Thursday, February 23, 2006


Oga Food

The Oga Peninsula, where Namahage takes place, sticks out into the Japan Sea and as a result, has access to a few species of fish you don't see on the Pacific Side of the country. We stayed at a lovely ryokan in Oga, and, as is the case with ryokan, were served much more food than I could comfortably eat for dinner. However, there was just no way I could let any dish go untasted -- even if I couldn't finish it.

How is this for a dinner spread? The thing is, the dishes kept coming. When I would finish one, another would come out. I was utterly defeated by the time dinner ended. I must have eaten over 10 kinds of seafood which, if you love seafood as much as I do, is a wonderful problem to face. The sashimi was particularly excellent.

We also ate a particular kind of ishi yaki which is a specialty of Oga. In this dish, hot rocks are placed inside a large pot of soup. The rocks are heated over 3 hours before guests arrive for dinner, and are dangerously, mortally hot.

Once guests dropped the rocks inside the pot, the stock began to boil.

The ryokan wait-staff carefully put in pieces of fish and vegetables to also cook in the stock. The final broth was excellent (and hot!).

I ate one other Akita-ken specialty -- kiritampo. You can see the kiritampo in this photo; they are the fish-cake looking "sticks" poking up on the right side of the picture. These are made from rice which is pounded, then molded over a stick, then roasted.

Wow. Thanks for your continued attention to Akita!

I see that my friend Alison's brother Harris posted in the Namahage comment section. I sent that piece to a bunch of friends and family and it appears they have been passing it around.

I also see that you did a piece on the Rokugo stick matsuri.

There are a couple of other interesting points about Akita that perhaps you'd be interested in...if you haven't already begun writing them. ;)

Kakunodate is a small traditional town in the Northeast of the prefecture where our most famous hanami takes place. Bushiyashiki are also a big attraction, with many of the houses still privately owned by the original families.

Nearby Tazawako is the deepest lake in Japan, and so acidic that almost no life can survive in the water. The legend of Tatsukohime is also very interesting and sad.

We're full of surprises....Aomori is even more interesting!
Mike -- I LOVED Kakunodate, though I want to go back in the spring. I am wearing a cherry bark pendant as we speak and wish I had bought more. Whoever made this made a lovely thing indeed.

I had an amazing experience in Aomori when I was a child -- so much so that I ended up writing a short story based on it (this story opens my collection). Essentially, I went to the Nebutamatsuri when I was really small, and I was incredibly envious of everyone wearing those huge hats. During the actual matsuri, a man came up to me, put one of those hats on my head, and said, "Would you like to come dancing with me?" And off I went to the horror of my mother.

I had a great time. I just basically danced in with all the floats, listening to the music and talking with the man and with everyone around me. My mother was in a panic. She tried to talk to the police, but all they said to her was; "Oh, yes. Children get abducted during Nebutamatsuri all the time. She'll probably come back."

And of course, obviously, I did come back. ;-) I got to keep the hat and it was a point of contention for years between my Japanese family and me who didn't want me to bring this enormous straw hat home on the airplane (though I eventually did that too).

When I tell this story to Japanese people now, they always nod and say, "Well, Aomori is an unusual place." By which, I think, they mean that "strange" things happen in Aomori. It seems that people in the south are a little bit . . . well perhaps not fearful of the north, exactly, but a bit superstitious about it.

Someday I hope to get to Osorezan to see the blind mediums. My mother doesn't exactly want to go and see these mediums with me, so I might have to go on my own. But I think it would be interesting.

In the end, I always remember this "abduction" experience whenever I go to any matsuri and it's hard not to feel affected by that essential and strange magic. You can bet that I loved Miyazaki's Kamikakushi when it came out. ;-)

You are SO LUCKY to live in such an interesting part of the world!
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