Nope I'm not talking about eating the wrong mushrooms and going a bit detached from reality. Although there has been a spate of mushroom hunters (they call it hunting not collecting. Seriously, do mushrooms put up a good fight do you reckon?) collecting the wrong ones and being poisonned/ near poisonned. The local town office now has a mushroom consultation window where you can take in your mushrooms and find out whether you should eat them or not.
But today I'm talking about the other kind of mushroom madness. Matsutake mushroom madness. It's more of a frenzy really I guess. Whatever you call it it's certainly very serious business.
Wikipedia translates matsutake as pine mushroom which seems a far too common name for a mushroom that commands such high prices. The local farmers' market- where you go for dirt cheap veggies- sells them for 5000 yen for two. That's about 60 dollars mum). As you can imagine with prices like that collecting the mushrooms is a lucrative business. It's seasonal and dependent on the right weather/ climate conditions for a good season but this year looks good. It's a bumper year in fact.
So you want to join the crowds and head for the mountains and some delicious mushrooms? Grab a bear bell, your basket and go right?
Not so fast.
You need a mushroom license. That will set you back a cool 1,000,000 yen. Nope. My finger didn't get stuck on the 0 key. that's 1 million yen. For no guarantee of succesfully hunting even a single mushroom that's pretty steep. But even your willingness to part with obscene amounts of cash in search of mushroom happiness doesn't guarantee you the right to try your luck. Nope. Mushroom licenses are severely restricted. Three are given out for this mountain and four on the one next door. Mushroom madness being what it is far more people apply and so a lottery is held. This year officiating at the lottery was one of K's jobs as neighbourhood committee bigwig.
Pull name out of hat, notify happy winner and record details in the official neighbourhood committee almanac and pat self on back. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong again. One man had applied for all three lotteries. (They're seperate, each mushroom license is for a specific section of the mountain) So he had paid the (lesser but still considerable) application fee three times.
His name wasn't chosen in the first lottery.
Or the second.
But he hit the jackpot third time around.
Or so everyone thought.
Until some pedant pointed out that he had mis-written one of the kanji characters for the name of the mountain.
Now it's not as though this made it unclear what he was applying for.
It was the kanji equivelent of writing Austrelia. A simple typo.
But serious discussion ensued.
This is mushroom madness after all. Must make sure we cross all the T's and dot all the I's (or the Japanese equivelant anyway) right?
After much furrowing of brows it was decided to redo the draw. The poor unlucky man's ballot was clearly invalid. Because after all in the national government elections it would be invalid.
That's right, the local mushroom license ballot is considered up there with the national election in gravity and importance.
If that isn't mushroom madness I don't know what is, huh?
And for those luckless folks who have never had the opportunity to through their hard earned dosh after a puny pine mushroom I leave you with the thoughts of M who was served matsutake rice with mushrooms hunted by the grade 5's in her school lunch.
"They were really smelly. And the rice was brown. I like white rice better."