Wasabi and Faux Wasabi: what’s on your sushi?

Guest blog by Ray Shortridge

The Daio wasabi farm followed the business template pioneered by Knott’s Berry Farm — supplement a viable farm operation with a high steady cash flow destination for tourists. Add outdoor cafes, gift shops, and a wide array of wasabi based or flavored products for sale.
Wasabi flavored ice cream, croquettes, etc. for immediate consumption (the wasabi ice cream was a bit bland, but the Fuji apple ice cream was sweeter) and wasabi paste, slivers, leaves, etc. for taking home to mix into dishes.
Wasabi flourishes in a bed of gravel that is flushed by a flowing stream of fresh cool (10-15 degrees Celsius) spring water. Farmers scrape the gravel into a grid of ridges that resembles a waffle iron. Wasabi sets are planted on the ridges.

The plant emits toxins to protect it from pests, but if the toxins are not flushed, then the accumulation can destroy it.
The wasabi tuber resembles a potato. However, while the potato tuber grows down, the wasabi grows up. At harvest, the entire plant is plucked. In processing, the leaves are trimmed from their stalks, and then the stalks cut from the tuber.
The leaves and stalks are processed to create a wasabi green food coloring. The tuber is sliced and processed into a paste.
In the Matsumoto region and gourmet Tokyo restaurants, some sushi chefs garnish their sushi dishes with the 100% wasabi paste.
Elsewhere, the “wasabi” on your sushi is a blend horseradish, spices, additives, food coloring, and maybe, just maybe, dash of wasabi paste.

Lawyers and a Spy

A collaboration blog with Ray Shortridge

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The city of Matsumoto reconstructed the all wood district court building of the Edo period as the center of a regional historical museum. The law court has a familiar layout, with the panel of judges sitting on a raised dais, lawyers on a lower dais, and the public at ground level.

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Deeper in the complex, a room is set aside as a memorial to Yoshiko Kawashima, a Japanese spy executed by the Nationalist Chinese government in 1948. Her remains are interred in Matsumoto, where she lived as a child for awhile.

In the 1930s, she led a counter insurgency cavalry troop that rounded up anti-Japanese forces in Manchuria. A Chinese princess, she was an influential member of the Manchukuo imperial court, featured in the movie The Last Emperor. She was called the Joan of Arc of Manchukuo and the Asian Mata Hari.

Miniature Japanese Works of Art

Japanese postcards are often reproductions of exquisite pieces of art so they make lovely souvenirs and gifts. Here are a few of the ones I’ll be sending out. I originally planned to send them from Japan but it looks like I’ll be too busy to address and annotate them before I get home.

Matsumoto Towers

Guest blog by Ray Shortridge

The famous Black Crow Castle has loomed over Matsumoto, Japan, since 1504. Over the centuries, several successive warrior clans ruled the region from the eponymous black wooden fortress until 1868.

Black color was used to intimidate enemies

Swan in moat by Matsumoto castle

Another equally tall structural steel tower now looms over the city, facilitating voice, data, and video digital communications.

During dusk, a flock of black crows cawed their way from the sixteenth century to twenty first century one, and back, circling from the past to the present.

Pen and Stationery Heaven

Itoya in Tokyo is a 100 year old stationery store with an entire floor of fountain pens, a fabulous cafe, and even some housewares. Everything is beautifully presented and the quality is amazing. If you are ever in Tokyo and love pens or stationery, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Just a handful of the stunning pens available. They also had a Pelikan writing area where one can try out the high end Pelikan models.

And there were so many drool-worthy models that I was overwhelmed.

They also had an amazing collection of stationary and journal supplies.

And to to it all off, the cafe served delectable Japanese style pancakes and mango sangria, as well as a variety of lovely salads, soups, and entrees.

On the way down, we noticed even more fun items.

Tatami Mat Manufacture and Care

At our ryokan, we have beautiful tatami mats on the main floor, and in the dining areas. A wood or tile step before you enter the tatami room reminds guests to remove their slippers.

The tatami mat in dining room

While beautiful, tatami mats are expensive (one price quote was close to $1000 USD) and somewhat fragile, as well as hard to wash, although they are easy to vaccum or sweep. An errant pair of heels or careless movement of furniture can cause irreparable damage.

Tatami mat in bedroom with futons on top

The cost and care required is easier to understand once one has viewed the process used to create these classic Japanese floor coverings. Tatami mat manufacture video.

They give a warm, restful glow to any room they grace, but are a bit firm under a futon.

Traditional rice harvesting

Rice is a beautiful crop as you can see from these pictures. The bright yellow green plants pop against the dark green of the surrounding hills. Most of our team volunteered to harvest rice using traditional methods (second photo above). Ray and I opted out. As an ex-farmer and a farmer’s daughter, we had both put in enough hard work on farms that the prospect of farm work wasn’t appealing. The process is fascinating, however, as the video linked (under process) shows. Modern techniques have been adopted where the farmers can afford the equipment.

The workers from our team wore rubber boots, wellies as the Brits call them.