Japanese Cooking

Seasonal Eating: the Japanese way

The five element philosophy teaches that one fosters health by eating foods that correspond with the seasons. The five element theory originated in China and spread to Japan. The theory is based on five seasons. Each season corresponds with an element, environment, organ pair, flavour and emotion. (The five elements relate to each other in terms of cycles but we won’t go into that now.)

Foods to support the kidneys and bladder during winter

Winter is the season of the kidney and its partner organ, the bladder. Chinese Medicine considers that kidney deficiency is an underlying cause of many ailment, including frequent urination, lack of energy, memory loss, lower back and knee pain, heel and ankle pain, swollen ankles, low libido, impotence and severe menopausal symptoms.

The appropriate flavour for this season is salty. Try to incorporate foods that taste salty such as seafood, beans, bone broth, miso, tamari, and pickles.  Beneficial foods include flax, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, black sesame seeds, walnuts, chestnuts, barley, millet, and deep green vegetables. The herb Rehmannia is of benefit here.

At Shizuka Ryokan, in winter we serve yuzu scallops. Scallops are the perfect tonic for the kidneys.


Image: pinterest.com.au/MOONABEANS/ Yuzu bath Japan Japanese culture onsen

The five seasons: Japanese traditions

Japanese culture honours the seasons. Japan is a mountainous country of islands stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China and Phillipine Seas in the south. Japan experiences five distinct seasons due to the wide variation in geography and climate: summer, autumn, winter, spring and tsuyu—the rainy season. The Japanese pay close attention to the blessings of each season, and practices have evolved to honour seasonal change.

Starting around Shogatsu—the New Year—icy winds bring snowfall to a large area of Japan stretching from Hokkaido Island in the north to the Hokuriku region of Honshu, the main island of Japan. (It does not snow in Okinawa Island in the south.) Heavy snowfall does not start until later in the year, sometimes in February. On the north island up to four metres of snow may fall in a season.

Spring is sakura—cherry blossom—season. The blossoms start to flower in the south in Okinawa, and the blossom season travels northward. The cherry blossom season only lasts for a few weeks, but spring typically lasts from March to June.

Next comes tsuyu—the fifth season. It pours rain. The start and end of the rainy season varies, but people usually avoid travelling to Japan during the last two weeks of June.

After tsuyu—the rainy season—ends the whole of Japan, with the exception of the northern island Hokkaido, enters a season of high humidity and temperature. Summer runs from July to September. Miyazaki mangoes and Kyushu papayas appear at the market. Typhoon season ravages Okinawa in the south.

In autumn, leaves change colour to gold and red, and people forage for mushrooms and harvest rice, apples, nashi and persimmons. Momijigarimaple viewing—is the tradition of visiting areas where maple trees have turned red. The days gradually grow darker and colder and autumn turns to winter once more.

At Shizuka Ryokan we have adopted the Japanese practice of honouring the seasons, with a southern hemisphere twist. In the guestrooms, flowers are changed in accordance with the seasons. Two seasons ago, our gardener planted cherry blossoms, with the aim of celebrating hanami—the cherry blossom festival—at Shizuka in the spring.

We have a seasonal yin yang go gyo yoga retreat with Lars Skalman and Cate Peterson planned for spring that ties in perfectly with the five seasons of Japan. Shizuka’s shiatsu practitioners are trained in five element shiatsu—a philosophy that encapsulates the Japanese concept of the five seasons.

At the time of writing, our menu reflects the seasons, with delicious edible pine mushrooms gleaned from the pine grove just outside the kitchen. 

In Japan during Touji–winter solstice–people take yuzu baths. Winter solstice falls on June 22 in Australia this year. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit. Yuzu baths are believed to purify the body and soul. Here at Shizuka, we foster the Japanese yuzu bathing tradition by providing yuzu & hinoki bath salts with each overnight booking.

Matcha shortbread on Japanese plate.

Green tea shortbread

People have been known to fall in love with Shizuka Ryokan when they taste the matcha shortbread that we serve upon arrival.


250g butter (room temperature)
¼ cup caster sugar
⅓ cup cornflour
⅓ cup icing sugar
Rind from one grated lemon
1-2 teaspoons of matcha green tea powder
2⅓ cups of gluten-free plain flour


Heat oven (fan forced) to 160°C
Cream butter and sugar. 
Add vanilla essence, lemon rind, cornflour, icing sugar and matcha.
Beat until well combined and creamed. 
Fold in flour and mix well. 
Roll out on floured surface until required thickness. 
Use cookie cutter to cut biscuit shapes. 
Place on baking paper on tray. 
Keep rolling and cutting until finished.
Cook in oven for approximately 30 minutes.  Cool on tray

Owner of Shizuka

Wasabi change

Catherine Defina is the owner and manager of Shizuka Ryokan. Perhaps you have encountered Catherine (who wears red Swedish hiking pants) and her dog Cleo (who wears a checkered jumper) walking around the grounds of Shizuka, or spied her preparing sashimi through the kitchen door.

Prior to taking over Shizuka Catherine was pursuing a corporate career. She worked for a Swedish company as a general manager in the healthcare sector. It was during this role that she lived in Japan for four years, “That’s where I fell in love with Japanese culture and way of life.”

By early 2012, Catherine sensed that the corporate world was no longer the place for her, “Moving to Japan changed my life, totally.” She travelled to San Diego to undertake the Perfect Health Program at The Chopra Center. “That was my introduction to meditation. They said if there’s only one thing that you take away from this program and keep doing — meditate twice a day. So I did. And it changed everything for me.” Back in Sweden, meditating twice a day, Catherine was trying to do a password retrieval when she noticed an email saying somewhere she had never heard of called Shizuka was for sale.

Catherine is passionate about hospitality. A visit years ago to Chiva Som, a health spa in Thailand, left a deep impression on her. Catherine realised that it was a lovely place to be because the general manager was always on the floor, “He was just ever-present.” Catherine says, “I’d always said to my husband at the time that I’d always like to do something like that. There was something in me that knew I would be good at making the experience really special for the guests and staff.” So when Catherine saw that Shizuka Ryokan was for sale she had a feeling. She thought that with just six guestrooms it was small enough that she could try it out.

In March 2015 Catherine was a guest at Shizuka. She didn’t let on to the owners Peter and Margie that she was a potential buyer. She was impressed, “I felt like I’d woken up in Japan. I felt this is real; this is authentic and I reckon I can do it.” In July 2015 Catherine moved back to Australia. Despite doubts she decided to buy Shizuka, “The heart knows better than the head.” The process from deciding that she wanted to do it to taking over Shizuka was a lengthy one. In November 2016 Catherine took over.

At Shizuka Catherine prepares traditional Japansese cuisine. Prior to living in Japan she had never cooked in her life but she points out, “I had a subscription to Donna Hay magazine. I must have had some sort of latent desire to be a chef that I was suppressing!” When she moved to Japan she lived alone for the first time in her life so she had to cook. “When you live in Japan it costs an absolute fortune to cook western ingredients so I started cooking Japanese food.”

Catherine points out that teaching herself how to cook Japanese had some interesting side benefits. One night she tried to shallow fry something in olive oil. Olive oil has a low smoking point but Catherine was new to cooking and didn’t know that, “The exhaust fan didn’t cope. I set the smoke alarm in the whole building off. The elevator stopped working.” Catherine went downstairs in her slippers and apron to find the reserved elderly building manager to explain to him that the building wasn’t on fire. He accompanied her back to her flat and noticed the mackerel tatsuta-age. “All of a sudden I had this totally different relationship with him.” He encouraged Catherine’s attempts to cook Japanese. The encouragement spread to the team of people that she managed,“My whole team were Japanese. In the morning they would ask ‘What did you cook for dinner last night?’ I was no longer your average expat, I was actually trying to fit in with the Japanese culture.”

Once Catherine decided to learn how to cook Japanese she went for it, “I immersed myself in what I needed to know.” In the town of Seki, Gifu she found chef Shuji and the Ozeki Cooking School. Under Shuji’s guidance, and over weeks of study, Catherine dove into Japanese cuisine. Just before taking over Shizuka she went back to Japan and did a follow-up immersive course at the Ozeki Cooking School to get ready for her first adventure as a cook. While there Shuji advised, “Catherine I’ve taught you everything I can teach you. Now what you need to do is cook.” Catherine has been cooking at Shizuka for over two years now. She will be returning to Shuji’s teaching in the future to grapple with what she calls her weak points,“I’m after tempura perfection. ”

It is two years since Catherine took over Shizuka and she is excited, “This isn’t any old guesthouse in any old tourist town. This is really quite special.” She has big plans for Shizuka. For example, she intends to build an onsen  so that guests and members of the public can experience traditional Japanese bathing under the pines. In collaboration with the groundskeeper she has begun plans for hanami, or cherry blossom parties, “The first of the cherry blossoms went in last winter. Next winter I’ll plant 20 more.” She has introduced yoga and meditation classes to the resort. “It is a private class. Three hours worth with Riki Edelsten.”

Catherine sips tea and looks around across the row of bearded iris, “So much potential.”

Leanne O'Sullivan from Kimono House will be teaching a boro workshop at Shizuka Ryokan in early 2020

Sashiko: Japanese traditions

At Shizuka Ryokan we have an insatiable appetite for Japanese traditions. Whether it be Japanese cookery, Boro stitching, Sumi-e painting, Calligraphy, Ikebana, Seasonal Yoga Retreats, Sake tasting, Furoshiki, Japanese gift wrapping, Wagashi, Origami, Mizuhiki, Temari, Japanese book binding, Japanese tea ceremony, Kokedama, Kimono wearing, or SAORI weaving–you will find a workshop at Shizuka.

Sashiko


On Sunday, February 10, we were thrilled to host Leanne O’Sullivan from Kimono House for a 1-Day Sashiko Intensive.

Sashiko is a form of embroidery that originated in Japan during the Edo period (1615-1868). Originally, sashiko stitching was used to reinforce points of wear or to darn tears in clothing with patches, making the clothing more durable and warmer. (Japan has a culture of reusing and recycling, and a word, mottanai, which conveys a sense of regret over waste.) By the Mejii era (1868-1912) sashiko was a common form of winter work in farming communties, when it was too cold to work outdoors.

Sashiko evolved to become a decorative quilting and embroidery stitch that features white cotton thread on traditional indigo blue cloth. The word sashiko means ‘little stabs’ or ‘little pierce.’ There are two main styles of sashiko: moyozashi, in which geometric patterns are created with long lines of running stitches—and hitomezashi, where the pattern emerges from the alignment of single stitches on a grid.

The artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), published New Forms for Design in 1824, and many of these designs are used in sashiko patterns today. Sashiko stitching depicts things such as Yarai (bamboo fence),  Uroko (fish scales), Amime (fish nets), Kaki no Hana (persimmon flower) and Hirayama-Michi (mountain passes).

About the teacher

Leanne first visited Japan in the 1980s, where she lived and worked for 5 years. It was during this time that she became interested in Japanese textiles, and the kimono in particular.

“Whilst living in Japan I was constantly inspired by the extreme contrasts around me—everywhere I looked there seemed to be a mix of traditional and contemporary co-existing beautifully.”

This contrast is evident in Leanne’s pieces, which combine new and vintage fabric, and traditional and contemporary design. These days, Leanne runs Kimono House Japanese Textiles & Craft —where she trades Japanese textiles and craft kits, teaches workshops and exhibits her collection of Japanese textiles.


To stay up to date with upcoming workshops and events at Shizuka Ryokan be sure to sign up to our bimonthly newsletter, and follow us on facebook and instagram

Woodcut by Hiroshige depcting maple leaves

Maple Viewing: Japanese traditions

Momijigari–maple viewing–is the tradition of visiting areas where the maple trees have turned red.  The Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) at Shizuka Ryokan are exploding with colour this month. There are a variety of maple species growing at Shizuka Ryokan, in a range of colours—from blood red through to subtle bronze.

At Shizuka, we have come to realise that the Japanese maple tree is a wonder across all seasons. In winter, the trees have no leaves and the branches are framed against the Hepburn sky. In spring, new growth, flowers and colours appear. In summer, the leaves provide shade for guests (and birds) and in autumn, the fall of the leaves marks the ephemeral nature of existence.

Shizuka Ryokan’s gardens are a place to reflect. Shizuka Ryokan features a tsubo-niwa, or courtyard garden, an essential part of traditional ryokans. The architecture of Shizuka Ryokan is organised around a raked gravel garden that has a maple tree growing out of it. (In Japan, raking gravel took on a symbolic significance for the Buddhist monks–more on that in a future blog post!)

The Japanese maple is native to Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia and Russia, where it grows in mixed and understorey forests.  There are hundreds of varieties, with a wide variation in leaf colour and texture. Maples are prized for their 7-palmed leaves and colours. There are generally two types of tree shape: upright and horizontal.

Botanists have a field day identifying Japanese maples. There are so many different cultivars a system of categorisation has developed. They are divided into 7 groups. 5 of the groups depend on their leaf forms:

  • Amoenum Group: Each leaf is divided up to two-thirds to the leaf base
  • Palmatum Group: Each leaf is divided two-thirds to three-fourths to the leaf base
  • Matsumurae Group: Each leaf is divide more than three-fourths to the leaf base
  • Dissectum Group: Each lead is divided into lobes, which are dissected into sub-lobes
  • Linearilobum Group: Each leaf is divided from the tip to the base into narrow, straplike lobes

(The final 2 groups are dwarf cultivars and cultivars that don’t fit the other groups)

Four leaves from four different species of Japanese maple tree.

Acer palmatum cultivars – From left to right A. palmatum wild type, A. palmatum ‘Amoenum’, and A. palmatum ‘Matsumurae’ (‘Dissectum’ is similar to ‘Matsumurae’) [Photo credit: Abrahami/Creative Commons]

Close up of Iris growing at Shizuka

Irises: Japanese traditions

A blooming Iris in the gardens of Shizuka RyokanThe ancient art of gardening is alive and well at Shizuka Ryokan. Our gardens display a beautiful selection of traditional Japanese plants such as bamboo, ginkgo, persimmon, sakura (cherry blossom), maple, shiso (a herb used in our kitchen), magnolia, Japanese quince and hibiscus. At dusk, the pine trees fill with sulphur-crested cockatoos, and the fruit trees attract fast moving parrots, leaving streaks of the brightest greens and reds. Kangaroos feed on the grass. A kookaburra sits on the wooden bridge at the ryokan entrance, waiting for chef Akiko-san to appear with sashimi. It is this fusion–of Japanese tradition in an Australian setting–that makes a visit to Shizuka Ryokan potent and unique.

This month, the Irises are in bloom. In Japan, Iris cultivation is considered a high art, and the Japanese have developed more than 2000 cultivated varieties. These cultivars display large, beautifully coloured and patterned flowers, with exceptional wide falls (the petals that hang down) and narrow standards (the upright petals).

The name Iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow, an apt name for a species that blooms in a wide range of colours. There are around 300 species of Iris. They are treasured for their large flowers—in colours of blue, purple, maroon or white—and their contrasting pattterns of dots, stripes, veins and edges. Many Iris have ruffled flowers, with multiple floral parts.

There are three species of Iris commonly grown in Japan—hanashobu (Iris ensata), kakitsubata (Iris laevigata) and ayame (Iris sanguinea). Outside of Japan, Iris ensata is referred to as ‘Japanese iris’. It has a bluish purple colour and references to it in Japanese art and literature date back to the 12th century. Iris ensata is native to Japan, China, Korea and Siberia.  It is believed that farmers would plant irises in or near their rice fields because their blooming coincided with the start of the rainy season—the time for transplanting rice plants from seed beds to the fields.


To learn more we recommend The Japanese Garden, a fantastic book written by Sophie Walker.

Utagawa Hiroshige painting of Iris garden.

Utagawa Hiroshige’s painting of an Iris garden. Hiroshige greatly influenced Van Gogh.

Image: "Shinrin-yoku", a film by Dance Films Association. The film features dance and choreography by Mayumu Minakawa, video by Kenneth Kao, and music by Levi Gershkowitz and Julie Becker. Directed by Tom Weksler.

Forest Bathing: Japanese traditions

In Japan, there is a tradition known as shinrin-yoku—or forest bathing. Shinrin-yoku describes the practice of ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ by spending prolonged periods of time with trees, and engaging with the forest through all of one’s senses.

Shizuka Ryokan is set in the rolling hills of Hepburn Springs, so we are perfectly placed for some time out among the trees. Here at Shizuka Ryokan, we practice shinrin-roku, and encourage our guests to do the same.

Shinrin-yoku: How trees can help you find health and happiness (2018) is a book written by Dr Qing Li which introduces readers to the art and science of forest bathing. Dr Li draws on peer-reviewed studies into the impact of forest bathing on health. With more than 100 colour photographs of forests around the world, the book already holds a treasured place in the Shizuka Ryokan library.

You don’t have to be a scientist to know that walking in the forest reduces stress, anxiety and depression. Forest bathing improves sleep, boosts immunity and heart health, and produces a better parasympathetic (rest and recover) response. Essential oils of trees such as Pine (many of which are growing at Shizuka) increase energy levels and induce a state of wellbeing.

The naturalist John Muir once wrote, ‘between every two pine trees is a doorway leading to a new way of life.’ Why not book into Shizuka Ryokan to savour the sounds, smells and sights of the forest? Listen to call of the sulpur-crested cockatoo. Watch the echidna amble past. Feel the breeze on your skin and smell the pine needles underfoot. Feel the trunk of a tree. Sip the mineral springs. Take deep breaths of the restorative Hepburn air…Walking among the trees is a great reset. Don’t even get us started on the benefits of forest bathing followed by a traditional Japanese meal.


The image accompanying this post is a still from Shinrin-yoku, a film which features dance and choreography by Mayumu Minakawa, video by Kenneth Kao, and music by Levi Gershkowitz and Julie Becker. Directed by Tom Weksler.

Shinrin-yoku: How trees can help you find health and happiness  is available from the wonderful Paradise Bookshop in Daylesford. Just a short forest walk away from Shizuka Ryokan.

If you would like to learn more about Forest-Bathing, we recommend this hilariously titled article from Outside magazine: Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning.

 

ryokans

Ryokans: What to expect

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, typically located near onsen, or hot springs. The first ryokan, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, was founded in 705 A.D. It is considered the oldest hotel in the world. Today, there are more than 50,000 ryokans in Japan.

Hanami festival. Cherry blossom forecast.

Hanami Festival: Japanese traditions

The sakura, or cherry blossom, is revered in Japan for its beauty and transience. Hanami is the spring tradition of admiring blossoms—usually cherry, and less frequently, plum. People gather under the blossoms for food, drink and song. Read more