Japan!

Hinamatsuri is also known as Girl's Day in English, which doesn't sound quite as festive. But it's a special day where families pray for the happiness and health of their young girls.

I personally haven't celebrated this day in awhile but I remember we did when I was younger. I even found this picture of us kids posing beside a beautiful display of Hinamatsuri dolls!

You'll notice tradition becomes a bit more casual when you're living on the other side of the Pacific, as we have both girls and boys in the picture. But a celebration is a celebration and this is how Hinamatsuri in rural Michigan looked like in 1988 (or somewhere around there!) :D

March 1, 2014

The March Link Love


March is here!

I am very optimistic about this month for various reasons. It's a season for change and new direction. I always feel like I lose myself a little during the winter, just trying to get through the cold days without all together hibernating. But I'm ready to step outside and be active again!

This spring my baby sister is starting her first year of college, which is mind-boggling to me. How did she grow up so fast? But she'll be staying with me for a bit before she starts her semester in April so I'm looking forward to that.

Hope you're all ready to officially welcome spring! x

-------------------------------------------------------Link Love-------------------------------------------------------

- This song can't help but make you happy!

- I love that I'm reading books again...The History of Love is my next book.

- This frame by frame of the Olympics is amazing.

This hotel looks unbelievably cool.

- Can't exactly say wrong answer...so funny! (it's in Japanese though)

- 1972 Seishun Gunkanjima