“For us, people in Kamikatsu, ‘kakimaze’ is a very familiar menu, just like ‘curry and rice’ for Japanese people because when we are busy or go out, we can make kakimaze quickly, using any ingredients we have,” said Ms. Emi Kakita, who came in Kamikatsu town from Chiba Prefecture thirteen years ago when she got married with her husband, using standard Japanese language tinted with Awa (Tokushima) dialect accent.
‘Kakimaze’ is a name for ‘Gomoku-chirashi-zushi (a type of sushi made of a variety of ingredients)’ in this local area.
Actually, to me, it seems complicating and taking time to make kakimaze, cutting a variety of ingredients, cooking and seasoning them in different ways before mixing all of them together.
But, she said, “It’s just like making curry.”
I was tempted to see dining scenes of the Kakita family.
So, my curiosity made me visit her house on a holiday.
“Before I came to Kamikatsu, I just wondered what a life in a rural town would be. Then I met my husband and got married with him. At first, I was excited to see paddy fields, farming lands and orchards. I thought a life here would be exactly what I had dreamed of. But once I started living in Kamikatsu, I knew how tough turning a furrow, mowing and weeding,” she said with a little embarrassed smile. But the vegetables that she had struggled to grow were actually very delicious with richer flavors. She added, “I feel that foods here are completely different from what I ate before when living in an urban area.” Her son, Kouhei, loved vegetables a lot, too.
“At first, I was so surprised to see people in Kamikatsu town making everything themselves, including konnyaku (devil’s tongue), tofu, kiriboshi-daikon (cut and dried Japanese radish), pickles and tea, in addition to vegetables and rice. Formerly, I believed that foods were something we were supposed to buy at stores, but that was totally wrong!” she said.
“Here is a place to produce powdered tea named Jidencha. Look at these. They are tea trees,” Emi showed me the luxuriantly and freely growing trees. In summer, all family members and relatives cooperate to make Jidencha powdered tea, by picking tea leaves by hand, boiling them in a big cauldron, fermenting them in a wooden tub and drying them under the sun. This after-fermentation method is rarely used in other places in Japan. Working on the mountain slope under the scorching sun in summer is very tough, according to her.
In the Kakita family, Emi and her mother in-law go to work in addition to doing housework. But, they lead water into terraced paddy fields to bed young rice plants in spring, make Jidencha in summer, cut rice plants in autumn and harvest Yuzu and Yuko fruits and squeeze them to make fresh juice (vinegar) in winter. They make what they eat themselves through four seasons. “Life in a rural area is quite busy,” said Emi.
“I had never made sushi before I came to Kamikatsu town. It was right after I came here when I first made sushi. At that time, I was single,” said Emi. There are a lot of festivals and events held in Kamikatsu and the people’s relationships are very close. In such a circumstance, she has learned how to make kakimaze or other dishes using fresh juice of Yuzu and Yuko citron fruits as vinegar when cooking dishes with elderly people there.
“When I lived alone in an urban area, I never imagined cooking dishes with people in a local community. There are many people who once lived in an urban area, and then found an employment here and became a resident here. So, such people have learned a variety of wisdom traditions in living from the elderly here,” said Emi. Emi also came to Kamikatsu alone, only having an interest in living in a rural area and learned a lot of things from people living in Kamikatsu, and then got married, guided by fate, and had a child. She cooks for her family everyday here now.
Kakimaze, a pickled dish, a buckwheat soup and salted broiled broccoli were on the table. The dishes were quickly and finely made by Emi and Kazuyo. “I have learned how to cook these dishes nicely from my mother in-law, Kazuyo, by cooking them with her and getting comments on the taste of dishes I made from my husband and father in-law, who has been familiar with my mother in-law’s dishes for decades and has a discriminating palate. But, I can’t yet perfectly reproduce the taste of the dishes my mother in-law makes and she is still a much better cook than me,” said Emi. Kazuyo next to Emi was shyly smiling while listening to Emi’s words.
“We, people in Kamikatsu, often eat not only kakimaze but also pickled dishes because we can get a lot of Yuzu and Yuko citron fruits here,” said Emi. The containers were full of Yuzu and Yuko fruits that had been harvested from the garden and would be squeezed with a special machine to make juice to store. The refrigerator on the earthen floor stored lines of 1.8 L bottles containing such juice. “I sometimes go back to my parents’ house in Chiba where my relatives gather in some occasions. So, when I tried to make sushi then, I realized that there was no fresh juice there. I can’t make sushi without the fresh juice but it is not available there. At that time, I keenly felt that I became so accustomed to the taste of sushi in Kamikatsu like the taste of my home cooking.”
Dishes made of ingredients just picked from a farm are healthy and beautiful although they are simple and not gorgeous. Emi said, “I want to pass down this invaluable culture to my son.” There once was an elementary school and were many families living and farming in the area where Emi lives now. But the school was merged with another school and paddy fields and farming lands have been abandoned year by year. “How luxury it is to eat dishes made of fresh vegetables just picked from a garden in this day and age. I want my son to think how the environment in which he was raised has been preserved,” she said, chiding Kouhei who was innocently acting up next to her, “It may be too difficult for him to understand it now. So, what I can do for him now is just preparing meals for him every day,” showing a shy smile.