Our clothes is something that is closest to us. It acts as an intermediary between “self” and “society,” it protects the body and soul, and at times speaks more about ourselves than words. What goes through the mind of creators in various fields when they choose their clothes?
He is an “onigiri artisan.” He doesn’t have a shop, but goes to Toyosu Fish Market, rice farms in the countryside, the backstage dressing rooms at Tokyo Dome concert hall, Saudi Arabia, tfashion brand press rooms. He packs his equipment and food ingredients into his car and runs about. Everyone in Japan knows onigiri. That’s why people’s image of onigiri is forever changed when they eat his onigiri. It is just so incredibly good. The person that makes this incredible onigiri is Eiji Hashimoto of Hogure Onigiri stand. We asked him about his work, and his nanamica cardigan.
Eiji goes to Toyosu Market a few times a month to stock up on ingredients. Inside the market, one moves around on a turret truck, a very narrow-aisle-truck that people call a “turrey.”
“I was introdduced to ‘Kumaume’ by a mutual acquaintance, and have been working with them for about a year now. They let me get on the turrey every time I visit, and it’s like an amusement park ride. It’s so exciting.”
Turreys speeding around busily down the narrow aisles of the market is a scene that is rarely glimpse by the general public of Japan. However, to those living there, it is a daily affair. Society functions with many layers of various work.
The sashimi that we regularly eat; what path did it travel before it reaches our mouths? We don’t often have the chance of knowing the back side of food distribution.
At Toyosu Fish Market there are 5 wholesalers, and each of them conduct auctions for the fish they get through their contract fihsermen. The intermediate wholesalers take part in these auctions, considering the needs of each of their clients and purchasing fish with the eyes of an expert. They dress and clean the fish that they purchase and offer them at the market. Supermarkets and restaurants then come to buy these pieces of fish; it gets delivered to them, and through each of these outlets, it reaches us consumers. This business goes on from early morning before the first trains until about noon, every day at Toyosu Market.
“Kumaume” is a shop that mainly deals in premium fresh fish. “If you want toro from the best maguro, you don’t have any other choice but to buy it here,” says Eiji, who on this day was purchasing bluefin tuna again. He says he is going to prepare it at kitchen and offer it to his customers tomorrow.
The one who drove the turrey and gave us a tour of the market is one who goes by the name Irvin. He has a Youtube channel with the famous actor Naoto Takenaka. Generally speaking, it is difficult for outside people to access Toyosu Market. So someone like Irvin acts as the bridge for outsiders into the market. Even during this shoot, his phone rang endlessly and he drove the turrey around to deliver fish. The delicious fresh sashimi we get on our tables is made possible with the efforts of people like him.
We did the shooting in the morning, after the early morning bidding was over when most of the market people had gone away. Inside the market, the temperature is cooler than the outside, and there is a distinct cold atmosphere there and feels rather chilly.
“I think it’s the KODENSHI®︎. I don’t really feel the cold and I’m comfortable all day long. It’s not that I’m warm, but comfortable. I actually get hot easily, and don’t like clothes that make me feel too warm, so this cardigan is just perfect.”
“I wonder who is going to buy the leftover maguro. I wonder where it’s going to go,” says Taro Hirano, the photographer taking the pictures. This is a place that handles food, and that handles life. Maybe the peculiar sense of tension is because of this. You can feel the presence of living beings, which you don’t feel from cut up sashimi.
After the shoot, we move to the nanamica press room. There, Eiji actually prepares some onigiri for us. Paper lantern and handwritten menu; he has carefully selected all the items for the onigiri stand according to his own unique format.
“I chose each tool and equipment one by one. And I handwrite all the menus myself.”
“The rice is a variety called ‘Sagabiyori.’ I went on a trip spending the nights sleeping in my car, visiting rice farmers, to find rice that is just right for onigiri. I discovered this in my home area of Saga prefecture. It’s delicious, and also resilient to climate change. It has sweetness, the grains of rice are large, and it has a nice sheen. It is thanks to this rice that my onigiri tastes the way it does.”
In recent years, it is said that the number of rice varieties with a stable harvest are becoming fewer and fewer due to climate change. What can we do to continue eating delcious rice every day?
The menu is as you see. You can also combine the filling according to your preference. Each one has been carefully chosen and the taste is something that you can’t get anywhere else. It makes you want to eat one after the other. Eiji’s recommendation is the “Ultimate White.” Apparently, he wants you to get to know the basic delicious taste first. In his mind, there is an image of the ideal onigiri.
“I call it the ‘glow.’ Ideally, you don’t feel any sort of stress whatsoever when you place the bite of onigiri on your tongue. When I make the onigiri, I first lay out the rice on the bottom, then put in the filling, then put the rice over the filling and mold it with my hands. The two layer structure is so that the handling water also goes into the middle. It’s all for the glow and the lack of stress when eating it. I know the condition of the rice as soon as I put in in my hands, so I adjust the amount of water as I make the onigiri.”
The taste of the miso soup is on the sweeter side. It is absolutely delicious. There are many repeaters who come back every time drawn to this misosoup.
There may be people who feel resistance to onigiri being handled by bare hands. However in this case, everything is so clean and the presentation so tasteful, and with Eiji’s personality, it actually makes the onigiri seem even more delicious. It is closer to the sense of a highly seasoned sushi artisan, but more familiar.
“Of course the way it looks is important too. Nanamica’s navy is deep, beautiful and simple, so it gives a good impression. When I make my onigiri, I sometimes wear a happi coat, but there’s something similar to the nanamica cardigan. For me, it’s comforting. It is perfect as work wear, and also for daily use. It is really an item of clothing that is reassuring to have.”
Eiji says there are times that he uses plastic gloves to make the onigiri, but as mentioned before, he relies much on the sense of his hands. The sense of human’s fingertips can’t easily be reproduced by machinery. Perhaps the making of onigiri is work that can only be done by human beings, and never possible by AI robots?
The tools he has chosen all have meaning. For example, the wooden rice container keeps the rice warm, but also absorbs water, maintaining the rice’s moisture at the optimal level. This is similar to the functionality of the cardigan’s KODENSHI®︎ ALPHADRY®︎.
“These days, I get to make onigiri in all kinds of places. At the backstage rooms of music artists, at the homes of high profile people. When I was invited by the Saudi Arabia royal family, I was truly surprised.
Once I graduated from university, I actually worked at a regular company, but then I started to question, ‘Who was I really?’ In the work I was doing, I couldn’t find the sense of ‘surprising people by doing something no one else is doing,’ which I had always wanted to do since I was a kid. So I did some soul searching and wrote out everything that I liked from the bottom of my heart, and then the word ‘rice’ seems to shine and stand out. (laugh). From there, for 5 hard years I did odd jobs to save up money, and then I built everything from scratch. There was even one time when the electricity in my home got stopped when my girlfriend was over, but I now I feel really glad that I never gave up.”
It is a Japanese tradition, and a food of the people. Eiji focused on this simple food tradition, creating his own technique and sense, single-mindedly pursuing a delicious taste that cannot be found anywhere else. What is at the core of the joy that this work brings him?
“I think it’s ultimately when people right in front of me tell me that it’s delicious. Really, that is the best feeling.”
The navy cardigan matches Eiji so well, perhaps because of his straight and honest, but bold personality.
Hogure Onigiri stand