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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on September 30, 2020
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 118] September 29, 2020

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 118]
September 29, 2020
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal vegetable:
Bring us refreshing coolness and invite happiness : eggplants

:: 1. Seasonal vegetable

"Yume yorimo morau Kichijiya Hatsunasubi" (written by Yosa Buson)
Interpretation: (Buson wrote this poem when Buson's pupil, Takai Kicho
brought the first eggplant of the season to his teacher.)
It is said there are three auspicious things to see in the first dream
of the year---the best dream is about Mt.Fuji, hawk for the second and
eggplant for the third. But rather than dreaming of an eggplant, I feel
happy to get the first eggplant of the season.

Around this time in Japan, still scorching summer heat continues in
daytime, but if you listen to insects' singing in the meadow, it is no
doubt autumn is coming around the corner. In grocery stores, variety
of autumn vegetables and fruits start to hit the shelves. Large shiny
purple eggplants will surely stimulate our appetite as dinner ingredients.

Eggplant fruits come into season around July after beautiful purple
flowers finished, of which color is lighter than the fruit. As in
Japanese proverb, "Parents never give you useless advice just like
eggplants bear fruits without fail", eggplants produce abundance of
fruits throughout the summer after flower bloomed. The poem in the
beginning of this article was written by a haiku poet, Buson as a
return gift for the eggplants that his pupil Kicho brought him as a
midsummer gift.

Eggplant is originated in India and was brought to Japan via China.
Summer in Japan, which belongs to the same monsoon region as the place
of origin, is perfect for growing eggplants. An ancient record written
on a wooden plate shows that already in Nara period (710-784), eggplants
had been used to make vegetable pickles in sake lees as gifts to noble
people. The original name "Nasubi" for eggplants was altered from the
words "Nakasumi" or "Natsunomi" that mean a fruit that has sour taste
or a fruit of summer respectively. In Muromachi period (1333-1573),
eggplants were called "Onasu" or "Nasu" which was used among court ladies.

Eggplants had been luxury foodstuff for a long time that ordinary people
could not afford. However, in Edo period (1603-1868), eggplants became
popular and were widely planted. Though we cannot find other colors
except purple eggplants now, there seemed to have been a variety of
colors and shapes in Edo period. According to the record from "Nogyo
zensho (Compedia of agriculture knowledge) edited in 1697", it says
"Eggplants have three colors - purple, blue and white and there are
also round ones and long ones".
In Suruga Domain (present Shizuoka prefecture), eggplants were grown
with forcing culture using fermentation heat generated from horse manure.
Surprisingly, the first eggplant on the new year season were sold at
one-ryo (75000 yen). Thereupon, people listed three "Takai" things in
Suruga in a phrase, "Ichi (1) Fuji, Ni (2) Taka, San (3) Nasubi". In this
phrase, the adjective "Takai" is a homonym word used for two different
"Takai" for the first one and the second one means "high", as Mt.Fuji
is the highest mountain, and Mt.Ashitaka is the second highest mountain
in Suruga. The third one means "expensive", as mentioned earlier,
eggplants were luxury foodstuff. There is another interpretation for
Ni-Taka that "Taka" means a hawk.

It is said that an eggplant consists of more than 90 percent of water,
with a little vitamin and mineral, However, eggplants contain nasnin
which has antioxitative effect and prevents cancer. Also, eggplants
contain colin which lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and prevent
arteriosclerosis. Due to rich potassium which is also contained in
other eggplant family vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplant is effective
for relieving hot flashes in summer. The proverb, "Do not let your
daughter-in-law eat autumn eggplants" came out of consideration for
young wives that eating too much delicious eggplants in autumn made
them chill in cool season.

As ancient people said, "No heat nor cold last over equinox", summer
heat will not last for long. On milder days, how about eating summer
vegetables to cool down the summer heat, instead of turning on the
air conditioner?

Translation by: Naoko Yamashita, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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