|Eating eel on the hottest day of the year gives you stamina. Apparently.|
Japan has a tendency to have really surprising events that come out of nowehere. A lot of these things can't be explained, but continue to shock me, and probably will for the rest of my life. Of course there is no such thing as "Eel Day" on our calendar here in Japan, but I would think that the day almost deserves such a name. Don't you think that a day in which probably about everyone in the entire country of Japan sits around their dinner table eating delicious and scrumptious eel, would merit such a name? The day, which is different every year although always in the last week of July, is actually called doyo no ushi no hi -– “day of the ox in midsummer.” It is said to be the hottest day of the year according to ancient customs brought over from China. Ushi, or "ox," refers to one of 12 animal names, assigned to both years, as well as days within each year. Many Asian cultures use these animal names to describe cycles of time.
Based on the lunar calendar,"Doyo" refers to the 18-day time period prior to a change of seasons. There is a doyo period before the onset of winter, spring, summer, and autumn. It is this latter one that most Japanese are familiar with, since it is on the ox day of this pre-autumn doyo, that eel-eating is believed to restore stamina that has been sapped by summer heat. "The day of the ox” fell on July 28th this year.
|Eating eel with the Katou clan/|
So what does the hottest day of the year have to do with unagi? Like everything else here, it can be traced back to a comical story. More than 200 years ago, owner of a very unpopular unagi restaurant asked a guy for an idea for boosting their sales. The guy, Hiraga Gennai, was a pharmacist. [Side note: Are all Japanese pharmacist tricksters and clowns? Captain Jack would definitely have come up with some hare-brained scheme like this and he is a pharmacist.] Gennai put up a poster at the restaurant, which said something like: “Eat nutritious eel to beat summer weariness,” and people were convinced that it must be a good thing to eat such a nutritious food on the hottest day of the year. It worked like a magic. The Ad not only saved the slumping restaurant but created a custom that has been passed down for more than 200 years.
On the supposed "Hottest Day of the Year," when people stayed inside anxiously to stay away from
|Instead of beating the heat, we went out and faced it head on.|
I don't blame them, I nearly passed out in school, on particularly hot afternoon. It's not a good excuse, but I can't say that I didn't long for the ability to do my favorite activity in the world. I started off at 11, just after I woke up and had my morning coffee. The sun was blazing overhead, and it was already in the upper 90's. I thought that since I had not run in over 2 weeks, my body would not be able to handle a very difficult run. I planned on keeping it at a 30 minute run for safety and for getting my body back up to speed. But I surprised myself. Runner's High took over within minutes, and I decided to take a long run all the way to Kochi Castle and back. It takes 17 minutes while running to get from my house to the castle, and 17 minutes to get back. So I ran around the complex for about 26 minutes. It was an incredibly refreshing run. I was out in the sun for just over an hour, though it felt like 20 minutes tops. I was so happy and proud of myself, that I overlooked the fact that my face and turned the color of a peach. I must have forgotten sun screen.
When I returned, I decided to buy lunch at the food store. I had planned on eating a huge dinner of delicious eel, so I wanted to keep the meal small. I bought two cups of 80 calorie ice cream and gum. Then I headed back to the house. My legs were more tired then I had earlier suspected, and when I reached the house, a sudden shooting pain of Shin Splints shocked me into falling up the stairs. I wasn't too worried, because I had nothing else planned for the days activities. Or so I thought. Inside, I took a nice hot shower, did the laundry, and then opened a cup of my lunch and turned on the television. Life could not get any better, I thought. My cell phone started to ring, and I answered to hear Katou Okasan. After she scolded me for not having my cell phone on me in the early morning, which she tried to call me a dozen times, she began telling me something else. She asked me to get on my bathing suit and come to the family company. Michiyo and I would be going swimming at one of the local Kochi sports pools. I swallowed the remaining ice cream cup whole, as I frantically threw on a bath suit. I was out the door and on my bike within 5 minutes. At the company, I met up with Michiyo and we headed for the pool. It wasn't far, but I still spent over 30 minutes on the bike. The Shin Splints had returned in full force, and I was worried as I walked into the indoor pool area. I quickly got changed, making sure to look at myself in the mirror. It was so embarrassing, because Bikini's are really rare in Japan. My bathing suit is only a bikini top, with long shorts for bottoms, but I got alot of comments made to Michiyo.
|Clan Katou post-Eel.|
This is very bad, because in Japan, bikini's are only worn by loose college girls at the beach. I was a High School Student at a public pool in conservative Kochi.
My only saving grace was the fact that instead of wearing a normal bottom to the suit, I was wearing long boy bath suit shorts. But the real big strike, I mean the one that causes the umpire to start screaming, "YOU ARE OUT!" came with the fact that I was not born Japanese. At a pool in the middle of nowhere countryside Japan, a Gaikokujin had just entered. The only people who usually frequent this particular pool are in elementary school kids, or are nearing their 300th birthday. None of which as any idea who to react to a gaijin, other than just staring. And I wasn't just a plain Gaijin. I looked like a Ghost in a Bikini from some far away land. How far fetched is that?
I also lost some weight this year. Not much, but enough to make the bathing suit pretty much hang off of me at the top. And much to my horror, as I stepped into the pool, the top flung open.
Yes, you read that right.
My hand shot up to cover my exposed parts and I screamed for Michiyo to help me. In the water, we had it all fixed. Luckily, it was then that it was discovered that a Gaijin had entered the water. This is lucky, because my dignity could not take another strike against me. Think about it, the ghost in a bikini from America who can't keep her top on. Oh, the horror.
Michiyo and I changed lanes into a less busy section. She noticed how uncomfortable it was for me. I think it would be for everyone, if you suddenly had 30 kids and 20 old men and woman pointing at you and whispering things like, "look at that! A Gaijin!" or "She is SO white!"
[ Rant Time: I love Japan, and I love Kochi, but I'm tired of them treating me like I'm NOT one of them. Aren't we all humans? And they think I can't speak Japanese. I occasionally hear comments like, "Now look at that brave Japanese girl talking to the gaijin. What a clever girl speaking English!" Nobody will ever believe that I'm the clever one. I'm the one speaking Japanese. Sometimes, when the people making the comments are close, I'll turn to them and say something like, "I can understand you and I don't appreciate you words." Sometimes this will really shut them up, and they'll look away all embarrassed. But sometimes they'll keep going, "Wow what a clever Japanese girl! She taught the Gaijin a few words in Japanese!" Okay sorry for the rant, but pools in Japan always make me annoyed. End rant.]
Michiyo and I first did about 20 laps, and then we headed over into a different lane. Pools here always have a lane dedicated to walkers. Walking in the water is considered a sport. Now don't laugh, it's actually quite intense. But since Japanese people are so short, the water is really shallow. This would expose my ghostly stomach, and I wasn't in the mood for more comments. So I stayed on my knees, which actually helped my shin splints a lot. At 3:30, Michiyo decided that we ought to head back home. After we encountered 3 little girls who stared at me while I changed, we biked back to Mama Township. My body was exhausted when we parked our bikes. I needed that Eel for stamina. I told Michiyo I was going to go take a nap, because I had nothing on the agenda for the rest of the day, except a dinner of Eel.
She told me that I had to make sure to get ready.
Ready? you ask. Oh yes!
It must have slipped my mind that I had a 2 hour Yosakoi practice! Surprisingly, my body didn't object. I really think I'm an athlete because I can handle a lot of things. 70 minutes of running, 30 minutes of biking, 100 minutes of swimming, and 120 minutes of dancing, it is a bit on the cruel side. But I seemed to be okay.
At 6, the family all sat down at the dinner table and ate a delicious portion of Eel steamed over a bowl of rice. The side dish was spicy eggplant and tomatoes. It was utterly delicious, and I even had seconds on the Eel.
At Yosakoi practice, I did great. I was Genki and happy through the entire practice. I continue to surprise even myself. Though I think I'll give credit for this one to the eel.