“How many seasons do you have in the United States?”
“Hmmm…we have about 100. Because it’s entirely plausible that the earth can inhabit 100 different positions around the sun in one country, but only four in another.”
They like to say there are four seasons in Japan. We like to say there are two seasons in Los Angeles: Spring, and Rain. That being said, there are still four seasons in Los Angeles. There are four seasons in North Carolina (four very beautiful seasons.) In fact, there are even four seasons in the Arctic Circle, even though that area is only relevant during one of them.
But all bitterness aside, let’s discuss autumn in Japan.
This season is called “the season of food,” and is peak harvest time. It’s a season of stuffing oneself in preparing for the coming winter. It’s a season of that strange burning smell coming from the farms around my apartment. And it’s a season of orange: persimmons, an attempt at mimicking Halloween, Japanese sweet potatoes (red on the outside, orange on the inside), mikan, Japanese pumpkins (green on the outside, yellow-y on the inside), and my tiresome search for pumpkin-scented anything. The last one isn’t any color in particular, actually.
More so than my home and native land, Japan cares about seasonality. I’d forgotten what “seasonality” meant, until my vice principal dropped a grilled sweet potato on my desk last October. I haven’t turned back since (I also haven’t successfully roasted a sweet potato since then.) The alternative name for the season, which is usually aki (秋), is shun no shokuzai. It means “peak seasonal produce.” In addition to the aforementioned orange things, that includes the first rice harvest (shinmai, 新米), mackerel (shioyaki sanma, 塩焼きさんま), chestnuts, gingko nuts, figs, apples, and matsutake mushrooms.
Any day now, my school will start serving new rice with boiled chestnuts, sliced persimmons, and fried mackerel. I think I just gave myself a foodgasm thinking about it…
Not only will the food change, but the mood, decorations, and dishes will change. In other words, I will start using coffee-scented candles instead of vanilla, because I can’t find a pumpkin-scented thing to save my life. Restaurants will use ceramic and clay dishes instead of glass; brown, red, and orange will adorn walls around the country; and I will start wearing cardigans again.
From now until I fly home, it’s Sweet Potato Day every single day. Once I can figure out this roasting business, I’ll throw up some recipes here.