Anglers fish from a boat floating on Lake Ashinoko in front of Japan's highest peak, Mount Fuji, and other mountains covered with coloured autumn leaves at a Hakone hot spring resort, some 100 kms west of Tokyo, on Nov 20, 2008. (TORU YAMANAKA / AFP)
TOKYO - A Japanese-style ship, an umbrella, a bridge, soup stock, a hot spring, dyeing, agriculture — all these seem unrelated on the surface. A closer look, however, reveals they’re all connected to water.
Irene Milana, 27, from Rome, works for the Mizkan Center for Water Culture in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, promoting Japanese “water culture” to the world. Mizkan Holdings Co. set up the center as part of its social contribution programs.
“I’ve visited many places and met many people as I accompanied researchers for their fieldwork,” Milana said in fluent Japanese. “I’m having a lot of fun turning these experiences into stories I write and have people read.”
At the age of 15, she wanted to see cultures completely different from that of Italy, and so made her first visit to Japan to study during summer vacation. Before coming to Japan, Milana thought of Tokyo as a city with many high-rises all stacked up and crowded subway trains. She was surprised when she found nature still remains even in the central part of a large city like Tokyo.
This undated photo shows Irene Milana speaks about her reporting in Japan. (PHOTO / THE JAPAN NEWS)
“When I visited Hie Shrine in [Tokyo’s] Akasaka area, I was so impressed to see nature still in the middle of the city,” she said.
Milana was greatly attracted to Japan and eventually studied its history and culture at a university in Italy and a graduate school in Britain. In 2016, Milana started living in Japan.
She joined Mizkan because the firm has a long history and produces vinegar — a product essential to making sushi, her favorite food.
Milana’s main job is to research and interview people so she can write articles for the firm’s website and journals issued three times a year. She also edits the stories for the publications.
In Kamiita, Tokushima Prefecture, she interviewed young people engaged in Japanese indigo plant cultivation and dyeing. Through this opportunity to interact with people trying to promote indigo-dyeing to the world, Milana learned about the hardships faced by producers of different items, she said.
She also visited a Japanese sweets shop in Ono, Fukui Prefecture, where she heard the history of a local specialty called decchi-yokan, a sweetened red bean paste. She observed the manufacturing process and took photos. She loves Japanese sweets and was glad to learn how to make them.
“Water is needed to produce vinegar, and a canal is needed to carry the product. Mizkan has struggled to get water, while also being helped by water,” Milana said. “In this sense, water culture is important for this firm, and also very important for the lives of people.”
For herself as an Italian, she said, “Learning about water culture is learning about Japanese culture.”