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Tuesday, July 29, 2003


In search of senbei and more culture

Senbei fan

Randall writes from California, reporting that around 1900 a Japanese gardener in San Francisco started serving cookies with thank you notes inside at that city's Japanese garden.

The cookies caught on, and the local Chinese community began serving them at the end of Chinese meals.

These reportedly became the first fortune cookies.

According to all of the accounts he has read, the inspiration for the San Francisco fortune cookie was the "tsujiura senbei," or rice cookie.

"Tsujiura" was reportedly a popular fortune telling pastime in nineteenth-century Japan, and Randall has seen a Meiji era painting of a woman with "tsujiura" fortunes.

"Where can this type of senbei still be found?" he wonders.

Randall, you will be happy to know the "tsujiura" is alive and well. It can be found in various forms, especially down the west side of Japan, which of course faces China.

Unlike most senbei, which evolved as a means to preserve rice through the winter, "tsujiura" seems to be sweet, which makes sense that they be served at the end of a meal. They are still being made in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Kyushu; Kaga, in Ishikawa Prefecture (where they are made of brightly coloured sugar); also Kanazawa (where they resemble Chinese gyozain shape); and in Niigata.

They can also be found as Chinese Cookies (as the wrappers read) in Yokohama's Chinatown; Fushima-inari in Kyoto, where they resemble foxes; and in Kawachi, Osaka.

All this information is from a Japanese homepage on cakes and sweets: m-mizoguti.com/ito/engi.htm

There is also an e-mail address: lestudio@mail.goo.ne.jp I suggest you try to make contact with this obvious fan of the Tsujiura-senbei, or get a Japanese friend to help.

Fans of regular senbei might like to know that the town of Soka, in Saitama Prefecture, has based a small part of its economy on the rice cookie.

There is even a park, named after a folkloric figure named O-sen; "bei" means "o-mochi," the pounded rice from which senbei are made.

There is a famed shop, called Maruso Ichifuku (2-16-18 Aoyagi, Soka-shi, Saitama-ken, phone (048) 936-6301, e-mail: marusou@sokasenbei.co.jp) and an associated art museum and senbei museum. This "senbei hakubutukan" is called Sosa-an.

More culture

A fellow culture vulture writes in regarding Simone's search for a quality magazine covering Japanese fine arts and crafts.

For people who are interested in Japanese street and youth culture, there is an online magazine: www.JapaneseStreets.com

Also handy is www.ForReaders.com

The site introduces the latest books related to Japan. Many books are introduced months ahead of their publication date.

Also on the subject, Stephanie writes in to let us know about "Daruma" magazine, a high quality magazine that covers Japanese art and antiques in English, with detailed informative articles for dealers, collectors, and the general public. More information on that publication can be found at www.darumamagazine.com

Strephanie also strongly recommends Ikebana International thrice-yearly magazine. Each issue has three long, lavishly illustrated articles about a wide range of aspects of traditional Japanese cultural arts, plus shorter articles about ikebana and a large number of full-color photos of ikebana arrangements by experts.

The way to subscribe to that magazine is by becoming a member of the organization, which is a worldwide interest group for people interested in ikebana and related arts of Japan. If reader Simone joins the Paris Chapter, she can also participate in their activities.

To find out more about membership while in Japan, contact the Tokyo Chapter at (03) 3295-0720, or e-mail: ikebana@h4.dion.ne.jp

Send your queries, questions, problems and posers, to: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp

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