Amintro friends, in honor of Spring’s imminent arrival, this month we are heralding one of the most beautiful events taking place around the globe – cherry blossom season. There are several websites that claim to know where the most beautiful blooms can be found, but for our purposes (and in keeping with our commitment to feature a different Amintro member country each month) today we will be talking about “hanami” in Japan. It’s happening now – even as you read this blog – so if you’re interested in cherry blossoms and their visually stunning beauty, start planning now for your cherry blossom viewing “trip of a lifetime” to Japan in Spring 2020! Maybe by then, you’ll also have a new Amintro friend with whom you can share both the beauty AND the travel adventure!

We’ll talk more about actual cherry blossoms and what “hanami” means in an upcoming blog but for now, blossoms blooming seemed as good an excuse as any to introduce our member country of Japan. One of the oldest countries in the world, Japan was first mentioned in written text around the 1st Century AD. It is sometimes referred to as “The Land of the Rising Sun” and is actually an archipelago made up of over 6800 islands! The population of Japan, at about 127 million people, are amongst the world’s most highly educated and they enjoy a high standard of living along with the highest life expectancy in the world! It is also one of the most densely populated countries. This is due to the fact the citizens of Japan live primarily along its coastal regions because much of the land, while beautiful, is mountainous, heavily forested and essentially not well suited for agricultural or industrial purposes. Interesting to note: Japan is also home to more than 100 active volcanoes!

There are of course a number of other things for which the island of Japan is known, including the blossoms we already mentioned in our opening paragraph. There are several notable areas of Japan where these blossoms bloom in profusion and as a result, the country has become known as somewhat of a destination for tourists looking to experience their magnificent displays. Japanese poetry, art and literature are full of references to the cherry blossom. The country regards  “Cherry blossoms (as) a symbol of isagiyosa in the sense of embracing the transience of the world.”  In other words, they are something to be admired but with the caveat that while beauty is fleeting the tree itself remains strong.

Japan is also known for its very strict etiquette governing behaviour and someone planning travel to this country would benefit from developing an understanding of some of the different cultural norms and expectations they might experience while visiting.

While North Americans might consider Japanese cuisine to consist primarily of sushi, this is very much an “Americanized” version of Japanese food. Sushi is, of course, a popular dish but not necessarily in the “all you can eat” format with which many North Americans are familiar. The staple foods in Japan are rice and noodles but these are more often used as ingredients in soups that might also include fish, tofu or vegetables. The Japanese Tea Ceremony is something else you might have heard about. This is an elaborate and beautiful ceremony steeped (pun intended!) in meaning and we found it so interesting that we just might feature it in an upcoming blog. Finally, when it comes to sports and entertainment, baseball is pretty much the most favourite sport in Japan but historically, Japan is also known for Sumo wrestling – a highly ritualized combat sport that is, like the tea ceremony, steeped in ritual and ceremony. More recently, Japan has become known as an epi-centre for video gaming.

To conclude our “bit about Japan” we offer, as we usually do, a recipe that is popular in our featured country. Miso soup is a delicious and nutritious staple and even though spring is upon us – a warm bowl of soup is always welcome while we experience those “April showers that bring May flowers!” Our recipe for Miso soup includes a slightly more “westernized” list of ingredients to ensure you will find all that you need to make this delicious soup in your local grocer. Enjoy!

By: Sheralyn Roman

15-MINUTE MISO SOUP WITH GREENS AND TOFU

This is a simple 6-ingredient Miso soup with tofu, green onion, and loads of green chard that should take you about 15 minutes from start to finish, and so refreshing and comforting.

Author: Minimalist Baker

PREP TIME 5 minutes COOK TIME 10 minutes TOTAL TIME 15 minutes Servings: 2 (bowls)

*Adapted from vegetarian.about.com

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup chopped green chard or other sturdy green
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/4 cup firm tofu (cubed)
  • 3-4 Tbsp white miso paste (fermented soy bean paste) with or without bonito (fish flavor, though bonito makes it non vegan-vegetarian-friendly)
  • 1 sheet nori (dried seaweed // optional // cut into large rectangles //
  • 1 sheet yields 1/4 cup)

Process:

  • Place water in a medium sauce pan and bring to a low simmer.
  • Add nori and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  • In the meantime, place miso (starting with lesser end of range) into a small bowl, add a little hot water and whisk until smooth. This will ensure it doesn’t clump. Set aside.
  • Add green chard, green onion, and tofu to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Then remove from heat, add miso mixture, and stir to combine.
  • Taste and add more miso or a pinch of sea salt if desired.
  • Serve warm. Best when fresh.
Japanese miso soup in a white bowl with a spoon on a table close-up. vertical