The sky feels closer with the looming clouds hanging heavy with rain. As we shift into tsuyu season, everyday life can sometimes seem a little onerous: our feet get wet on a quick walk outside, our linens take longer to dry, and the pickles need to be protected from moisture and molding. But a look underwater reminds us that while the rain may feel burdensome for us, it signifies nourishment and abundance for other forms of life around us.
Plants that use up their nutrients for rebirth, growth, and blooming in the Spring quench their thirst and prepare for a scorching summer. When the paddy fields are particularly full of water, carps swim freely in the waterways that flank each field and feed on a diverse mix of bugs. It’s during this time that farmers plant rice, which grows in the summer sun and is harvested in fall.
This is also the time when ayu fish leave Lake Biwa and start their expedition upstream to lay eggs. They are typically double the size as they are in the winter, since they build strength in the mineral-rich water, which has been replenished by run off water from the mountains. Fukudaya’s aruji, Kazuki, fishes just enough ayu for the number of guests that day using cast nets so that we can enjoy ayu at the peak of their vitality.
Ayu are extremely delicate; they can only live in clean water, and timing is key. Once they are fished, they can quickly become bitter if they are exposed to sunlight, or if they are kept in water for too long. Kazuki prepares the charcoal for the irori, and skillfully threads the ayu on skewers to grill gently over low and even heat. As they start to brown and become fragrant, they confirm the quality of its preparation and handling. The ideal ayu will form a perfect gentle S-curve as it is grilled, revealing its last traces of vitality. Even though Kazuki has prepared them with the utmost care, a couple of them take on a slightly bent shape. The difficulty of preparing ayu makes it a rare delicacy.
At this time of year, we can be tempted to daydream about sunnier days. But through rich flavours and mesmerizing sights, the landscape shows us that nature is simply keeping its rhythm. As the rain clears just before dusk, the sun’s rays paint the sky a surreal blend of purple and orange, reassuring us that everything is as it should be.