Shizuoka #2: Eel (うなぎ)

A few years ago I visited Nagoya City in Shizuoka Prefecture for a long weekend. I had the chance to eat a very nice (and expensive…) eel dinner during my trip, and as a big fan of eel it did not disappoint! Unfortunately, unagi is getting harder and harder to find at a good price due to high demand and overfishing, so I was glad to have eaten it when I did. I always look for eel when I eat sushi, but usually it is absent. It has a more common cousin called anago that is usually available, but on the whole I prefer unagi to anago (unagi are fresh-water eels and anago are salt-water eels by the way).

Eel over rice

Eel mixed with seaweed and onions. You can eat it like this, or pour a clear broth over it and enjoy it that way too.

Ok, now I really want some eel!

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

Aomori #4: Garlic (にんにく)

Aomori is the number one producer of garlic in Japan, and you can find Aomori-grown garlic at supermarkets across the country. In fact I usually always buy Aomori garlic because while there are usually fewer cloves on a head, they are very big and therefore easy to use for cooking!

Along with regularly grown garlic Aomori also produces fermented “black garlic”, a milder variety whose growth is a closely guarded secret among its producers. Apparently this kind of garlic has a lot of health benefits, and is preferred by people who find the usual white garlic variety too strong. As a lover of garlic myself, I love regular white garlic, so I’ve never tried black before, but I’ve seen it in stores. Maybe the next time I catch sight of it I’ll get some and post how it is!

Hokkaido #4: Corn (とうきび)

Hokkaido’s 4th postcard features corn, one of the leading exports of Hokkaido. Corn is called “toukibi” in local Hokkaido dialect, but in the rest of Japan is known as “tomorokoshi” which is quite the mouthful to say! On my trip to Hokkaido I didn’t have the chance to try any (harvest is usually late August), but I’ve eaten Hokkaido corn bought from my local grocery store multiple times. A specific variety is white-kerneled and extremely sweet, but even the usual yellow variety is really good!

A cute hand-made sign proclaiming corn is for sale at this small shop near Lake Toya

I’m definitely looking forward to grilled corn this summer, how about you?

Miyazaki #3: Haniwa (はにわ)

Haniwa are terracotta figures buried with the dead during the Kofun period of Japanese history (3rd to 6th century AD). They range from humanoid type figures to animals to important objects like replicas of houses or carts. In Miyazaki City in the Heiwadai Park, you can visit 400 different examples of haniwa in the Haniwa Garden.

My visit to Miyazaki of course included the garden where I took lots of pictures!

Haniwa and postcard… there were a few similar, but this was the closest to the postcard I could find!

And another one

Haniwa Garden sign in Miyazaki City

Close up… there were so many different kinds!

A few more in the same vein

Haniwa can be seen and found all over Japan, but their usual setting these days is in museums. It was a really unique and interesting setting to see them all over the garden, and it was nice walking around finding so many different ones along each new path. I really enjoyed the Haniwa Garden a lot!

Also in Miyazaki (though not terribly near the garden) you can try your hand at actually making a haniwa. Check out this link and enjoy!

Okayama #3: Jeans (ジーンズ)

What comes to your mind when you think “Japanese textiles”? Probably traditional silk production and kimono, right? You might be surprised to learn that in the prefecture of Okayama in the southern area of the main Honshu island, the main textile export is actually denim!

While the area around Okayama has produced cotton for a very long time, its obsession with jeans started after WWII when second-hand jeans started circulation among the population, and grew in popularity. Around the same time, traditional Japanese dress was falling out of favor, and the producers of cotton and other materials were seeing a decline in demand for their products. This lead to them beginning production of jeans, and now are the number one producer of denim in Japan, as well as gaining world-wide attention from the fashion industry.

On my two trips to Okayama, I noticed an abundance of jeans shops, but didn’t pay a lot of attention to them until my second trip to Kurashiki, and even then didn’t bother much with going in a looking. I did however try “denim ice cream” as well as seeing some other denim-related products. Now that I know more about the industry, I’d love to go back and learn more!

Blue-colored meat buns. Um… yum?

Denim… tastes like blueberry. Who knew?

Miyazaki #6: Chicken Nanban (チキン南蛮)

Miyazaki’s 6th postcard is the popular local dish Chicken Nanban, fried chicken breast with a little vinegar and a tartare sauce topping. The exact ingredients tend to differ from eatery to eatery, so its pretty easy to find a version everybody likes. I had the chance to try the dish in Miyazaki City, and liked it a lot!

Dish and postcard

I totally got one of these pre-packedged sauces to take home, but it wasn’t very good…

There’s also lots of recipes floating around if you want to try making it yourself, without any pre-packaged stuff. My favorite Japanese recipe website, Just One Cookbook, has a recipe that I’m hoping to try soon. You can find it here, and if I end up making it I’ll report on how it was!

Hiroshima #1: Oysters (牡蠣)

I have a confession: I don’t like oysters. I want to like them… I’ve tried to like them…but I just can’t seem to convince myself that they’re good no matter how I try them. I’ve had them raw, both plain and the New Orleans Acme Oyster style with tabasco; I’ve had them fried, baked, cooked… yeah, it’s not going to happen.

My parents happen to love oysters, however, so I still had plenty of chances to photograph them when I visited Hiroshima with them last year. Of course, this card is retired, so I wasn’t able to buy it directly from the post office… I found it on Yahoo Auctions instead, but didn’t have the postcard to take pictures with the oysters themselves.

An oyster restaurant with oysters actually growing before our eyes!

Fried oysters from the above restaurant

My parents’ grilled oysters from dinner. They reported deliciousness.

Actually, this past October on my tour, I had the chance to explore oysters in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. These oysters from Miyagi are often sent to prefectures like Hiroshima to seed their oyster industry, which made the 2011 earthquake and tsunami all the more devastating, as it didn’t just affect the Tohoku oyster industry, but that of all over Japan. You can read more about that here.

[News] Postacollect Website Update

The official website has had a big upgrade today, and now includes information in English and other languages! The English is very google-translated (read: not so easy to understand), but it beats Japanese-only for anyone interested in these postcards who can’t read Japanese! It’s great to see that the post office recognizes how popular these cards are with overseas visitors, and are responding accordingly. (Now if only they’d address the fact that most post offices close on weekends and holidays, the most popular time for travel…)

Anyway, because postacollect now has the English, I will be going through and updating all the English titles on the Collection Page to the “official” ones… with a few exceptions. (No, I am not calling Gunma – Kusatsu’s Yumomi “Hot Water fir”; what does that even mean?!)

But don’t worry, loyal readers of this blog (all 12 of you)! I will still be updating with English explanations and pictures of each postcard, as well as with news and updates as usual. I know I am eagerly awaiting the 8th set which will probably come out in March or April, so stay tuned!

Miyazaki #5: Hyuuganatsu Fruits (日向夏)

Miyazaki is a prime producer of citrus along with its super-famous mangoes, and one type of citrus that seems to have been developed in Miyazaki is called the hyuuganatsu. Hyuuga is what the area of Miyazaki used to be called, and “natsu” means summer. However I have done a TON of research about this WINTER-growing citrus and why the heck it’s got summer in its name has completely escaped me. Seriously, I have no clue.

But anyway, confusing names aside, this is a sweetish fruit that is often eaten plain with sugar. Since I visited Miyazaki in, again, summer and this fruit despite the name grows in the winter (ugh), I couldn’t try the actual fruit itself. However its a popular flavor of all sorts of different sweets, including ice cream, so here are a few pictures.

I had to get help to take this picture!

These look like ripe hyuuganatsu, but they’re actually jelly.

I really enjoyed the ice cream, it was very refreshing. I’d love to try the citrus itself. And…you know, find out why it’s called hyuuganatsu (can you tell that really bothers me?).