Thursday, July 24, 2008

JJNN thursday: Culture - 03

Welcome again to JJNN for Thursday July 24th, 2008. Today we will be taking about how hot it is out there.
Yes folks, it's hot. And on top of that it's humid. A dastardly combination that I have come to hate. So what do you do when it is really hot? Do you sit under your air conditioner and drink cold iced tea? Do you go and take a cold shower? Do you set up a tent in front of your refrigerator with the door open? To me, those sound like very good things to do when it's hot.
As it turns out in Japan it is not quite the same. The Japanese (at least the ones around where I live) like to sweat when it is really hot. They will eat a really spicy curry or drink some hot coffee. That makes no sense to me what so ever. Personally, I try to avoid sweating in front of people at all costs. But, maybe that is just me.

The Japanese also like to eat eel when it gets really hot. There is a special time of the year, which happens to start today, on which lots of Japanese people eat eel. The name of this special day is doyou ushi no hi. I don't think I will be running out for some eel, but if I happen to get some I will still eat it.

It turns out that are 4 doyou a year
. Doyou are the traditional last 18 days of a season. You many be wondering why it is called Doyou? Well, it's actually rather interesting. All of the seasons traditionally have one of the 5 elements associated with it. Spring is wood, summer is fire, fall is metal, and winter is water. Wait a sec! 4 seasons and 5 traditional elements. What about the 5th element? Well, as you probably have already guessed, that 5th element is earth. But, where does earth go? Earth's place ends up being at the last 18 days of every season. That way all the elements are separated nicely and earth gets to play a role. The word doyou means dealing with the earth. This year the summer doyou is from July 24th to August 5th. 

Well, that's all well and good, but what does that have to do with eel, right? Actually, nothing. The fact that one traditional season is ending has nothing to do with eel. So, why do Japanese people eat eel on doyou no ushi no hi? That is a good question. There are many answers to that question, but the one most people believe is the story about a person that was running a failing eel restaurant hundreds of years ago. The restaurant owner went to this person named Hiraga Gennai with his problem. Gennai thought about it for a second and remembered a folk story he once heard that said if you eat food that starts with u on ushi no hi you will never look to the heat of summer. It just so happens that in Japanese eel is called unagi. Gennai told the man to put a sign into his window that says that it is ushi no hi and the customers poured in. Marketing genius! Ever since than Japanese people have been eating eel during the summer time. You can see a picture of what people eat below. 
There is one problem with that this year. It turns out that the price of a nice eel meal is going up. One meal like that has gone up over 200 yen in most places. There are many reasons why the prices are going up. The most pressing one is because of the fuel prices of the boats that get the eels. And than, of course, there is the fact that they have been over catching eels for a long time and we are starting to run out of them. 

Any way, it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 鰻(うなぎ). It is pronounced unagi and means eel. I remember the first time that actually ate the Japanese eel. Everyone was saying it was so good, but I really didn't want to eat anything that looked like a snake. When I finally did try it I found out everyone was right and it was very good. Goes to show you that you just shouldn't be picky about trying new foods. Mmmm... monkey brains.

That's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.


  1. I am trying to convince Bill that there is stuff he can eat when we visit Japan and here you go talking about eating eel. You are not helping!

  2. Some of the best meat in the world comes from Japan actually. And the way they cook it could make any meat-lover shiver. At the party I went to last night they had what is called shabu-shabu. There is a broth that is boiling and you take the raw strips of thinly sliced meat and slosh it around in the broth for a little while to cook. After that you dip the meat in a sause and all is right with the world.