Nanohana in the Japan Times, plus the "Oborozukiyo" Hazy Spring Moon children's song
This month's Japanese Kitchen column in the Japan Times is about nanohana, a quintessential early spring vegetable. It's actually the young, tender shoots of the rapeseed plant, which has gotten a name makeover these days in the U.S. as canola. The plant is a mamber of the brassica family, which includes things like cabbage, cauliflower broccoli, which nanohana closely resembles.
It seems that there's a cultivar of nanohana sold in some parts of the U.S. that is named broccolini, so if you run into it I hope you'll give it a try. The simplest way to enjoy nanohana Japanese style is as ohitashi, which I describe how to make in the article.
You can also just steam it, stir fry it, and use it in any way you would broccoli. I would hesitate to use this wasabi sauce on it because the wasabi might kill the delicate flavor of the nanohana, but it might be worth a try.
In the article I mention a famous children's song called Oborozuki-yo (朧月夜) - "Hazy Moonlit Spring Night". Here's a version of the song sung by the Tokyo Children's Chorus, with images of nanohana fields in full bloom.
And here is the great Sayuri Ishikawa singing it in 1993 - embedding is disabled on this video, so go over to YouTube to take a listen.
Oborozukiyo belongs to a type of children's song in Japan called shōka (shohka, 唱歌), which is short for monbushō shōka (文部省唱歌), a series of songs that were included in the officially sanctioned music textbooks used in schools in Japan from the 1920s to the 1930s by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (currently the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, or MEXT), until the military-controlled government took over and made Japanese kids sing more overtly patriotic songs. Oborozukiyo first appeared in elementary school textbooks in 1914. Many were specially commissioned by the ministry from established songwriters. Although they aren't a formal part of musical education anymore, many of these gentle, evocative songs are deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, and many people know at least the first verse or so.
Here's another song in this genre: Haru no ogawa (春の小川, "Spring Stream", which made its debut in 1912.) The lyrics are about the little stream that flows along with a "sarasara" sound, cheerfully telling the flowers along its bed that it's time to start blossoming now.
Spring is just around the corner. I can't wait - how about you?