Posted in Around The Yard&Garden, Little things I love about Japan

Officially Spring

Well, the calendar says that it is officially spring. Anyone that reads this blog knows that my garden is the first place I go as soon as the weather warms up. It hasn’t warmed up as much as I’d like-but we’ve had a few really nice days here and there so I’ve been outside getting my little plot ready.

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I cleaned things up and got carrots, spinach and komatsuna seeds in the ground. The Snap Peas are coming along now-they have finally broken through the ground and are getting bigger by the day. You can see them over by the netting. The lettuce is growing nicely and I stuck a green pepper plant in the ground too.

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The weeding got done and while I was at it I moved some of the ox-eye daises that had seeded themselves in a spot where I didn’t want them to. That spot is reserved for my new tomato beds that I’m going to put in. Soon. As soon as hubby gets me the wood.

I set up a birdbath. A little early I know but I’m excited about getting the garden going.

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Gardening helps me a lot. I’ll be honest with you-it isn’t always easy to live in a foreign country. I miss my family. A lot. I have friends here but culturally, it is different. People don’t really open up and they aren’t as likely to want to develop deep relationships so everything stays rather superficial. That is hard for someone like me. Gardening, crochet, sewing and now embroidery have helped me to fill the void and at the same time I “produce” something that can be shared with others.

I think that’s why I really dislike (anti) social media…it is so superficial…

But, I digress….

Everyone else in the neighborhood is outside participating in the spring season in much the same way. Tractors can be heard humming throughout the fields and across the little valley. I really look forward to rice planting season. When the fields are planted and filled with water the frogs move in and the whole area comes alive at night with the sounds of what seems like a million croaking frogs. As I walked around the town I saw the farmers gearing up, getting the fields ready for the annual rice planting activities.

Just about everywhere I looked gardeners were out weeding and digging and just enjoying being outdoors.

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My heart is a bit heavy this spring. Every year since we have moved to Japan I always took my annual trip up to see the kids near Tokyo around this time of the year…but…they left Japan last June and I can’t do that anymore.

I had noticed that I felt out of sorts and about two days ago I realized that last year at this time I was enjoying being with my daughter and her family. Actually, I’m crying writing this post. It is really, really hard not having any of the kids or grand-kids around. But that’s life. We can’t stay near them forever. That isn’t reality for most people.

While I do like living in Japan-there are always two sides to the coin. It is a beautiful country with many awesome reasons for wanting to live here. The reality is that living here comes with a price. At times that price can be a little heavy to bear.

But– the sun is shining at the moment. The rains have stopped a bit so I think I’ll go pick some lettuce for dinner and rejoice in all the Lord has so graciously provided for all those that I love near and far. Later I’ll think some more about my garden planning and perhaps work on an embroidery pattern design that I have in mind for a granddaughter. I was actually thinking of opening an ETSY shop but I’m too busy to make things to sell! Everything I make goes to family and friends!

This post was rather all over the place. That may be the new norm here. Writing like this helps me. The rest of you can come along for the ride.

🙂

 

 

 

Posted in Around The Yard&Garden, Around Town, Little things I love about Japan

Hina Matsuri, Rickshaw Rides, Planting and WIP

The weekend was busy!

On Friday a group of us gals visited the historical home of one of the five coal mine kings of our area. This entire area was once a wealth of coal mines owned by 5 men who are known as: The Five Kings of Coal Mining.

One of them was this man-Santaro Hori. In the photo he stands proudly with his wife, daughter and son. His villa is still standing and well cared for. The family has donated it to the town as a historical landmark and museum. He was a very wealthy man-multi millionaire in his time-during a time when that was an impossible dream for most.

His former home is usually not open to the public-at least not the entire home. They do hold classes in some rooms. You can take a Japanese patchwork class or origami classes. I believe they also have Tea Ceremony lessons.

During Hina Matsuri the home is opened to the public and you can walk through it. There are no furniture left in the home but it isn’t difficult to imagine how grand it must have been.

Before I continue I have to tell you that I had a “catastrophic failure” according to my computer when I was transferring the photos of the house from camera to my laptop. Indeed-I accidentally erased ALL of them. So….here is a link to a post I wrote last year about this home. You can have a look at the photos I took there. It really is a beautiful home–>Touring Saijikan.

At any rate- the gals and I decided to view the Hina Matsuri display there. The first collection you come across when you visit is the patchwork display inside the over 100 year old storage building turned display room.

I love looking at all the wonderful handiwork. So beautiful! There were a couple of ladies on hand giving demonstrations in ball making.
The balls have a Styrofoam base and the material used are all vintage kimono scraps.

Very interesting to us crafters! We left the patchwork display and went on to view the Hina Doll display which was pretty much the same as last year’s display-fortunately you can view the display on last year’s post.

This year I learned something that I didn’t know last year. I remembered wondering what this was:

I thought it was a chute of some kind. Mrs. NI said-chute? Oh,no. This is an indoor access to the window shutters. This home was “state of the art” back in the day-they didn’t have to go outside to close the shutters. They could do it from the inside of the home. She demonstrated for me-she works here as a volunteer so it was okay.

Interesting!

We walked along the beautiful corridors down to the doll display. The home is so lovely!

The kimono display marked the entrance to the display room.

And that marks the end of the photos because the rest are deleted!

We decided to visit two more places that had Hina Matsuri festival displays-the local coal mining museum and another smaller museum in town.

As we were leaving the historical home the local rickshaw driver was outside and asked if we wanted a ride! There were free rides today for the ladies! So…why not? We hopped on board and away we went!

Actually it is such a shame that I lost all those photos because the coal mining museum was awesome. I had never toured a coal mining museum before and I was fascinated by the old photographs. What a grueling job that must have been. I saw photos of men, women and children who worked in the mines. I was shocked at many of them because they worked completely naked. The women had a covering on their bottoms but the men were completely naked. I asked -why? I was told that the mines were extremely hot and being naked was the only way to bear being in them. Things changed later on and safety requirements were established requiring clothing and safety equipment. The equipment is on display and all I can say is-having seen the breathing apparatus needed I would never want to work in the mines. It was quite horrific looking.

It was an awesome day and I learned much about the past history of this area.

The following day was absolutely brilliant and I was able to get out into the garden and get some work done. I got some lettuce planted.

I got the snow peas in the planter boxes and I potted a few pansies.

Very satisfying!

I’ve also been working on a load of crochet projects! Not the best photo-sorry. I just threw them in a heap onto the tatami!

We are definitely in early spring here-such a fun time of year!

Posted in Around The Yard&Garden, Around Town, Cooking

Spring Activity

Early spring and all the lovely activity that comes with it lifts the spirits!

Let me tell you first about an activity that I’ve discovered since moving here. It isn’t just a spring activity but it is easiest for me to participate in during spring……gathering sansai.

Sansai is the Japanese word for mountain vegetable – wild edible plants found in the fields, river banks and woodlands of the Japanese countryside. There are some interesting facts about gathering and using sansai BUT I’ve just written an article for Taikan Japan on that subject in my new series for them: At Home in Rural Japan. When the article is released soon I’ll share the link here -don’t want to be a spoiler.

For now-just come along with me as we forage for nanohana. When I took you on the walk down to the shrine and historical home a while back I shared a photo of a single stem of nanohana, one of the harbingers of spring. They are beginning to pop up everywhere now and this is the perfect time to forage for them. You can buy them cut and neatly packed at the farmer’s market but it is so much more enjoyable to wander the little country roads, dirt paths and fields gathering them yourself. This is what I have been doing almost daily.

Donning my garden apron and a light jacket, basket in hand I set off for my secret spot where I’ve discovered a small field of newly sprouting, tender nanohana.

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They are best picked when they look like this-rather like mini broccoli heads and in fact they are closely related to the broccoli family.

Walking among the spring grasses and ferns I savor the freshness that spring brings. I’m listening for the sound of the uguisu which will soon be heard singing through the valley-the loveliest bird song I have ever heard. A swarm of the tiniest of winged insects hover over a patch of snowdrops as I tread gingerly through the little patch I’ve found. I am overwhelmed with gratitude at what the Lord freely provides for me and I take only what we will eat for dinner tonight.

It is such a lovely day so I decide to wander a bit. Down by the river the ume trees are almost in full bloom and they look lovely draped over the river banks.

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The bare trees you see here are sakura which are now full of buds and soon this humble river bank will be as glorious as any grand riverbank in Japan. We have already planned our hanami party. This year we will have a small BBQ on our patio so that mother and father in law can sit comfortably and enjoy viewing the sakura that are all around our home.

The path that runs along the riverside is inviting with its elegant carpet of moss and I wander down along the river’s edge until I reach the farm road at the end. There is a stunningly beautiful old farm house that sits right on the corner and as I look up I see a white Japanese heron perched right on top of the roof.

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I watched it for quite a while-it never moved. What an interesting and beautiful scene. Standing for several minutes-I admired the home and wondered how on earth they kept that huge tree so beautifully manicured. It is quite expensive to have that done professionally. As I walked past the front of the home I laughed when I noticed that the crest on the roof-top edge was…a crane! The crest is located on the four corners of the home on each level of roof.

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My wandering took me past a few old farmhouses and down to the small lake. Soon the trees along the lake’s edge will be full of nesting heron. I guess this is actually not a lake but one of the many rivers that run criss-cross through our area and all of Japan.

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It was time to return home and prepare for dinner. Nanohana are easy to cook. I soak them first in a large basin of water-rinsing and changing the water several times. Then I boil them for about 2 minutes, drain them and refresh them in cold water for around 30 seconds.

The entire plant can be eaten-flower tops, stem and leaf.

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After that they are squeezed to removed the excess water and cut up in to about 1 inch sized pieces. Seasoning is simple-I drizzle them with sesame oil and citrus soy-sauce. Today I added small crispy dried and fried fish. Really delicious.

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My vegetables cooked -I set about placing the few wild flowers I foraged into vases around the house. The little wall vases are just darling. I found them the other day at our local Daiso of all places!

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Now onto the next activity- sowing my flower seeds and nursing them until they grow into seedlings and the weather warms enough to put them into the ground.

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Posted in Blogging

If you can read this could you kindly let me know?

Well-when I was making the decision to revert back to the free WordPress I specifically read that my readers would be redirected to the old site — at anyrate- that was not the case.

So  trying to decide who can see this. If you can see this post could you just hit the like button? That will help me decide if I want to continue this blog or not. I’ve been looking at Yola blogs..Much better deals over there.

Thanks readers. Sorry for the trouble.

Posted in Blogging

A Day of Buzzing Things

It is safe to say that early spring has arrived. It was such a lovely day today. After breakfast hubby decided to go hit a few golf balls at the local range and I had Sunday afternoon to myself.

Bright sun shining and temps in the upper 50’s – I heard the garden calling…

When we first moved to Japan I didn’t know a lot about gardening but I learned that if you pay attention the garden will teach you. I made lots of mistakes but I think the garden feels more confidant in my handling of it now. We seem to have developed a better relationship.

Our planting season starts now and I didn’t waste  a moment-my arms full of supplies I headed outdoors.

Taking a walk around I silently observed the little changes. There are buds on the blueberry bush now. I noticed fine threads also…little garden spiders have moved in already.

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I saw the Lenten Roses were blooming…they needed a clean up too…

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If you carefully observe the garden will tell you what to do. I set to work with clippers, shovel, rake. Vines were clipped and some clippings were potted in the hanging planters-the vines will grow lush and full and cover the old lattice at the back of the garden.

The back of the garden is also where my little garden tool storage is. Such a handy little space. It’s a kind of crawl space that goes back under part of the house. I use the front part of it to store my garden supplies.

Once I crawled way back in there with a flashlight. It was only later that I noticed a spider in there-its body about as big as my hand. Now I don’t venture in too far anymore.

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As I dug around in the dirt turning over the clods I appreciated the smell of the earth. How many people long for such an experience. To toil in the sun-pruning and trimming and planning what vegetables will go where.

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My garden and I have a love relationship. It isn’t the biggest or fanciest garden around but it fits me. It is like me in so many ways. I heard people say when they see photos of my garden they see me…this is true.

As I worked around on my hands and knees, bent over or sitting on the cool earth -the season’s first buzzing things could be heard. A big black buzzing thing came lumbering by while I was clearing leaves out of the corner and tying up the long lanky leaves of the early Daffodils.

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Little tiny buzzing things flew madly around me as I trimmed the mint.

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Earthworms came wriggling up through the dirt that I had turned over. I love earthworms-they help me so much. I tucked them back under the soil and went about my business sticking my snap pea seeds in the ground by the trellis.

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Even the water garden was cleaned and the potted plants given a once-over. I saw new shoots and I smiled. They are coming…

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I remembered Mrs. Umbrella as I peeked over her wall into her garden. I wonder how she is over at the nursing home. I wonder if she misses her garden. What a lovely full garden it was! Every single morning at 5am she was outside taking care of it. Now…it’s rather sad. Most of the plants have been ripped out by her daughter. I saw a few flowers had come up on their own in one of the pots looking rather lonely and forlorn…as if waiting for her…and she never came.

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My 3pm snack of hot coffee and a small piece of cream-sponge cake was heavenly. I think the most expensive 5 star restaurant can’t beat sitting in my garden looking out over the valley and the mountains beyond.

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Soon the bush that looks like nothing more than a bunch of sticks now-will be full and lush and beautiful….filled with huge pink and purple hydrangea. It is already full of buds.

I was so wonderfully satisfied at the end of the afternoon. Things were cleaned, seeds had been planted…and dozens of seedlings were already coming up in my flower beds.

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Now it’s time to get to work doing the serious planning of what goes where. I have some idea but the rest will be hashed out this week.

Spring…wonderful spring…

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blogging

NOTICE

Notice to my readers-on the 24th of February my premium theme runs out and I am not renewing it as it’s a cost I can’t really afford right now. What that means is that CONNIENAKA.COM my custom domain will not longer exist. WordPress will revert my address to the old address——->

https://connienaka.wordpress.com

As far as I know it should not affect readers-but you never know…so I’m posting the old address here for you now…just in case.

Posted in Blogging

The First Day of Spring part 2

February here is still very cold. Most days the skies are grey and overcast. At first glance over the landscape the trees are still bleak, leafless and dreary.

However, if one kneels down and inspects closely, the tips of tiny green shoots can be seen shoving aside the earth and making their way upwards. The same thing happens upon close inspection of the trees.

I stood and observed a few sakura trees beside the roadside. Grey fuzzy nodules lined the branches- a sure sign that in a few weeks our area would be in its spring glory!

It is always interesting to me how this is citrus season and I marveled at all the heavily laden fruit trees.

The way to the historical home takes you through the older part of town where many of the buildings are so tipsy looking that it seems as if a strong wind could knock them down.

There is an old shop along the way that I always stop and peek into. It’s reminiscent of the old-style Edo period shops with big wide doors that are kept open to the public. As I peeked in I saw big bottles of sake, bags of rice, crates, wooden boxes and more. I’ve never gone in and really looked around though. Every time I have stolen a look- there wasn’t anyone in there despite the doors being open! Amazing.

A bit further down the narrow road sits a small park with a rather curious statue. I have photographed this statue before and asked around a bit regarding the significance of it but no one seems to know.

She is bent low to the ground -completely naked. I have pondered many times about what this statue could represent. There are no signs around describing her-so I guess I’m left to wonder.

Before crossing the street I stood for a bit and admired the remnants of an old gate and building structure that had been incorporated into a newer home. I am fortunate here as we have so many old buildings and structures that remind of days gone by. Standing for a moment I envisioned kimono clad citizens, their wooden geta clacking loudly as they hurried on their way.

Directly above this property sits the Japanese traditional villa “Nogata Saiji Kan”. It was the same home I featured in last year’s Hina Matsuri post. If you missed it-don’t worry as Hina Matsuri is coming up soon.

The home was not open but I saw the garden gate open and decided to sit for a while.

It’s a good thinking spot. There were two other ladies sitting on the veranda chatting. I decided to visit again when the weather was nice and warm. I’ll bring some tea and a notebook, sit on the veranda and gaze out over the gardens and city below. How grand to have been the mistress here at one time.

I stayed only a few minutes. The little old ladies chatter kept me company. Noticing the climbers on the way out I got an idea for my garden.

It was almost 2:30pm and time to slowly make my way back. There is a little strip of shops along the road that are as unique as can be. The main shop sits rather in the middle with several other little shoplets all around it. Everyone of them quaint and delightful-selling all sorts of handmade items, pottery and beautiful handkerchiefs. Antique kimono and various accessories, linens, wall hangings and such are in another. The main shop has all sorts of trinkets, chopsticks, washi-paper and adorable postcards-and that’s only the half of what they have for sale.

They also have free coffee so I made a pit-stop for a cuppa and picked through their selection of seasonal handkerchiefs because I thought it was time for a new one. For 500 yen I walked away with a beautiful and delicate new handkerchief featuring teacups painted in four-seasons flora.

So far I had spent 675 yen out of my 1,220 yen total. My stomach was growling and I had 545 yen left jingling in my pocket. I counted it twice to make sure. I knew just the place where that would be more than enough to fill my stomach for the 45 minute walk home-the train station coffee shop.

A cup of coffee, half a bacon-cheese pita bread and a sweet-bean bun later I was ready to hit the road home and…I still had around 43 yen to spare!

It had gotten a bit cold, especially as I crossed over the long Ongagawa River bridge where it is always guaranteed to be windy. There were so many ducks on the river and in the distance I saw people preparing the area where the annual tulip festival is always held.

A hot cup of cocoa and a short nap were wonderfully delightful after my (cheap) day out.

Posted in Blogging

The First Day of Spring-part 1

Risshun marks the beginning of spring on the old Japanese calendar. The day before Risshun is Setsubun – the bean throwing festival.

To celebrate the beginning of spring I always do a little something. Mostly that “something” is get in the garden and start to get things ready. But I had not been out for a long walk for a while-since I came down with- strepinfluenzaasthmaarthritis. (yes all of those at once). I decided that on Setsubun my camera and I would go and explore the local shrine.

I am very fond of spending as little money as possible. We live a very minimalist lifestyle. I rarely ever carry a lot of money and I don’t allow myself a very big personal spending budget.

On this day I had 1,220 yen or around $12.00. All in coins. I love making a game out of seeing how far I can stretch my little budget.The reason why I’m including this in the post is because people always seem to think Japan is so expensive and you need a wheelbarrow full of money to enjoy a day in Japan. Not so-come on along I’ll show you.

A ten-minute walk to the bus-stop I caught the number 3 bus down to the train station–cost 170 yen.  With my leg still hurting a bit I thought it better to take the bus most of the way down. Walking to the train station takes me about 30-45 minutes. I wanted to save my leg a bit.

Walking from the train station to Nogata Shrine takes about 10 minutes.

Signs of spring were evident. This is nanohana. Soon the fields will be a filled with yellow and my nose will run. The flowers are edible and make very tasty tempura.

It looks like a big city in the background but It isn’t really.

There were a few people walking up the steps to the shrine with me. Since it was Setsubun I guessed they were on their way to pray.

First stop was the hand washing station or the purification well. The water was cold as I washed first my left hand then my right and poured a little into my right hand to rinse out my mouth. Drying my hands on a clean white towel I sat for a moment to enjoy the daffodils and take a bite out of the chocolate bar I tucked into my bag.

I always love the big old heavy doors of the shrines. They remind me of castle fort doors.

I expected there to be people here but besides the old woman tending the small festival tent, I was the only one here.

I threw a 5 yen coin into the offertory box and prayed for my family and then wandered around a bit enjoying the beauty and stillness of the shrine grounds.

The ume trees were blossoming and soon the branches would be laden with pink.

A few others trickled in and out to pray.

I stayed for a few moments and chatted with the woman who was tending the festival tent. She gave me a wonderfully delicious cup of ginger/citrus tea.
I stood by the wall over looking the city and thought about where to wander next. I wasn’t far from the old historical home so I started off in that direction.

So far I’d only spent 175 yen.

To be continued….

 

 

Posted in Blogging

Recipe for Home-Style Japanese Miso Soup

Miso-the ancient super food. First brought to Japan from China by Buddhist priests around 1,300 years ago it was originally consumed by nobility because it was considered a delicacy. At that time it contained rice which was expensive.

Miso’s fame spread when it became known for its rich energy-giving properties and was adopted by samurai as a staple part of their diet.

Miso is made from fermented soybeans and grains and contains millions of beneficial bacteria. It’s also a good source of  B vitamins, vitamins E, K and folic acid. There are various types and blends but the most common is made from fermented soybeans. This is usually the kind that I use daily. Sometimes I use mugi-miso or barley miso. Some miso is saltier, some sweeter and some fermented longer.

Miso is a protein-rich paste and we add it to various dishes. It adds a wonderful flavor base to soup. I also muddle it with mirin and use it to season stir-fried vegetables. Sometimes I spread it on fish that is cooked in a pan. It is lovely muddled with mirin and added to stir-fried eggplant that is then sprinkled with sesame seeds.

There are a variety of ways that you can make miso soup-this is how I make ours.

Basic Home-Style Japanese Miso Soup

Ingredients:

Vegetables-carrots, Chinese cabbage, seaweed (dried or fresh depending upon what I have). Sometimes I add sliced onions and mushrooms.

Dashi- I used to use powdered dashi which is made from fish. When my husband was diagnosed with diabetes we started to order liquid dashi that is made from kombu or seaweed (kombu is seaweed-not to be confused with a concoction called “kombucha” which is not Japanese and not seaweed). We switched to the liquid kombu-dashi at the recommendation of my husband’s doctor.

on the left-powdered dashi made from fish-on the right kombu-dashi

Miso-I use either plain soybean miso or a barley-soybean miso.

I use a 5 cup sauce pan.

Making the soup: One note-my husband is a diabetic and needs a very low salt diet so my measurements are for his diet. You can adjust the dashi and miso to suit your taste. The recipe is flexible. Although-I eat the same food and am much healthier for it. My blood pressure was high before but, since I started eating low salt, my blood pressure is normal. No more headaches either.

First you have to make the dashi- or the base. I fill the sauce pan about 3/4 full of water and add a tablespoon and a half of liquid kombu-dashi.

Then I slice the carrots, I cut the Chinese cabbage into small pieces, maybe some sliced onions, even a few mushrooms-and add them all to the pot. I throw in a spoonful of dried seaweed or add fresh seaweed if I have it. I let the veggies simmer for a few minutes.

Many people add a potato cut into small cubes. Because of my husband’s dietary restrictions I don’t.

After about 5 minutes or so I add 2 tablespoons of miso paste and use my long-handled cooking chopsticks to stir the paste around until it is pretty much dissolved.

Then I turn the gas down low and simmer the soup until the vegetables are cooked.

That’s it. It is a very easy soup to make and it is very flexible. Different areas around Japan might have their own twist -but this is how it is generally cooked in our area.

If you have an Asian store near you with Japanese products you will probably be able to find the powdered dashi. It is a staple product and can be found in almost every Japanese kitchen. Every Asian store that I have ever been in (outside of Japan) has this product.  It is called hon-dashi and made from fish.

Happy cooking-let me know how your soup turned out!