着飾る恋には理由があって Kikazaru Koi ni wa Riyuu ga Atte
There's a Reason for the Love I'm Wearing
This recent Japanese drama is a lot of heart-warming fun, so if you'd like to watch something with a lot of feel-good vibes with nice people this is one for you!
Kurumi is an extremely dedicated and hard-working PR worker for a large store. She has an Instagram account to manage three times a day, and branding to organise, and an image to maintain as an influencer with 100000 followers. She does it all for the love of her boss - an unrequited love that she's carried for seven years.
But she finds herself moving into a house-share with her divorced friend Kouko, who has also let the house to artist Hase-chan, counsellor Haru-chan, and one-time chef Shun.
The set up is a little bit like Terrace House, in that the house that the young people share, just off Tokyo's Omotesando, is architecturally stunning!
Expect drinks nights, movie nights, and friends staying over in a tent in the living room! :)
Kurumi is never without her phone, until kindly Shun steps in and suggests to her a digital detox, while the group are on a camping trip in stunning Yamanashi. Kurumi begins to allow her life to be spontaneous, listening to the wise philosophy of Shun who only demands expectations from himself, and doesn't worry about what others think of him.
This is a drama about friendship, and kindness and support to others, finding your dream and pursuing what you love. It's about amazing food (both Kouko and Shun are chefs after all!), and how to balance the stresses of modern working life.
Do watch it - it's a really lovely show!
初めて恋をした日に読む話 Hajimete Koi o Shita Hi ni Yomu Hanashi
A Story to Read When You First Fall in Love
A boy from the wrong sort of school develops the ambition to study for entrance to prestigious Tokyo University. The story arc follows his sensei at cram school, Junko Harumi (Kyoko Fukada), who despite her academic success at school never reached her own dream of studying at Tōdai. Her loss of confidence has affected all areas of her life, and she is now in her early thirties with no relationship and an unstable career in which she believes she is failing.
There's a lot of cram school action in this drama!
She is unaware that she has made an impression on three men in her life: her cousin Masashi Yakumo (Kento Nagayama) who is a successful graduate of Tōdai; Kazuma Yamashita (Tomoya Nakamura) - a classmate who she helped when he was struggling and who was the only boy ever to ask her out; and Kyohei Yuri (Ryusei Yokohama) - the pink-haired disaffected son of the high-rolling Minister of Education!
Based on the manga of the same name, by Aki Mochida, “A Story to Read When You First Fall in Love” is a sweet 2019 romantic comedy drama.
Why not take a look!
私たちはどうかしている Watashitachi wa Douka Shiteiru
Something's Wrong with Us
We meet the actor Ryusei Yokohama in a markedly different role in this next Japanese drama from 2020.
What drew me to this drama was the story of the Japanese sweets, and the passion of the protagonists to make them and to keep the tradition for excellence alive in the 400 year old okashi store called Kougetsu An. The store fronts a beautiful traditional villa set in Kanazawa's Ishikawa.
Like many Japanese dramas, Watashitachi wa Douka Shiteiru is based on a popular manga: it's called Something's Wrong With Us by Natsumi Ando, and it's a classic jousei - a manga for young women, with lots of passion and drama!
The manga has many dramatic page-turning plotlines, and you'll see that these are recreated in the tv show.
The main characters are Nao (Minami Hamabe) and Tsubaki who connect as children in the house. Tsubaki is the heir to the store, and Nao is the daughter of a talented okashi artisan who lives there.
It's a tale full of Japanese tradition and culture: we see tea ceremony, kimono, the famous Kanazawa gardens Kenrokuen, and a lot about the skill and ambition in creating beautiful okashi.
Discover Beautiful Okashi
I love that a sweet is made to look like Mejiro - the Japanese White Eye,
the little green bird symbol of spring that features in so many Japanese artworks!
Okashi are the complement to the green bitterness of matcha in tea ceremony. We learn about the skill involved in making anko, the sweet red bean paste that often fills sweet goods. A lot of attention is paid to different designs of sweets: we see carved wooden moulds for the dry powder sweets to accompany tea called rakugan, and we see sketchbooks for designs, and beautiful okashi being created and served.
It's a very nice drama if you have ever been in Japan and tasted matcha and okashi - you can relive your experience vicariously over and over again!
But there is a lot more to this drama than tasty sweets!
The drive of the plot is a murder mystery whodunnit, set in this very old store in Kanazawa. It's a tale of honour, hierarchy, and heritage; lust and betrayal!
It's Jane Eyre /Rebecca mad-lady-is-going-to-burn-the-house-down Gothic. Tsubaki's mother is a two-dimensional pantomime baddie, who reminds me of Mrs Danvers, who has a similarly simple but sad backstory of betrayal in love. I'm not usually a fan of murder mysteries or anything violent, but that side of the story is quite hammy and the plotline can be a bit amusing at times!
Our protagonist Nao, like the ingenue in Rebecca, finds herself in a house where attempts are made to drive her out. There's a big dose of Agatha Christie murder mystery mixed up with an at-times over-the-top dramatic horror, mixed again with quite a tender love story that incorporates the added strangeness and romance of Genji.
This is a world where Lady Rokujou could haunt the back rooms!
But it is all sandwiched between documentary style moments telling the story of the running of a traditional Kanazawa sweetshop where you get to see the most stunningly beautiful okashi!
It's frankly like nothing I've ever seen before!
A Subtle Undercurrent of The Tale of Genji
What kept me watching was the detail of making the beautiful okashi, the stunning old villa, and the beautifully acted romance between Nao and Tsubaki. It has beautiful moments that echo the romance of The Tale of Genji, including a lovely moment where they sit by a pool in the dark in their kimono and it is lit up by the glow of fireflies :)
These sweets are made by Tsubaki for the Twilight Tea Ceremony. It's an okashi called Moonflower, or Yuugao - Evening Face, a flower like Morning Glory. It's a flower that dies in one night, and it therefore symbolises a fleeting romance.
It's a beautiful okashi for a moon-viewing party. Tsubaki says, 'I'm hoping it reminds people of a yellow moon in a field of moonflowers.'
In an early chapter of The Tale of Genji, a romance ensues between Genji and a lady called Yuugao, which so enflames the jealousy and anger of his earlier love the Lady Rokujou, that her spirit kills Yuugao as she sleeps. Perhaps this famous story informs the atmosphere of the drama :)
Another beautiful sweet is a literal reflection of the moon. Traditionally people did not stare up at the harvest moon. Rather than looking at the moon directly, they enjoyed looking at its reflection on the surface of a lake.
Tsubaki-mochi features two fresh tsubaki leaves :)
Tsubaki-mochi is a bean-filled rice cake between two camellia leaves.
It is mentioned over a thousand years ago in The Tale of Genji, in the chapter Spring Shoots, moments after the fateful encounter of Kashiwagi and Onna San no Miya.
The boys are playing the ball game kemari, while the ladies are secluded behind the screen of the villa, watching. A pet cat dashes out and disturbs the blind:
'There was a curtain behind the blind, and a step back from it stood a young woman in a gown.'
Noble women lived their lives in seclusion from the male gaze, and so this moment is truly shocking:
'The Intendant's heart, which was hers anyway, naturally all but stood still: for who else could it have been? Dressed as she was, there was no mistaking her among the others,
and the sight remained graven in his heart.'
Kashiwagi fatefully sees Onna San no Miya
Genji saves the day by inviting the men to eat: 'Camellia cakes, nashi, tangerines, and other such things then appeared, quite informally, mixed together in box lids, and the young men ate them merrily.'
These 'camellia cakes' are our tsubaki-mochi.
Tsubaki-mochi was the first Japanese sweet ever made. They were normally served after kemari. Amazingly, you can still buy them in Kyoto today, if you visit the shrine of Jounan-gu during plum blossom season. The sweet has a slightly octagonal shape as it was inspired by the shrine's famous amulet, which in a typically Heian way was believed to protect against unlucky directions. (There is a lot of mention of inauspicious days and travel directions in The Tale of Genji!)
Tsubaki-mochi were made from sticky rice, powdered cloves, sweetened with syrup from the amachazuru vine and then wrapped in the fresh camellia leaves.
This is the first sweet Tsubaki's father teaches him to make, and it is the sweet that Tsubaki stakes his claim on to inherit Kougetsu An.
Tsubaki, the heir to Kougetsu An
The final episode was completely over the top and melodramatic, with a wonderful sequence of being led to believe a particularly sneaky character had done the crime, only for it to be revealed that someone else had done it, only for it to be revealed yet again that ..you get it! It was brilliant - there were so many twists and surprises and gasps before it was finally revealed who had done the crime!
I would recommend the show for its portrayal of Japanese artisan tradition and for its aesthetic beauty - as well as because it's quite a lot of fun!
We hope you have enjoyed reading our blog about Japanese romantic drama! Do let us know of your recommendations as we would love to watch more!
If you would like to read more about traditional Japanese sweets, why not take a look at the websites of two traditional okashi sweet shops in Kyoto: Oimatsu and Kagizen.
Thank you for reading,
Cathy and Yukki
Hajimete Koi o Shita Hi ni Yomu Hanashi manga cover: mangadex.org
Watashi wa Douka Shiteiru: Screenshots of okashi and cover photo
Watashi wa Douka Shiteiru website: Screenshots of okashi
Kikazaru Koi niha Riyuu ga Atte house photo, and for an excellent review!
Murasaki Shikibu, (Royall Tyler trans.), The Tale of Genji, (Penguin Classics), pp.620-621.
Yōshū (Hashimoto) Chikanobu, 'The Third Princess and Kashiwagi', (The Met Museum).
Thank you to @camellia.kyoto for the connection between tsubaki-mochi and Jounan-gu Shrine :)