Friday, March 23, 2007

He Gone, Me So Gone

Wednesday was the Vernal Equinox, O-Higan in Japan, a day when people traditionally go visit the family grave. But Miki and I choose to look instead to the future and make us some miso. We went deep into Osaka to the home of Yayoi and Seiichi, she being a leather artist (not what you're thinking), he being one of Kansai's best percussionists and the leader of Rustic Pans. (They played in Kyoto last weekend, much to the delight of my happy feet. Where were you?) Their home is an interesting mix of their stylistic interests, Santa Fe adobe punctuated by driftwood collected on the beaches of Kochi. There were a few others present, creative-types. After the preliminary toast with sake, we set down to business. Making miso is relatively simple. We first had to steam soybeans down to a certain softness, which Yayoi seemed to know almost by sight. Then one of us would crush the beans in a large stone pestle with a huge wooden mallet. These are the same impliments used in making mochi, but rather than a carnivel strongman swing from the shoulder, hands are placed on both ends to do the crushing. After a few minutes, someone else would follow with the spatula-like shamoji, to scrape the smashed beans toward the middle. Inevitably, a dance would ensue where the scraper would follow the crusher around the stone bowl, mocking the dances of summertime Obon. This action would eventually create a paste, which would be mixed by hand with shiokirikoji (salt and some kind of mold) then thrown into large clay jars, their varied sizes creating some interesting pitches and tones. Miki had the best technique, literally slamming these fistsful of miso down like an endzone football spike, hair and arms flailing wildly. The whole process takes about ten minutes, compared to the thirty minutes of sitting around waiting for the beans to steam. Even with three propane burners going, it still took about 10 hours. This of course leaves much time for drinking. As is typical for this country, there was a natural division by gender, the women chatting in the kitchen and making lunch, the men out front, talking less and drinking more. Awamori from Okinawa eventually made an appearance, but I begged off, still nursing a mental hangover of four years ago on Miyako. ( I think everyone has their most memorable hangover. Whew!) It was a beautiful day and almost a shame to be inside, but the house had sliding front doors which opened onto a wooden deck like in the Old West. On this day of equal dark and light, we made the most of this indoor-outdoor effect, sitting in the narrow street in our low camp chairs, adjusting our position occasionally in order to stay in the constantly shifting sun. Late in the day, Miki and I took a walk along a dirty river lined by a low concrete wall decorated with children's art. Large planes, making their final approach to Itami, opened their landing gear directly over us. The sun eventually followed them west, filling the street with shadow. But by now the work was done, our miso made. Now all we have to do is set it in a cool dark place for a year(!) while it rots, er, ferments. A nice reminder of how time used to move...

On the turntable: Maryam Mursal, "The Journey"
On the nighttable: Ryokan, "Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf"

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