Wild Foods- Rakuyo

Hokkaido and the rest of Japan has a culture of foraging and consuming the edible, not typically commercially-available, wild plants (known as sansai) that grow lushly all over the island. There’s an abundance of food, if you know where to look and can discern between various plants.

Before I go any further, though, I need to warn you- I’m not an expert. Every time I’ve picked and eaten any of these plants, it’s been with someone who has much more experience than me in finding and identifying them, and I’ve been cautioned and shown lookalike (inedible and sometimes poisonous) plants many times. Sometimes, parts of a plant can be eaten while other parts can’t and are dangerous. So be careful, and go with someone experienced if this piques your interest!

This especially applies with mushrooms, which I am going to talk about today! Because of all the rain that occurs in late summer and early fall, a lot have cropped up, and so I’ve eaten a lot of rakuyo (落葉) mushrooms.

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Some hard-to-gather rakuyo growing on trees.

I would never have though to eat rakuyo if they hadn’t been given to me by my tea ceremony teacher. They’re a muddy brown color, and the bottom of the mushroom cap is spongy, which usually would indicate something that I wouldn’t want to eat. They also tend to look… well… kind of slimy. But don’t let that turn you off from trying them if they’re ever offered to you!

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They go bad quickly, so you have to find them shortly after they sprout. I’ve never seen them offered for sale, and that could be why- just not a long enough shelf life.

I ate rakuyo quite a few different ways. My favorite was soaked in sweet vinegar, but people also eat them in miso soup, with daikon oroshi, and just generally in substitute for other mushrooms in recipes. They are… slimy… but they have a really good taste, assuming you can make it to your mouth and not drop it from your chopsticks onto the table. Give it a try if you have the chance!

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Yukimushi

Winter is right around the corner. You want to know how I know this? Yesterday, I saw this guy:

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And what is that little winged puffball bug, you may ask? That, my friends, is a yukimushi– translated literally, a “snow bug.” They’re very small, about the size of a gnat, and have a fluffy white body, and make people think of falling snow. Most people in Hokkaido say that after yukimushi is seen, it will start snowing within the month. I’ve also heard it said, though, that it will snow in 10 days if you see yukimushi– but I don’t think I quite believe that. It’s getting chilly, but isn’t that cold yet!

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Yesterday when I was speaking with my tea ceremony teacher, I mentioned to her that I was excited for winter (skiing!) and that it had snowed on Asahidake last week. She told me she had been seeing yukimushi for a week already, and when I was surprised, showed me out behind her house. Sure enough, the air was filled with them!

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I couldn’t find an English name for them, but did find out they’re a type of aphid, and have a sticky body. They’re extremely sensitive to heat- even someone’s body heat can make them sluggish (sorry little guys I caught for these pictures!) and so show up only when the weather gets colder. They also only live for a week- the males don’t have mouths, so they can’t eat, and females lay eggs and then die themselves.

September is a little early to be seeing them- maybe we’re in for an early winter! Though I don’t think it will arrive within the next week. Either way, I’m excited for this gorgeous time of year.

 

 

Summer’s End

Hey all! Summer has flown by. I think it always feels short in Hokkaido, like the cold weather wants to crowd out warmer days. But I and the rest of the dosanko made the best of it, and really enjoyed the time we had. Here’s a few shots of classic Hokkaido summer here in Takinoue, as we start to shift to autumn.

 

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Grilled scallops at an oustide yakiniku party, yum.
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The hydrangeas were especially beautiful this year! I’m still delighted they grow wild.
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Me in a yukata on the way to Takinoue’s summer festival… excuse the messy genkan.
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Sunset from the top of Rainbow Bridge. I was actually chilly when I took this!

 

Right now I’m bundled up, because it actually reached 8C last night (46F).  Yesterday it snowed on Asahidake, the highest mountain in Hokkaido. I expect the leaves to start changing soon, and when they do I’ll be back with some more pictures!