Year of Grace, Day 84. Sip your dreams by drops

There’s a Japanese drinking tradition called “bottle keep.” Yes, that’s right – a charming Japanese-English turn of phrase, pronounced “bottoru kiipu,” to denote a bottle of whiskey kept locked for you at a bar or nomiya (pub, drinking place) and you keep the key. It’s of course more cost-effective to purchase superior whiskey by the bottle than in separate servings. I came across a rather poetic label on one such bottle kept by a bar in Shunan City in Yamaguchi Prefecture — “A glassful of drops, each drop is tomorrow’s dream, sip your dreams by drops.”

The assorted sake no sakana (Japanese tapas or accompaniments to alcoholic drinks)  were exquisite. The  sashimi and sea bream head braised with tofu were unfailingly superb, each presented on a plate complementing and framing  the colours of the ingredients.

Aji tataki

Aji tataki

Simmered red bream wtih tofu

Braised red bream head and tofu

Bream on Hagi-kiln plate

Bream on Hagi (a nearby traditional pottery) plate.

One of the regulars turned up with a fish he’d just caught, and within minutes, the chef-owner had created a masterpiece, beautifully presented.

Created from one freshly caught fish

All this sashimi from just one fish.

After leaving the nomiya, we passed by an oden stall. Oh… nostalgic comfort food. I hadn’t had oden in decades. Oden is a very homely dish of diverse savouries, simmered in flavourful broth. You choose what you want from a wide selection —  stuffed seaweed rolls, meatballs, hardboiled eggs, fish loaf.  For some odd reason, oden never tastes as good when made at home — I find it best eaten outdoors from one of these stalls, preferable quite late at night. It was one of the delights impecunious students could indulge in, late on a cold winter night, especially after a long, relaxing soak in a public bath (sento).  Despite being full, I found I had room for some gingko nuts (heaven!) and a stuffed fried tofu (abura-age) parcel, both enlivened by an eye-wateringly sharp mustard.



Chicken meatballs, gingko nuts, stuffed fried tofu parcel — all eaten with sharp mustard.

It was the first time I’d ever gone out drinking with one of the children, now fully grown. And what a truly enjoyable and  memorable evening it was. Thank you very much, No. 2 son. And I made sure I didn’t embarrass him by getting giggly over a bit of sake. :-).

Year of Grace, Day 82. Shards from the past

Some years ago, I was in southern Honshu, Yamaguchi Prefecture to be exact, to spend some time with No. 2 son, who was then working there. He took me on a walk through a lovely park — Manyou no Mori — where prehistoric lotuses, sown from seeds uncovered during an archaeological dig, were blooming. As we exited the park, I came upon some shards of blue-and-white pottery peeking among the shrubbery. The glazes and brushwork were unlike any modern mass-manufactured ones. I wish I could’ve taken some to Bonn with me.

I share photos of those lovely shards with you and I thank the unsung potters who created these delightful wares with such exquisite brushwork. Despite years, possibly decades, of being buried, the glazes on them are as brilliant as if they had been recently applied.

For the simple joy of coming upon such unexpected treasures on a walk, and for a son who knew that I would appreciate a walk through such a garden and the extraordinary plants therein on a lovely summer’s day, I am overwhelmingly grateful.