Over the last month or so we have been stirring later from sleep, our 5:30-6-if-you’re-lucky toddler wake up call shifting to 7, 7:30. I thought at first it was just the small girl getting bigger, sleeping longer, and maybe – hopefully – it is, in part. But a couple of weeks ago, it finally clicked that it was more likely simply because it was staying dark later.
Around the same time that I came to the astonishing realisation that winter = later sunrise, I noticed that it wasn’t getting dark as early as I had assumed. We are far enough West here for daylight hours to be shifted forty minutes or so later than Tokyo time, longer afternoons in the park joining our sleepy mornings.
In Tokyo too, though, there is much to love about this time of year. It gets cold in Japan, sure – and without central heating or double glazing it gets cold inside as well as out – but winter here lacks the gloomy heaviness it carries in the UK. It feels shorter, too, flashes of autumnal red still brightening Tokyo late into December, and the blossoming ume trees in February an early sign of spring. In between, the Japanese fondness for evergreens means the landscape is never bare.
And of course, of course, there is the food. People here seem to “eat with the seasons” more, and winter is no exception. Even in our local Walmart-offshoot, the shelves of persimmon and pear have made way for mikan (tangerines) and strawberries, the latter finding their way into ichigo daifuku. A fresh strawberry encased in sweet red or white bean paste, wrapped in soft, chewy mochi, these are one of the best bits of winter in Japan for me. Sharing with the toddler means strawberry for her and the rest for me.
This next one isn’t an ichigo daifuku, but is nonetheless a very wintry wagashi (Japanese sweet), a miniature, sweetified kagami mochi, complete with a tea leaf for the stalk of the tiny mikan on top. This was one of a box of sweets brought over by a friend, far more delicious than any I’ve bought myself.
Winter vegetables are super-oishii too, the sweetest of sweet potatoes in purple, gold and white joining an abundance of leafy greens. My newest brassica love is Petit Vert, tiny and dark green, the Brussels Sprout of the Kale world. I don’t recall ever eating, or even seeing, these in the UK, which is not to say they don’t exist there, but to me, at least, they are new and exciting.
Seen below in a supporting role with sauteed potatoes, leeks and chickpeas (fried egg not pictured).
Japan and I first met in winter, and, although I am looking forward to spring, to warmer days and hot water bottle-free nights, to plum blossoms and trips to the park without hats and coats, I am, for now, more than happy here.