Chiba #2: Rapeseed (菜の花)

While the many springtime flowers of Japan are overshadowed by the famous cherry blossoms, March and April is the blooming period of another beautiful flower called “nanohana” in Japanese. In English it is called rapeseed, but you might be more familiar with canola, as in the canola oil used in cooking. I prefer the Japanese name. Nanohana are common flowers not just in Chiba Prefecture, but all around the Kanto area. I often see them growing underneath cherry trees, and their nice yellow provide a beautiful contrast to the pink sakura.

Close up of a nanohana flower

Kawazuzakura and nanohana

Nanohana at sunset

Chiba #4: Tai (鯛)

Sea Bream, called tai in Japanese, is the subject of Chiba’s fourth postcard in the series. In March and April, these fish turn a beautiful reddish color, and are considered as having the richest flavor of any other time. Because this season coincides with cherry blossoms, they are sometimes called “cherry blossom bream”.

Tai is a special-occasion fish; that is, it is eaten for special occasions and not every day. Even if the actual fish isn’t eaten, tai-shaped foods are still common; tai-yaki, a cake made usually with red bean paste in the center, is shaped like tai. And one of the 7 Gods of Fortune in Japan, Ebisu, carries a fishing pole and a tai under his arm. If you find his likeness with two fish, it is considered extremely lucky!

Tai is Chiba’s prefectural fish, and of course can be caught along the coastline, though the tai caught in Hyogo are considered to be the highest quality. Chiba is, however, famous for its Tai-no-Ura, where you can see wild tai up close. The bay is protected so no fishing is possible, but of course there are other areas where fishing is available!

To read more on tai, it’s history, and Tai-no-Ura, I recommend this site for further reading.

Edit 2015.11.13: When I visited Choshi, a small picturesque city in Chiba, I had the chance to visit a fishing port where many different types of fish were being unloaded on the docks, including some kinmedai, a type of tai called Splendid Alfonsino in English. I also spotted this interesting and unique shrine with a giant tai on the torii gates! I didn’t have the postcard with me, but have a few pictures anyway:

Kinmedai being sorted by weight into bins

Checking the sorting machine

This amazing torii gate I spotted and managed to get to

Dinner! Yum!

Chiba #6: Boshu Fans (房州うちわ)

2014’s postcard features the Boshu Uchiwa, or unfoldable fan, one of the top three in Japan. The others are Kyoto’s Kyo Uchiwa, and Kagawa’s Marugame Uchiwa, the latter of which is also a postcard in postacollect’s collection.

Boshu Uchiwa began as a craft in the Edo period during the Tokugawa Shogunate in the Southern Boso peninsula of Chiba. Kyoto’s Kyo Uchiwa are generally of a tan background with paper cutouts of flowers or animals. Marugame Uchiwa are typically red, and often have a round “Marugame” symbol prominently featured. Boshu Uchiwa are characterized by a “window” where the stem meets fan showing the bamboo sticks making up the shape of the fan (also seen in Marugame Uchiwa), but take the patterns and styles further in an almost “anything goes” style of fabric or paper pasted to make the fan design. The major difference these days between Marugame and Boshu Uchiwa are the handles: Boshu are generally rounded, while Marugame “planes” the bamboo making it flatter. Kyo Uchiwa are stylistically very different, featuring no “window” where the handle connects, and a very distinct, high quality pattern. These fans are usually expensive, while the other two are more accessible to all budgets.

If you are in Japan anywhere from about May to October, consider keeping cool with a nice fan! You can buy them all over Tokyo, but if you’d like a unique experience, consider making your own! Actually, the best season to make them is the colder months, since the bamboo solidifies better during this time. If you head to Tateyama City or Minamiboso City in Chiba you can find a number of places to try your hand at making and decorating fans. A website with these links is here, unfortunately all in Japanese. However I did find an English Blog with some additional information, plus an overview of the process. It looks so fun!

Let’s enjoy Chiba products!

Chiba #5: Edamame (枝豆)

My my, where has time gone?! It’s already October, and I’ve missed two weeks of posting! Recently I went to Tokyo for an interview. I barely took any pictures, but I did manage to make my way into Chiba for a brief visit in order to buy two postcards I’m missing.

Chiba is a prefecture that everyone knows of, being right next to Tokyo, but is totally and completely eclipsed by it. If you’ve ever flown into or out of Narita Airport, or visited Tokyo Disney Land or Sea, these are actually in Chiba… but I think most tourists don’t even realize that! It is a bit of an understated prefecture, and I’ll be the first to admit that while I’ve wanted to visit many areas of Chiba for the past few years, I usually just end up in Tokyo instead. Next year, next year I’ll go.

Anyway, so since I did manage to pick up my two postcards, I’d like to talk about them, starting with #5, edamame, or soy beans. These yummy plants took their time to find their way to the western world, but once they did, boy did they catch on! Who doesn’t love these beans! Not only are they healthy raw or slightly steamed by themselves, they also make lovely products such as soy sauce and natto (yuuummm…).

Besides enjoying edamame at any izakaya (Japanese-style bar) around the country as an appetizer, you can also head to Chiba and participate in picking these beans on a farm to take some home and enjoy. Fruit and vegetable picking is extremely popular in Japan, especially by those living in big cities who don’t get the chance often. There are two farms in Chiba who allow you to pick, Ponpoko Mura in Kisarazu City and Michi no Eki Kurimoto in Katori City. Both of those links are in Japanese, so if you want more information such as hours of operation and cost, and can’t find it, please feel free to comment with questions and I will do my best! Edamame are pickable from July all the way until November, so head on over to Chiba to grab some and enjoy!

Next up is about Chiba fans!