Alex Kerr Interview, Part Two  
  Alex Kerr was born in 1952 in the state of Maryland in the USA. He first came to Japan with his family at the age of twelve in 1964, and lived on the naval base in Yokohama for two years thereafter. Mr. Kerr graduated from Yale University with a BA in Japanese Studies in 1974. Over the course of his university studies, he spent a year at Tokyo's Keio University as a Rotary International Scholar. He then went on receive an MA in Chinese Studies from Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar. Mr. Kerr currently resides in Bangkok, Thailand, but has also lived in Japan for over twenty years in Kameoka (Kyoto-Fu) and Iya (Tokushima-Ken). Mr. Kerr might be described as a "Renaissance Man": he has worked as a translator, an interpreter, a writer, and an art consultant. He is the founding president and a coordinator for cultural events for "Chiiori Co.Ltd." a fine arts company based in Japan and Thailand. He has translated books and served as an interpreter for Buddhist and Shinto organizations, as well as exhibiting his calligraphy works, making multiple appearances in the Japanese, Thai and American media, and serving as the Japan-based representative for Trammell Crow Company.Mr. Kerr is well known for his writings in both Japanese and English. His books include "LOST JAPAN", ("Utsukushiki Nihon no Zanzo", written in Japanese, and the first foreign recipient of the Shincho Literature Prize), and "DOGS AND DEMONS"("Inu to Oni" in Japanese).

  Q: "Project X", a popular NHK television program, recently documented how craftsmen restored Katsura Detached Palace (桂離宮), a four-hundred year old imperial villa. I was moved to see how enthusiastically the craftsmen worked. They demonstrated many of the values that have disappeared from Japanese society: passion, heart, sincerity, and a respect for nature. Where have these values gone?
  A: Society as a whole does not value these things anymore. But that does not mean these qualities have disappeared. People who exhibit these qualities still exist, and the traditional knowledge is still here. Kyoto is an amazing place in this respect. But the city planners seem to be determined to destroy the traditional landscape. This morning I went to Entsuji, a temple famous for its shakkei (借景), or "borrowed landscape". It's considered to have the greatest borrowed landscape garden in Japan. Entsuji has been fighting plans to build a condominium next to their land because it will destroy the beautiful "borrowed" view of Hieizan mountain. However, the City of Kyoto is showing no particular concern about the condominium's construction. This is very sad thing. The government has very little respect for the city's natural beauty. They don't understand what Kyoto symbolizes to the rest of the world. Although the city is being taken over by this sort of undesirable development, Kyoto still has the resources of its highly skilled craftspeople . For example, consider the process of making wagashi (和菓子:Japanese hand made sweets). The craftsman will first draw an illustration of the sweet he is going to create, then select a shape, color, and name for the sweet. When the sweet is finished and displayed at the shop, people may not understand the depth of this process, but the soul of the craftsman exists within the sweet itself. For this reason, Kyoto is still a fascinating place.
  Q: You recently moved to Bangkok to further pursue your business. Why did you choose Bangkok as your new home? Thailand and Japan are both Buddhist Asian countries, so there are some similarities between the two. What do you think are the major differences between the countries?
  A: Well, the move to Bangkok is not so recent. I went to Bangkok for the first time in 1972. After the late 1980's I began spending large amounts of time there each year. Thai culture actually sheds a lot of light on Japanese culture, in my view. Thailand and Japan are both Buddhist countries. The big difference is that Thailand falls into India's sphere of influence, and Japan in China's. Yet, while it is true that Japan's classical culture is strongly influenced by China, the traditional lifestyle is more closely related to Southeast Asia. For example, the usage of polite speech in Japanese is very similar to the extremely polite forms of speech in the Thai language. Traditional home architecture (wooden houses raised on pillar supports) and certain types of clothing (in particular, kimono undergarments) are also very similar to their Southeast Asian counterparts.
  Q: Historically, other Japanese cities have looked to Kyoto as a role model for an ideal city. In recent times, however, Kyoto has become increasingly uglier. In "Dogs and Demons", you wrote that Japan suffers from a lack of a "middle-ground" things are either considered to be old and inconvenient or replaced by something new and tasteless. Today, Kyoto is a mismatch of old and new styles, with no continuum in between. What do you think people can do on an individual level to develop this continuum and rediscover the harmony with nature that made Kyoto a beautiful place to live in the past?
  A: Actually, I feel a change is happening these days. Two days ago I went to a Chinese restaurant in Kyoto called "Zezekan" that was housed in a big old textile merchant's residence. New proprietors took the house and did something very nice with it. People are beginning to see how old houses can be updated to be stylish and comfortable. A machiya movement has been started in Kyoto.
  Old machiya homes have been converted into modern restaurants, inns, boutiques, hair parlors and so forth. This causes people to view these old houses in a new light. This change of attitude is important. These positive changes help to slow the destruction of the city's natural beauty, and help make Kyoto a nicer place to live. Many difficulties remain, however, such as high inheritance taxes. The city government may not see it, but the citizens are changing their attitudes. These people understand that old houses can be updated to be comfortable and modern. Various movements towards change are arising in the city.
  Q: I'm convinced that your sometimes harsh opinions are motivated by a deep love for Japan. I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts on what can be done to make Japan a better place to live in the future.
  A: My old sensei Shirasu Masako once told me, "If you truly love something, you must get angry about it." A sense of dissatisfaction, or even anger, is positive, because it triggers change. For example, a few years ago Kyoto City Hall proposed a plan to build a bridge halfway along Pontocho (between Shijo and Sanjo), modeled after a modern bridge in Paris. They were going to call it "Pont des Arts", or Bridge of Arts. But the citizens of Kyoto fought it with a petition movement, and the plans for the bridge were cancelled. As soon as people feel that they something have to fight for, things starts to change and become better. When people have a strong negative reaction to something, it means they are trying to protect what they love, and that leads to positive action. Apathy is the biggest problem in my opinion. In Japan, there is little change from the "center" such as in big government or big business, but many discussions are happening in small cities or at the prefectural level. Lots of people are trying to make cities a nicer place to live. Now is really an interesting time to live in Kyoto.
  The "center"- the big corporate-bureaucratic system that used to run Japan so efficiently, has stagnated almost beyond repair. But this means that it's a time of opportunity, like when the giant dinosaurs faced extinction and tiny mammals, who were more adaptable, stepped in to fill new ecological niches. I think that there is more room now in Japan than there has ever been in the last few decades for people on the "fringe" to accomplish something. By "fringe" I mean young people with good ideas, or entrepreneurs, or upstart politicians, or foreigners. It's now possible for them to really influence society, and this is exciting.
   I don't think we can sit back and say, "Well, now Kyoto is going to be OK, we can relax." After all, plans such as the one which will damage Entsuji are still moving forward, and the City Office is a long way from appreciating what is important about Kyoto, both for Japan and for the world. Even the "Pont des Arts" bridge is only postponed, not completely cancelled, and there is no saying when the plan will be revived under a different name. So we'll have to go on being disappointed and angry for the time being. However, there is definitely change in the wind. Almost every day in Kyoto I run across a project which is really forward looking, or a person whose work I find intriguing or exciting. There's much to hope for.

  After I finished my interview with Alex Kerr, having read his two books, seen the documentaries on T.V. and taken part in the symposium for Kyoto landscapes, I felt that we should start seriously considering the ways Kyoto City has started to destroy its beauty. It's a matter of fact that the Japanese government's support is necessary for Kyoto to survive as a beautiful world heritage city. What is more important is the combined power of Kyoto citizens, other Japanese and people from all over the world. Economically speaking, Japan is the second wealthiest country in the world but where does it stand in terms of cultural wealth? In the old days we could say that Japan was culturally sophisticated country with confidence, but now we cannot be so sure. The development of our national economy is very important but culture is what makes our lives worth living! It is crucial that we remember this fact.
- Interview by Akiko Tara
  Unlike the West, where tofu tends to be eaten only by vegetarians and health food fanatics, tofu is a standard ingredient in Japanese and other Asian cooking. You might be put off by the unnappealing name- the kanji for tofu(豆腐) literally means "rotten beans", but tofu itself (unlike it's cousin natto) has a delicate, inoffensive taste that absorbs other flavors well and can be used to add protein to any kind of cooking. There are many different varieties of tofu and ways to cook them, so why not give tofu a try?

  The Process of Making Tofu
   Tofu is made from raw soy beans. It is possible to make tofu at home, but it's a fairly complicated process, so you'd probably be better off buying it at the store. The process of making tofu is this: firstly, the soybeans are soaked in water overnight. The soybeans are then mashed and boiled in hot water, which causes them to separate into liquid (soymilk) and fiber (okara) both of which are edible. The soy milk is strained, and a coagulant is added (traditionally sea salt in Japan, or another chemical), which causes the tofu to separate into something resembling curds and whey. The tofu curds are then pressed into blocks to make tofu.
  Here is an overview of the different kinds of tofu and related soy products you can buy at any Japanese supermarket:
   Tonyu 豆乳 is soy milk, which is used to make tofu. It is an ideal replacement for cow's milk for people who are lactose intolerant or wish to have a health boost in their diet. It is virtually indistinguishable from regular milk when used in cooking or coffee.
   Yuba 湯葉 Yuba is the skin that forms over soy milk during the pasteurization process. It is like a paper-thin layer of tofu that can be softened in water and used to wrap raw spring rolls or sushi (in place of nori).
   Okara おから When soy beans are boiled, they separate into soy milk (from which tofu is made) and okara, a high fiber pulp. Okara is frequently thrown away or fed to animals, but it is actually quite delicious and can also be used to make traditional Japanese home cooking.
   Kinugoshi Dofu 絹ごし豆腐" silk tofu" refers to a very soft, smooth tasting tofu. It has a delicate flavor and crumbles very easily. It is best to use kinugoshi dofu in miso soup, in hiya yakko (chilled) tofu, or for smoothies and puddings. It can be pureed and used as a non-dairy substitute for mayonnaise, sourcream, ricotta cheese etc. in recipes
   Momen Dofu 木綿豆腐 is a coarser, sturdier type of tofu than kinugoshi, which makes it suitable for stir-frys and the like.
   Yakidofu 焼き豆腐 "broiled tofu" is momen tofu that has been grilled over a flame. It is generally eaten in specific dishes such as sukiyaki, but also works well in stir fries and other dishes.
   Abura-age油揚げ is a thin piece of fried tofu, that is sometimes seasoned to make dishes such as inarizushi and kitsune udon.
   Atsu-age 厚揚げ is a thick block of tofu that has been deep fried. It is sold either in a large block or in cubes or triangles which are often included in oden, nimono and other boiled dishes.
   Koya dofu 高野豆腐is named after the vegetarian monks who live on top of Koya Mountain (高野山). The mountain gets so cold in the winter that it causes the tofu to freeze, resulting in a spongy texture. You can buy dried koya tofu at most grocery stores, which is then re-constituted with water. You can also make koyadofu yourself by sticking a block of regular tofu in the freezer overnight, which will have a coarser texture than the store-bought kind. Koyadofu has a good texture to be used as a meat substitute, and absorbs flavors well, like a sponge.
  Seasonal Tofu
  There are hundreds of recipes using tofu that can be found in Japanese cookbooks or on the internet. Since tofu is a fairly versatile ingredient, you can experiment with using it in your own cooking. In Japan, two of the most popular ways of eating tofu involve very little preparation at all- hot and cold tofu served in winter and summer respectively.
  Cold Tofu (Hiya Yakko) In the summer time, Tofu is always eaten as hiya yakko tofu, which implies fresh, uncooked tofu served cold. It is extremely easy to make- just take a block of fresh kinugoshi tofu, cut it into fours, and serve it topped with soy sauce, grated ginger, sliced green onions, or bonito flakes, depending on which you prefer. This is a light and refreshing side-dish to eat in hot weather.
  Yu Dofu Of course, this being January, it's more likely you'll partake of yu dofu (hot water tofu), a simple, warming dish that has been raised to an art form in Kyoto. You can make yu dofu by simmering kinugoshi tofu that has been cut into cubes in a large pot with hot water and a piece of konbu. The hot tofu is then served with toppings like bonito flakes or green onions. You can use warm tsuyu (a mix of dashi, soy sauce and mirin sold at most grocery stores) as a dipping sauce.
  Miso Soup with Tofu
  This is one of the most standard types of miso soup served with Japanese meals
   1 /2 block kinugoshi dofu, chopped into 1 cm cubes
   2 green onions, finely chopped
   1 quart prepared dashi (soup stock- available at grocery store)
   1/3 cup miso paste (white or red)
   2 tbsp. dried wakame
   Heat the dashi until it begins to boil. Reduce the heat, add the wakame and simmer for a few minutes more. Take a few tablespoons of the broth and mix it with the miso in a separate bowl until the miso dissolves. Add the tofu to the broth and cook for another minute, then turn off the heat and add the miso into the broth, stirring well. Serve topped with sliced green onions.
  Koya Dofu
   3-4 pieces of dried koya dofu
   2 tbsp. sake
   2 cups dashi
   2 tbsp. mirin
   3 tbsp. soy sauce
   Reconstitute the koya dofu by soaking it in warm water for 20 minutes and then squeezing the water out. Simmer the koya dofu with the remaining ingredients for twenty minutes in a partially covered pot. This can be eaten warm or cold, or added to other dishes such as udon or nabe. This is a good winter time dish.
-Bianca Jarvis
 Japanese Sweets In Kyoto:
 January: Hanabira Mochi 
  Hanabira mochi is a sweet that is considered to be lucky, and therefore people usually eat it as the first sweet of the New Year. Its name means "flower petal". Although it doesn't really resemble a flower petal, its pink and white colors and elegant, pure-looking appearance might remind you of pink flower petals that have fallen on winter snow.
  In the Royal Court of Japan there used to be a New Year's tradition called ohagatame (御歯固め). This was a custom that was transmitted from China. In olden times, people would bite a hard candy in order to strengthen their teeth and celebrate their good health in the New Year.
  In Japan, people would eat foods like kagami mochi (鏡餅: a large rice cake which used as a decoration on New Year's day), oshiayu (押鮎: Pressed salted ayu fish, a traditional new year's dish), daikon (大根)and so on in place of hard candy. Some centuries later, kagami mochi changed to hishi mochi (菱餅: a diamond shaped rice cake shaped like a water chestnut or hishi), and oshiayu was replaced by gobo (牛蒡:burdock root). This is the origin of hanabira mochi.
  Modern hanabira mochi is made with a piece of plain white mochi wrapped around a pink diamond shaped piece of mochi containing sweet gobo and miso an(味噌餡). Gobo is sometimes called hiraki gobo (開き牛蒡: open gobo) as it is believed that eating burdock root will open the door to good fortune. People eat hanabira mochi every New Year while praying for long lives and good health.
  Hanabira mochi is made with some of the same ingredients as ozoni(雑煮), the traditional lucky New Years soup containing miso and mochi. How about trying hanabira mochi and wishing for good health this New Year!
-R. Hakamada
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