Mititaka Hattori is Deputy Director of the Japan Association for Trade with Russia and the New Independent States. Born in 1964 in Shizuoka Prefecture. He is the editor of the monthly 'Study of Russia and the New Independent States.'
“Are there really so many people who buy jewelry? Alcohol would sell best!” - Mititaka Hattori came to this conclusion during his trip to Yakutsk, where he was most impressed by three things: cold, horse meat and an abundance of jewelry stores.
“Recently I visited the capital of the Republic of Sakha - Yakutsk. Usually I write about cities in my column “Tales of Russian cities,” but this time I want to tell you not only about Yakutsk, but also about the Republic of Sakha as a whole.
The Republic of Sakha (another name is Yakutia) is one of the federal entities that form the Russian Federation. The name contains the word republic, however, of course, this is not an independent state, but one of the regions of Russia.
The main nationality of the Republic of Sakha is the Yakuts, which belong to the Turkic people, their facial features are no different from those of the Mongols and Japanese. In the Russian autonomous republics, often Russians make up the majority of the population, but in this region 50% of the Yakuts, and Russians - 38%.
The original Yakut language is used very widely. As for religion, most of the Yakuts are Orthodox, but elements of ancient shamanism have also been preserved.
The area of the Republic of Sakha is 3.08 million square kilometers. It accounts for 18% of the entire territory of Russia. This is the largest administrative unit not only in Russia, but throughout the world, which is about eight times larger than Japan. Since the area of Yakutia is huge, there are even time zones: there are three of them.
A distinctive feature of the republic is a long and harsh winter: the period from October to April is considered winter. In the village of Oymyakon in 1933, the temperature was minus 67.7 degrees Celsius, which is the lowest temperature in the region located in the Northern Hemisphere, where people live.
Some argue that an even lower temperature was recorded in Verkhoyansk, but one way or another there is no doubt that the Sakha Republic is the coldest region in the Northern Hemisphere. And in the summer, the temperature, sometimes, exceeds 30 degrees Celsius. That is, the temperature difference sometimes reaches 100 degrees.
Almost the entire territory of the republic is a permafrost zone. According to some estimates, the thickness of the frozen earth reaches 300-400 meters. Buildings on stilts symbolize this feature. Despite permafrost, heat from buildings warms the surface of the earth, as a result of which buildings sag or bend, so houses are built on stilts to prevent heat transfer.
Another “product” of permafrost is frozen mammoths. I think many of you remember the baby mammoth Yuka that Russia presented at the EXPO 2005 exhibition in Aichi Prefecture. It was discovered on the shores of the Arctic Ocean in the Republic of Sakha.
By the way, an exhibition dedicated to mammoths (from June 7 to November 4) was held at the Japanese National Museum for the Development of Science and Innovation. The aforementioned mammoth came to Japan again, as well as various samples of ancient animals found in the Yakut permafrost.
No alcohol stores, but jewelry stores everywhere
Earlier, I published an article “The full truth about get-togethers with Russians.” As I noted in it, the following trend is observed in Russia: the further north of the region, the more alcohol is consumed. Nevertheless, in accordance with the data provided in this article, the Republic of Sakha was not among the five most drinking regions.
Apparently, there are reasons for that. In the Sakha Republic, where the problem of drinking was very serious, very strict restrictions were imposed on the sale of alcohol. Alcohol consumption by the population has been reduced by harsh methods.
Now in Yakutia only specialized stores that have received a license can sell alcoholic beverages. Selling time is also limited. Moreover, according to data for 2018, the sale of alcohol was completely prohibited in 162 settlements of the republic.
The Russian regions have their own rules for the sale of alcoholic beverages. They say that in Yakutia they are the toughest.
I haven't not figured out the rules for the sale of alcohol in the Republic of Sakha before traveling there, and it turned out badly for me. The first day I was tired after the trip, so I decided to have a drink at the hotel and go to bed early. I went out to the city to buy a drink and a snack.
There are no chain stores in Russia like 7-Eleven, but there are supermarkets everywhere that usually sell liquor, so I thought there would be no problem buying it. However, the search was unsuccessful. Everywhere there are only jewelry stores. As a result, I began to get annoyed: “Are there really so many people who buy jewelry? Alcohol would sell best!”
There is a reason that there are so many jewelry stores in Yakutsk. The Republic of Sakha has the world's largest diamond deposit. It is said that 99% of Russian diamonds are mined there.
The company representing the republic is ALROSA, which produces and sells diamonds. Its global share is about 20%. In addition, the best gold in Russia is also mined in Yakutia. The local industry produces jewelry and precious metals, there are also many processing enterprises in the region, therefore, there are a large number of jewelry stores in Yakutsk.
Tasty foal steaks
Having visited Yakutia, I felt that the Yakuts are people closely connected with horses. The northern peoples of Russia mainly breed reindeer, but horses were traditionally especially important among the Yakuts.
By the way, the horse is even depicted on the coat of arms of the Sakha Republic. On it, the horseman, riding a horse, raises a flag high above his head. This image was taken from Shishkinsky writings - ancient cave paintings. That is, the Yakuts have been associated with horses since time immemorial. A horse is such a great animal that it can even withstand local frosts.
Once in the capital of Yakutia, I decided to try the local cuisine and went to the appropriate restaurant. The menu recommended a dish using an ingredient called zherebyatina (foal). I thought it was a seasonal offer.
I did not know that word, so I checked it on the phone, which gave me a picture of a horse. I realized that horse meat was offered, and ordered a steak from it, which turned out to be very soft and juicy.
Nevertheless, then I found out the meaning of the word zherebyatina and understood its exact meaning. I felt ashamed because of that horrid deed - I have eaten the meat of a foal.
Japanese restaurants offer lamb meat or veal, but foal meat cannot be found. It is said that foals, which are about six months old, have the most delicious meat. I think that they are mainly born in the spring, so autumn is just the season for this type of meat. Locals told me that the meat of foals, which is considered a delicacy, is not only tasty, but also healthy.