Nanohana in the Japan Times, plus the "Oborozukiyo" Hazy Spring Moon children's song

This month's Japanese Kitchen column in the Japan Times is about nanohana, a quintessential early spring vegetable. It's actually the young, tender shoots of the rapeseed plant, which has gotten a name makeover these days in the U.S. as canola. The plant is a mamber of the brassica family, which includes things like cabbage, cauliflower broccoli, which nanohana closely resembles.


It seems that there's a cultivar of nanohana sold in some parts of the U.S. that is named broccolini, so if you run into it I hope you'll give it a try. The simplest way to enjoy nanohana Japanese style is as ohitashi, which I describe how to make in the article.

Nanohana no ohitashi

You can also just steam it, stir fry it, and use it in any way you would broccoli. I would hesitate to use this wasabi sauce on it because the wasabi might kill the delicate flavor of the nanohana, but it might be worth a try.

In the article I mention a famous children's song called Oborozuki-yo (朧月夜) - "Hazy Moonlit Spring Night". Here's a version of the song sung by the Tokyo Children's Chorus, with images of nanohana fields in full bloom.

And here is the great Sayuri Ishikawa singing it in 1993 - embedding is disabled on this video, so go over to YouTube to take a listen.

Oborozukiyo belongs to a type of children's song in Japan called shōka (shohka, 唱歌), which is short for monbushō shōka (文部省唱歌), a series of songs that were included in the officially sanctioned music textbooks used in schools in Japan from the 1920s to the 1930s by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (currently the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, or MEXT), until the military-controlled government took over and made Japanese kids sing more overtly patriotic songs. Oborozukiyo first appeared in elementary school textbooks in 1914. Many were specially commissioned by the ministry from established songwriters. Although they aren't a formal part of musical education anymore, many of these gentle, evocative songs are deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, and many people know at least the first verse or so.

Here's another song in this genre: Haru no ogawa (春の小川, "Spring Stream", which made its debut in 1912.) The lyrics are about the little stream that flows along with a "sarasara" sound, cheerfully telling the flowers along its bed that it's time to start blossoming now.

Spring is just around the corner. I can't wait - how about you?


Filed under:  vegetables spring cool stuff from japan writing elsewhere japan times japanese culture

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Here's a fun fact, CANOLA actually stands for Canadian oil, low-acid. It is a strain of rapeseed that was developed at the University of Manitoba in the 70's.

I didn't know that. Thanks for posting it!

AH! I had no clue what that was, but I remember my grandmother serving it to us with katsuobushi when I was a small child. I remember despising it, thinking she was trying to get me to eat more broccoli, which as a child I hated.

I should try it again, now that I'm older I'd probably love it. :)

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In France, would it be ok to use the rapessed that is growm for its oil ? I've always heard of the American's "broccolini" and never founs out what it actually was, now I see the light !
(not that I would try my luck picking it from the fields, knowing the amount of pesticiades used on it, but I'd really like to know if an organic one would be good to eat)

I am really not sure - it's possible that commercial rapeseed has been hybridized to maximize seed yield rather than tender, flavorful shoots. In Italy they have broccoli rabe or broccoli rape or rapini, which is a bit tougher but rather similar. I've never seen it for sale hear though. (I did see it sometimes in Zürich when we lived there, but Switzerland has a much stronger Italian influence than France.)

i love japan food but i just taste some. I want taste more. And this food its look cheerful with green and pink... its must be delicious

This must be what the Chinese call youcai - literally oil vegetable - I love it, has always been one of my favourite veg. One can buy the seeds and it grows quite easily, I just gave it up as the slugs, here in Switzerland, simply kept demolishing it. Cime di rapa is probably what comes closest, although I don't find it has the same tender taste.

My mom used to sing those songs when we'd go out into the desert to gather mustard greens for ohitashi in the Spring. I guess they're the closest things she could find back in the '70s.