Rent-a-cycles are commonly regarded as something to be used by tourists, but in June, an unmanned bicycle rental facility was opened adjacent to a rail station in Saitama City, located north of Tokyo. Once registered, people will receive a special IC card that permits them to borrow vacant bicycles at a cost of 100 yen (US$1) per six-hour period. Payment is automatically deducted from users’ credit cards. It is also possible to log on to the Internet and determine availability of bicycles at any given moment. As this station is used by many students who commute to Saitama University which is about three kilometers away from the station, it is certain that they have been targeted as the primary users.
The Debut of Four-Mon Coins Determined the Number of Dango Per Skewer
The various colored confection on display at Japanese-style
confectionary shops dazzle the eye. Unlike
expensive, high-quality confection, the simple looking, unspectacular kushi dango (skewered dumplings) as
represented by mitarashi (sugar and
soy sauce flavor) dango is popular with its endearing taste. Its price is also reasonable making kushi dango
a friend of the common person.
Dango has an extremely long history. Dango made from acorn flour can be traced
back to the Jomon period (10,000 to 400 B.C.).
However, it is said that “Kara kudamono (Tang confectionary)” brought
back to Japan by Japanese envoys sent to China during the Tang dynasty can be
regarded as the origin of the current dango.
The kushi dango intended for common people, like
mitarashi and an (bean paste) dango, made
its appearance during the Edo period (1603 to 1867).
“Edo Kaimono Hitori Annai (Edo Shopping Guide)” published
in 1824 lists 2622 famous shops in Edo. Of the shops that handled foodstuffs, the majority
were confectionary shops. The book lists
120 confectionary shops. In particular,
kushi dango that could be easily picked up by hand and eaten was popular as a
quick snack. It was enjoyed at tea shops
on the streets or at the entrances to temples and shrines.
Generally speaking, most kushi dango consist of four
dumplings on a single skewer. According
to “Kashiyawa,” a collection of essays, written by the feudal lord Matsuura
Seizan during the Edo period, the four-dumpling kushi dango made its appearance
during the Meiwa era (1764 to 1772), i.e., in the middle of the Edo period.
Why was the number of dango per skewer set to four? The reason is connected to the appearance of
four-mon coins (mon: unit of money) that were newly minted at that time.
Up until that time, kushi dango commonly consisted of
five dumplings and sold for five mon per skewer. That is, the price was one mon per dango and
kushi dango was priced at five mon because there were five dango on a skewer. It was thus easy to understand.
However, after the four-mon coins made their appearance,
an increasing number of customers began to quickly pay with a four-mon coin at
the crowded shops and walk away with a five-dango skewer. Because of this, the shops reduced the number
of dango per skewer to four out of necessity.
Thus, the change in the number of dango hides the
drama of an offensive and defensive battle between the tough common people and
the shop owners who would not be defeated.