Shochū Mimai (暑中見舞い) is a greeting card sent to friends and families during summer. As you know, summer season in Japan could be intensely humid and hot. It’s easy for people to get sick and tired. To soothe such discomfort, Japanese people take this opportunity to send a postcard, ask friends how they are doing, and wish for their pleasant summer.
Traditionally, shochū mimai cards are sent between late July and early August. There’s no restrictions on what kind of designs to send, but it typically includes a season’s greeting “Shochū omimai moushiage-masu (暑中お見舞い申し上げます).”
From Rinkya, we wish you a comfortable summer too!
Around this time of a year in Japan, many stores start taking orders for ochugen gifts.
What is ochugen (お中元)?
It’s a Japanese tradition in summer where you send gifts to people whom you’d like to show gratitude to. It’s a custom of saying thanks to the recipients and also showing your intent of keeping good relationship with them in future. It’s basically the summer equivalent of oseibo gifts given at the end of every year.
Ochugen gifts are usually sent to recipients by July 15th in Kanto area and August 15th in Kansai area. Gifts are typically given to their business partners, clients, relatives, special friends, people you owe favors, etc. In many cases, people order presents at retail stores and have the stores ship them to recipients on behalf of the senders. This way, when gifts are fresh food or perishables, you don’t have to worry about them going bad in transit.
Beer is also a popular ochugen gift. It comes in a pretty packaging.
Like oseibo, ochugen gifts are wrapped in special paper called noshi.
Gogatsubyō, or May Disease is a term to describe a kind of depression that happens to many Japanese people in May. Most new students and employees enter their schools or companies in April. At first they are excited and trying to get used to the new environments. Then at the end of April through the beginning of May, there’s Golden Week (one of the longest consecutive holidays in Japan). After the holidays are over, people need to return to their schools and work, and a lot of the times this causes minor depression and lack of motivation/energy.
Although it’s called “disease,” it’s not a medical term, and symptoms of gogatsubyō can vary greatly depending on individuals.
Zōni, or ozōni, is typical New Year dish consisting of mochi (rice cake) and various ingredients in soup broth. These ingredients can vary widely depending on areas in Japan. Here is a list of 10 local zōni styles!
In Iwate Prefecture of northeastern Japan, particularly along the Sanriku Coast, a delicious meal is often described as “walnut-flavor” in its local dialect. Iwate is one of the major walnut producers in Japan, therefore it is natural for people in this area to incorporate walnut in their special New Year dish. Grilled mochi is served in soy-based soup first. Then you take the mochi out and dip it in walnut sauce to eat.
A traditional Niigata-style zōni is topped with salmon and ikura (salmon roes), the local staples of the area. Niigata is usually covered with heavy snow during winter time, so cooking salt-preserved salmon is not only done for celebrating New Year, but also an important preparation for passing winter.
3) Azuki (Red Bean) Zōni from Tottori and Shimane Prefectures
In Tottori and Shimane, two neighboring prefectures in Chugoku region of Japan, people prepare all kinds of zōni dishes. One of the unique zōni dishes served here are azuki zōni. Azuki is red bean that is often used as filling for traditional mochi desserts. Traditionally, the red bean soup for azuki zōni is not sweetened, but more households nowadays boil red bean with sugar to make sweet zōni. The mochi here is usually cut in a round shape.
Nagasaki has always been a port city and a center of trade since the city’s foundation by the Portoguese in 16th century. Nagasaki’s zōni reflects such versatile nature of the area in that it contains a large variety of ingredients, usually more than 10 of them, including fresh seafood and wild game and vegetables from mountains.
Nagasaki zōni is famous for having lots of ingredients, such as daikon, chicken, kamaboko, dried sea cucumbers, shellfish, gingko, etc., but must-have ingredients that make a typical Nagasaki-style zōni are round mochi, Japanese amberjack, and toujinna (Nagasaki bokchoi).
Toujinna is a special type of bokchoi vegetable harvested in Nagasaki. It was first brought to the area by Chinese traders, and eventually the locals started growing it and turned it into its own kind only found in Nagasaki.
5) Zōni with Taro and White Miso from Kyoto Prefecture
Kyoto is famous for its special miso made from rice malt called saikyo miso. A typical Kyoto-style zōni uses round mochi boiled in soup (as opposed to grilled mochi placed in soup) with taro roots and daikon radish, topped elegantly with shaved bonito fish flakes.
Kinako is roasted soybean flour used in many Japanese desserts. In Nara prefecture, zōni is served in soup first, and then as the mochi gets soft, you take it out and cover it with sweetened kinako flour. This way you can enjoy sweet mochi separately from the soup. The soup usually consists of white miso with tofu, daikon radishes, carrots, and taro roots.
This is an oddball, zōni in Tokushima area actually doesn’t have any mochi in it. Instead, Tokushima serves mochi-less “uchichigae zōni” with a pair of thick tofu slices stack in a cross shape on top of three taro roots. It is believed that when Emperor Antoku (reigned 1180-1185) fled from the imperial struggle and found a shelter in this area, the villagers cooked soybeans and taro for him. Then the Emperor told them to make soybeans into tofu, so they did, and since then people in Tokushima cooked the same dish to celebrate New Year.
In Fukui prefecture, zōni is prepared with boiled turnips along with their green stalks. The broth can vary from household to household. Some people use white miso, and others use red miso. Turnips are called “kabu” in Japanese, which is the same pronunciation as “stock/reputation.” Therefore, using turnips is believed to have good luck on one’s future.
The zōni from Kagawa prefecture is a combination of Kyoto zōni and Chugoku region’s red bean zōni. The mochi is filled with red bean inside, and cooked in miso soup. It seems odd to have a sweet mochi in salty soup, but it is actually pretty tasty. Before eating, a small amount of aonori (green laver) is topped on the mochi to complete the Kagawa-style zōni.
Residents of Tokyo come from all over Japan, so zōni dishes cooked in Tokyo vary widely depending on households. However, traditional Edo-style zōni uses soy sauce-based soup made from bonito fish stock or dried sea cucumber stock. Typical ingredients to go with are chicken and komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach). It is simple, but sometimes the simplest things make a best meal.
There are many kinds of zōni out there, but no matter the type of zōni you make, it tastes the best when you enjoy it with your family and friends!