When I was seventeen years old I stayed with a Japanese family for a few weeks in their home just outside of Tokyo, near Kamakura. My Okaasan (Japanese host mother) made me chawanmushi and I immediately fell in love with this dish.
In 2004, I revisited Tokyo for a few days on my way to the UK and I went to see my Okaasan at her home. To my surprise, Okaasan had prepared chawanmushi just for me, as a token of her warmth and kind hospitality.
I’ve tried to make chawanmushi in my own home and I have to admit it is a difficult dish to get right. Sometimes it turns out fine and other times it just doesn’t set the way it should.
Chawanmushi literally means “steamed in a tea cup” in English and it is often served as an appetiser. It is a type of savoury egg custard mixed with soy sauce, dashi and mirin and the seeds of the gingko. It is further complemented by ingredients such as shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, fish cakes etc.
A lot of traditional Japanese restaurants outside of Japan serve chawanmushi as an appetiser. I highly recommend you try this dish and I hope you like it just as much as I do.
I was so surprised and pleased to receive this lovely “fan art” from my friend Antonia yesterday. The beautiful image below truly captures the spirit of one of the main characters called ‘Haruka’ from my novel Tokyo Hearts: A Japanese Love Story. Thank you so much for this Antonia!
I’ve been looking at various magazines and TV programmes to find out what is popular in Tokyo this season and I’m seeing a big trend towards vests and gilets for both men and women, on the streets this winter. Elegant versions can be worn to create a more polished finish and thicker styles will achieve a stronger sense of functionality. For women, I particularly like vests trimmed with shearling. I also adore the Arun knits with their textured cable patterns in deep shades like burgundy and teal. Contrast any of these with plain shirts and tops to reveal a pop of colour.
Men continue to stand out in the puffer vests worn as outerwear – a trend that has already been popular for the last few years.
A Japanese fashion brand that has really emerged in Tokyo called A Degree Fahrenheit by Yu Amatsu is well worth a mention. I’m loving his interpretation of the long drape vest (see below). Amatsu worked in New York for fashion wizards like Marc Jabobs and Jen Kao. I’m sure that after the Mercedes-Benz Tokyo Fashion Week 2013/14, the whole world will easily become entranced by his attention to detail and structure.
Many people ask me if Christmas is celebrated in Japan. If you visit Japan in the last week of the year, you’ll probably see Christmas trees on display in hotel lobbies and beautiful Christmas decorations adorning the shops and department stores. You may even receive Christmas gifts from Japanese friends and hear Christmas carols being played in their homes. However, these customs are adopted from abroad and Christmas is not strictly celebrated in Japan, as the emphasis is on New Year Celebrations.
There are quite a few traditions associated with the Japanese New Year so I’ll try and explain a few of the main customs. Many people will send New Year’s Day postcards which are usually handwritten, but with the introduction of computer software it’s now possible to customise your cards and simplify this tradition if you have hundreds of postcards to send. Traditional food known as osechi-ryori is also eaten during New Year celebrations and this can vary from region to region (see picture below). It’s also common for children to receive a gift of money on New Year’s Day and this is given to them in envelopes decorated for the occasion. Rice cakes known as mochi are also prepared in the New Year period and eaten in January. If you’re lucky enough to stay with Japanese friends at New Year then you’ll probably be watching the very popular NHK music programme called Kohaku Uta Gassen on television, which showcases the most popular music for that year. Lastly, in the first few days of the new year, millions of people throughout Japan will visit shrines or temples. If you’re in Tokyo then Meiji Shrine in Harajuku is a popular place to offer a prayer.
I wouldn’t recommend a short visit to Japan during the New Year period as many shops, tourist attractions and even restaurants could be closed for as long as two weeks during this period. Many Japanese will take a holiday and often travel to domestic or overseas destinations at this time.
So don’t be afraid to give your Japanese friends Christmas presents as I’m sure they’ll be appreciated but it would be nice to try and understand some of the New Year customs and join in with these Japanese traditions to fully enjoy the festive season when you’re in Japan.