Edible Art

Posted by on Oct 8, 2011 in Chiba, Travel Volunteer Journey | 6 Comments
Edible Art

Much of this post will strike native Japanese readers as being as obvious as the basic laws of gravity or the news that fire is hot. But then most people who visit the country aren’t native – nor are they particularly knowledgeable before they arrive. So you’ll forgive us, please, if we sound like wide-eyed gaijins today.

We’re out in the countryside in southern Chiba, a little more than an hour away from Tokyo and yet you’d have no idea the megalopolis was so close. Out here there are annual hunts for deer and wild boar. Without exaggeration, it’s perhaps the greenest part of Japan we’ve visited so far, too.

Some of the people have been here for generations, but a significant amount of the houses have been built with money that was earned in the big cities in the last few years. It’s not hard to see the appeal of moving out here, with rolling hills, mild weather for most of the year, and a huge amounts of fresh produce from local farms. For newly rural types, there are rice paddy cooperatives, with little terraces available to hire by the year. There’s commercial rice grown too, but wherever it comes from, in this part of Japan it’s being put to good use.

No prefecture can seriously lay claim to having sushi as their regional speciality – that’d be like an American state claiming to have invented the potato – and we’ve found it on offer in every part of every prefecture so far, with little variation save for some of the fish included.

But here in Chiba sushi is a fine art, and it’s the fanciness, the showmanship, that is peculiar to the region.

For foreigners like us the very basics needed some explaining. First of all, sushi does not have to have raw fish in it: this is a common misconception in Britain, and one that limits its popularity. Thanks to several government scare stories and warnings over the years, Brits prefer to boil, fry or bake the life our of anything for a good few hours before we’re ready to eat it. Buying a twitching fish in a market and eating it a few minutes later? No thank you.

Thankfully, Katy and I have been enjoying sushi and sashimi (plain, raw fish) in all its forms for years. It turns out that for something to be considered sushi, it’s only defining characteristic is that it must include the vinegar-soaked rice. All other ingredients are optional. The other names, complicated as some of them sound to foreigners, usually refer to the way in which the dishes are prepared. Today we learned how to make some of the most complex of all: futomaki matsurizushi, or thick-rolled festival sushi.

Or if not learned, then were at least shown how. Our sensei Masako Kawana had invited us into her home and kindly prepared all of the ingredients for us, making our job considerably easier. At least in theory. Trying to balance the various component parts, rolling them tightly and not tearing the nori (sea weed sheets) was far harder than the master made it look.

I’d love to be able to reproduce the recipe and technique here, but in truth we were concentrating so hard on not destroying lunch that it passed us by in a blur. We held on tight, though, and by the end we opened it up and… Well were quite surprised.

And it was delicious. The slightly sweetened rice, the burdock, the seaweed, the komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach), the kampyo… They came together brilliantly, while each holding their own flavour. It all looked so pretty, but sitting on a tatami mat, listening to the birds and the insects fight for airtime on the country breeze, it somehow tasted right, too.

*We’d like to offer a special thanks to Bill Burgos for taking the pictures today. He may be a Nikon user, but we won’t hold that against him – especially when his work is as good as this.


今日私達は千葉県の南部(南房総 / 鴨川)にお邪魔している。“あの”大都市・東京からたった1時間ぐらいでこれほどにも自然豊かな場所に来る事ができるなど、多くの人は想像もつかないだろう。ここでは鹿や猪の狩りも行われているそうだ!大げさに言っているわけではなく、今まで訪れた中でもっとも“大自然”を感じる場所かもしれない。






本当はここで材料や作り方をみなさんにお披露目したかったのだが、とにかく壊さないように巻くことに必死で、それをいちいち覚えている余裕は全くなかった・・・。 だが必死に巻いて、それを開けてみると・・・感動!!!




  1. Kat
    October 8, 2011

    It’s amazing how they make those designs. I can make sushi but I usually just put the ingredients in and roll them up without thinking about how they’ll look like (so long as they don’t fall apart). Sushi’s one of my favorite Japanese foods… and now I’m craving for one.

    By the way, if I may ask: What camera are you guys using?

    • Katy & Jamie
      October 9, 2011

      We both use Canon – Katy has a 5D and I have a 550D, or what’s left of it at least.

    • Bill
      October 9, 2011


      Bill here. I assisted Jamie and Katy for this.

      I used a Nikon D700 with a 17-35mm 2.8 lens for the photos of Jamie, Katy and Masako in the kitchen.

  2. Ryoko Okamoto
    October 9, 2011

    there are various kind of sushi(raw fish in it or not) in japan.please enjoy them!

  3. Si Wei
    October 9, 2011

    The photos are amazing! I wish I can learn how to make sushi too! :)

  4. Karin
    October 10, 2011

    wow that looks really amazing! My sushi rolls never look that good ;-)