Monday, March 01, 2010


Today we drove north along the Lake to a restaurant that serves only handmade soba that has been naturally grown in the vicinity, a restaurant with an interesting approach to business in that each year it only stays open until some time in mid-March, when they run out of soba. They run out of soba because the limited amount they grow has all been eaten by about that time. Traditionally, life has always been like that.

This is about as slow as food can get, and yes, if supplies hold out, as of mid-March you can't have any more of this soba, just like in the old days, until next year. But folks don't complain about it, or even talk about the fact much, except to note how unusual it is in this day and age as a way of doing business, but as I say they don't complain, they're too busy enjoying the excellent and (by definition) always fresh tezukuri (hand-made) soba. It's grown by farmers in the vicinity, and there are only so many who are willing to grow soba, and only so much land dedicated to the humble grain, so there's a limit to the naturally savory noodles like they use to make back when the whole country was closed to the world and there was nowhere near enough speed to cause fast food.

So whenever in March the soba is gone for another year the classic soba fans look forward to the next harvest time when the restaurant will open again someday in November and they’ll once more see all their smiling friends across the tables at the small countryside soba restaurant in that old building that's only used between soba harvests, it's called Shigino and isn't easy to find, out on that small road in the countryside of Imazu beneath Mt. Hakodate, where they grow Hakodate soba.

Shigino is in the neighborhood of the famous Zazensou bog, which was why there was so much traffic all our way to the restaurant, and which was why they said the restaurant would be mobbed at noon, so we got there a bit after 11 and were seated after about 5 minutes. We had the good fortune to be seated at a table across from an elder Japanese couple, the male of which was, of all things, a monk at a Pure Land temple in Imazu!

He spoke good English, having studied it for many years in school and college, but had little chance to use it in his work, so he enjoyed having me to practice on, which was ok with me because he was an interesting fellow. He said he was proud of the increasingly famed Zazensou bog, because it was his nephew who had discovered it!

About 30 years ago his teenaged nephew (the very fellow I mentioned in my Zazensou blog post of 2003!), who had always had a strong interest in biology, was riding here and there on his bicycle looking for interesting things when he discovered this small mountain bog filled with Zazensou, and told his teacher about it. The word spread, and now every year the bog is mobbed with folks who come from near and far to see and celebrate this symbol of Spring that to them resembles a meditating Buddha.

I mentioned to the monk, who had a brushcut and was wearing civvies, the English name for the plant, and that there were no mobs in the US driving out to a swamp to gaze worshipfully upon skunk cabbage. We laughed in shared recognition of something-- what, precisely, I'm not quite sure. But that's culture for you; it's like a flame, all in the moment's perspective. And imagine in the US a hectically busy restaurant selling its product hand over fist every day of the week, then closing on March 10, when they could grow more soba and store it so as to stay open throughout the year like so many places do, or get it from somewhere else and pretend it's from here, like so many other places do-- anyway, make a fortune, but fortune-making is not the point... timecutting is not the point, business success is not the point-- sharing something worth sharing, something clean, healthy, well made, grown, fashioned and shared in good faith, with care, in its season-- that is the point: one that rises high above all the -isms of economics.

You know-- up there, where we all want to live.


Anonymous said...

I think I have it, though I don't want adds etc, doesn't seem to be a way out of it, I clicked on everything... signed Still Blog Challenged...

Anonymous said...

Help. That was wrong, I can't find it now, but its under BLOGGER, sigh.