Monday, May 23, 2022

Sayama Japanese Green Tea

Hand-Picked Sayama Tea 手摘み狭山茶

by Johannes Schonherr

Hand Picked Sayama Tea 手摘み狭山茶.
Shincha advertising at a Sayama Tea store in Tokorozawa, Saitama

In the Sayama tea area northwest of Tokyo, the harvest of the Shincha (新茶), the first tea leaves of the year, takes place in late April / early May. Among tea lovers, this is a highly anticipated harvest since those first leaves are especially tasty and aromatic.

Sayama Shincha is a Sencha tea, which means it is a tea sold in the form of processed, steamed leaves - unlike Matcha which is sold as a powder. About three-quarters of all Japanese green teas are Sencha teas.

Yamaka-en Sayama Tea field, Tokorozawa.
Yamaka-en Sayama Tea field, Tokorozawa

Japanese Teas

The premium quality is picked by hand by a group of experienced harvest helpers who can decide within fractions of a second which leaves to take, steadily filling their baskets with the highest quality leaves.

Sayama is one of Japan's northern-most tea areas. Winters can be freezing. Tea plants need to be of varieties that can withstand such conditions. Yabukita, a plant originally from Shizuoka that proved to be able to adapt to the more northern climate, turned out to be the first choice for the hand-picked Sayama Shincha.

To withstand the cold of winter, the Sayama tea plants grow thicker leaves resulting in a profound flavor and a rich taste.

An old local minyo folk song, often sung during the harvest in old times, takes the comparisons to the other traditional Japanese tea growing areas lightly: the tea from Uji (near Kyoto), it says, is all about the scent, the tea from Shizuoka is all about the color but Sayama Tea is all about the taste.

Kyoto-Uji is certainly Japan's most famous tea area while Shizuoka produces the bulk of Japanese Green Tea. Sayama, producing tea since the times of the Kamakura Shogunate in the 1300s is up among them as one of the top three traditional Japanese tea production areas.

Yamaka-en Sayama Tea field ready for hand picking, Tokorozawa.
Yamaka-en Sayama Tea field ready for hand picking, Tokorozawa

The Harvest

To get a real feel of the tea, there is nothing better than actually joining the harvest. Take a Seibu Shinjuku Line train to Tokorozawa or Iruma City, walk around the tea fields in April and inquire at the adjoining farms if they need a harvest helper. In most cases, the answer will most likely be a happy "yes."

Yamaka-en tea harvest by hand, Tokorozawa.
Yamaka-en tea harvest by hand, Tokorozawa

Yamaka Kasuya Tea Farm

At the Yamaka Kasuya family farm in Kita Iwaoka, Tokorozawa that is definitely the case. Their teas are known under the name Yamaka-en (Yamaka Garden).

Give them your phone number and you will receive a call back once the actual harvest days have been decided.

Arrive at the tea field in the morning. You might be a little surprised at the shape of the plants you are directed to. Those are not the neatly trimmed rows of tea plants you see so often in advertising. Those neatly trimmed rows are for machine harvesting. The hand-picking tea also grows in neat rows but the branches stretch out in a much more natural manner.

Wrapped-up shades hang over the tea field. Those have shielded the plants from intense sunlight during the growing period in spring, preventing the ultra-violet rays from damaging the taste of the nascent young leaves.

You receive a basket and are told which leaves to take - only the set of the freshest three leaves right on top. The classical set of tea leaves is often seen in print.

You work the bushes, clipping leaf set after leave set with your fingers. A typical group of harvesters consists of about 20 to 30 people. Many of them are elderly folks being part of other tea-growing families living nearby.

Unfortunately, they don't sing any minyo folk songs during work anymore. But there is constant chatter. The days of the harvest bring many folks together who don't see each other for the rest of the year. There is constant talk about whose children married whom, who had children, who died, and so on. For those folks, a tea harvest is a social event.

A perfect set of tea leaves.
A perfect set of tea leaves

Tea Tradition

Frequently, the town hall sends young employees to the harvest as well, to let them experience the importance of the tea tradition in their town.

Since the plants are about 160 cm high, it's all rather easy work. You don't have to be afraid of back pains. If you like to squat on the ground for a while and take the leaves from there, it's perfectly okay.

At the end of the working day, usually at 4 pm, you receive an envelope with your salary of the day in cash.

Don't expect to finance your next trip around the world that way. Rather invest the cash in some really good tea by going to the farm shop to buy some top-notch tea about a week later.

By then, the son of the house, running a small tea processing plant right on the premises, will have turned the tea leaves you harvested into high quality Shincha for sale only at the tiny family tea shop on the family premises.

Hand picked tea leaves in a basket.
Hand picked tea leaves in a basket

Gomeicha

The tea available there is the one you picked by hand. It says Gomeicha (御銘茶) on the outer wrapping though nobody ever uses that word in a conversation. Gomeicha simply means "our best tea", "our flagship" or "signature tea" or something along those lines, indicating that it is the absolute top quality tea produced at the farm.

As with most Japanese green teas, prepare this tea with water heated up to about 70°C (158°F) for optimal taste. For a second brew, use the same temperature, for the third, however, use boiling water.

The Yamaka-en Gomeicha received an award for best Green Tea from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishery in 2016, 2018, and 2021.

Yamaka-en Gomeicha tea outer wrapping.
Yamaka-en Gomeicha tea outer wrapping

Purchase Japanese Tea

Purchase a range of Japanese tea from GoodsFromJapan.

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Yamaka-en Gomeicha tea package.
Yamaka-en Gomeicha tea package

© GoodsFromJapan.com

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Koinobori & Children's Day Japan

Koinobori & Children's Day 鯉のぼり

Jake Davies

Towards the end of April, large groups of koinobori carp streamers start appearing in readiness for Children's Day on May 5th.
Towards the end of April, large groups of koinobori carp streamers start appearing in readiness for Children's Day on May 5th

May 5th in Japan is Kodomo no Hi, Children's Day when the Japanese celebrate their children, and the most visible sign of the approach of Children's Day is the appearance from mid-April onward of the colorful windsocks known as Carp Streamers or Koinobori.

Suspended across a river is one of the more dramatic locations to see koinobori.
Suspended across a river is one of the more dramatic locations to see koinobori

Children's Day in Japan

Children's Day is the last of four National Holidays that fall at the end of April and early May that collectively are known as Golden Week, and with many companies giving their employees 7 to 10 days off, Golden Week has become the second biggest holiday and vacation time in Japan after the New Year holidays.

Children's Day, the last of the Golden Week National Holiday days was not established until 1948. Prior to that it was known as Tango no sekku, commonly called Boy's Day, and it was in that form that the association with koinobori began.

Colorful koinobori carp streamers celebrate Children's Day.
Colorful koinobori carp streamers celebrate Children's Day

Chinese Influence

Ancient Japan adopted the calendrical and numerological system from China, In this system specific dates were laden with symbolic meaning, and the 5th day of the 5th month was a seasonal court festival, along with the 1st day of the 1st month, Oshogatsu, New Year, 3rd day of the 3rd month, Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival, 7th day of the 7th month, Tanabata, and the 9th day of the 9th month, Kiku Matsuri.

These festivals originated in rites of protection against evil, and among the common people these days took on their own meanings, with notably Hina Matsuri being celebrated as Girl's Day, and Tango no sekku as Boy's Day, and it was in this form that May 5th became associated with koinobori.

On May 5th families would celebrate their male children, putting up displays of Kintaro dolls, based on a legendary Heian Period samurai, Sakata no Kintoki, as well as Kabuto, samurai helmets and sometimes whole miniature suits of samurai armor. In the Edo Period banners bearing the image of carp were added to the displays.

Japanese koi kept in the canals of Tsuwano Castle town where they were used for an emergency food source.
Japanese koi kept in the canals of Tsuwano Castle town where they were used as an emergency food source

Carp

The carp is native to the waterways of Japan and was a prized source of food. In the former castle town of Tsuwano in Shimane, the drainage canals of the town were stocked with carp for use as an emergency food in case of siege, and today visitors can still see them.

Most people however, will think of the ornamental,  multi-colored, koi that are a relatively recent development but which are now a common feature not just of traditional Japanese gardens but garden ponds throughout the world.

Symbolism

In Japan the koi has come to represent strength, courage, endurance, perseverance, and health, and these attributes gave been derived from a well known, ancient Chinese tale of a golden carp that swam upstream of the Yellow River, eventually swimming up a waterfall and being reincarnated as a dragon.

The qualities attributed to the koi were those most valued by the samurai and wished for for their sons.

One theory how the koi became associated with Boy's Day was that when the Shogun had a son, the news was announced by raising carp flags.

Koinobori flying at a mountain park.
Koinobori flying at a mountain park

Displaying koinobori

The traditional way of displaying the koinobori was at the top of a tall bamboo pole. At the top would be the largest, black-coloured koinobori representing the father of the family fukinagashi (吹き流し).

Followed by a red koinobori for the eldest son of the family, followed by decreasingly sized ones in blue, green, purple, and orange, for any younger sons.

When Boy's Day switched to Children's Day the symbolism changed somewhat with the second, red, Koinobori coming to represent the mother, and often pink being used instead of red.

The other colors came to represent both sons and daughters. In fact, more and more these traditional meanings have been discarded and some families simply fly koi representing just the children of the family who are still at home.

The traditional method of displaying koinobori, now found mostly only in the countryside, is atop a tall bamboo pole.
The traditional method of displaying koinobori, now found mostly only in the countryside, is atop a tall bamboo pole

Nowadays the most common way to see koinobori is not in the single displays put up by families, but in large public and civic situations.

A very popular site is strung across a river, where when the wind blows it most looks like carp swimming against the current. Other popular spots include parks, strung between buildings, and increasingly at shopping malls and retail parks.

Dozens of large koinobori across the Gonokawa River in Shimane.
Dozens of large koinobori across the Gonokawa River in Shimane

Purchase a Range of Koinobori from Japan

Purchase a selection of koinobori carp streamers from GoodsFromJapan

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Friday, April 29, 2022

お豆腐レストラン Kitchen Soyaー茨城、つくば

Kitchen Soya, Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture

コロナ禍でも絶対になくなってほしくない店というのがある。うちの近所のカフェがまさにそう。Kitchen Soya。カフェといったけど、本格的なお豆腐料理のレストランだ。

Kitchen Soya
Kitchen Soya, Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture

Kitchen Soya.
Kitchen Soya

The exterior of Kitchen Soya in Tsukuba

Soyaでの思い出と言えば、数々ある。子供が小学生の頃にオープンしたので、思い出は私自身の子育てともかぶる。よくママ友とあそこでPTAの打ち合わせをした。小学校の卒業式の後、6年間の労をねぎらって夜11時過ぎまで皆と飲み明かした。オーナーさんはカウンターの向こうで優しく微笑みながら、店を閉めず母たちの井戸端会議に付き合ってくれたっけ。

少年野球の試合の後、負けた悔しさや監督に対する不満をぶちまけあった(なぜかママだけ)。コロナが始まる前にはギターコンサートやヨガ教室も開かれていた。夕闇がとっぷり迫る店内で聞くアコースティックギターの音はロマンチックだったなあ。

久しぶりに会った幼馴染の男の子(東京、青山在住)を連れて行って、感動させたこともある。つくばにこんな美味しくて雰囲気のいいお店があるんだ!って。あの時、彼が食べたのは確かトマトソースの豆腐ハンバーグ。健康志向の彼は、メイン料理と一緒に提供されるショットグラスの豆乳をお代わりしていた。

お豆腐レストラン Kitchen Soyaー茨城、つくば.
Interior

お豆腐レストラン Kitchen Soyaー茨城、つくば
The woody interior

Guitar

私がお薦めするSoyaの一押しメニューは、なんといっても「凍り豆腐のカツ」だ。他ではちょっと味わえない、オリジナル料理。

Tofu Katsu.
豆腐のトンカツ

『孤独のグルメ』風にレポートすると、

「なんだ、これは?こんがりきつね色に揚がった豆腐のトンカツか?長さ8cmの拍子木みたいのがゴロゴロしているぞ。」

「おー、口に入れるとサクッと香ばしい。いい具合にソースが染みてるじゃないか。昔懐かしい駄菓子屋で食べたソースカツの味だ。」

「うまい、いくらでもいける。トンカツと違って胃にもたれなさそうなのがいい。」

どうですか、行ってみたくなるでしょう? いい店にはドラマがあるんです。

ベジタリアンの友人がいれば、真っ先に招待するのはもちろん、ここ.
ベジタリアンの友人がいれば、真っ先に招待するのはもちろん、ここ

Soyaのオーナーさんのご実家はお豆腐屋さん。おくらや豆乳など、原材料はそこから仕込んでいるらしい。

国産大豆100%、無添加自然食品のおからの購入はこちらから

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Masu Wooden Sake Cups

Masu 升

Japanese sake served in a masu.
Japanese sake served in a masu

by Johannes Schonherr

Ordering a cup of cold nihonshu (sake) in any traditional Japanese izakaya pub, you will usually be served 1go of sake (180 ml) either poured into a wooden masu box or, more likely, an overflowing glass of sake placed inside a masu box, adding up to about the same amount.

In either case, it is a very particular and very Japanese experience.

Drinking sake from the wooden masu box is generally called 升酒 (masuzake), involving a glass more specifically called もっきり (mokkiri) style.

All this applies however only to cold sake - hot sake is never served this way.

Drinking Rules

This being Japan, there are of course various traditional rules going with the drinking style.

According to the expert chibasake website, when drinking directly from the masu, you are supposed to use only one hand holding the box. The four fingers other than the thumb go to the bottom of the box, supporting your movements. Place the thumb on the rim of the box for balance.

It may be easy to drink from a corner of the box but this is considered bad manners and thus an absolute no-no. Sip from a flat side of the masu - without making any noises doing so.

When it comes to sipping the last drops in the masu, though, skip the rule. Drink them from the corner or don't drink them at all. Trying to drink them from the side will get sake spilled on your shirt.

When drinking mokkiri style, with a glass placed into the masu, the glass will be filled to the point of overflowing. So, lift the glass a bit, tilt it and pour the excess sake into the masu. This way, you can drink from the glass without spilling any sake.

It is also perfectly acceptable to bring your mouth to the glass in the masu resting on the table and take a sip or two without touching the glass until you feel it will be safe to lift the glass without spilling.

Once you have finished the glass, feel free to pour the sake left in the masu into the glass or drink it directly from the masu the way described above.

You can watch here an English subtitled video detailing mokkiri serving and drinking ways, going a bit into the history of the style and including some interesting thoughts. Like, when a couple enjoys a sake together, the man should drink from the masu and the woman should drink from the glass - lipstick traces are hard to remove from a masu box.

If you use the masu to drink sake at home, you might want to put a pinch of salt onto a corner of the box and try licking it while drinking. This is said to greatly enhance the taste of the sake. You may also use your finger for licking the salt.

Sake served mokkiri style.
Sake served mokkiri style

History of Masu

Masu are square, open wooden boxes that were traditionally used to measure amounts of rice. Standardized nationwide by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1669, the smallest masu were to measure 1go of rice (ca. 180 ml).

Larger masu always measured in multiplications of go: 1sho = 10go (1.8 liters), 1to = 100go (18 liters), and so on. 1koku of rice (1000go = 180 liters) were considered to be the amount needed to sufficiently feed a working man or soldier for one year with three servings per day. The wealth of daimyo (regional rulers) in the Edo era was assessed by the number of koku of rice they could generate per year in their domain. Samurai were paid in koku of rice or their equivalent in money.

With the introduction of the metric system in Japan in 1886, those traditional Japanese measurements were largely abandoned. Sake however is still frequently sold according to the old measurements. Small bottles are often 1go (180 ml), family bottles are 4go (720 ml), large bottles used for ceremonies and at restaurants are 1sho (1.8 liters), good for 10 servings.

The masu boxes also survived the change to the metric system. Being beautifully crafted from fragrant cedar or cypress wood, the boxes were adapted for many new purposes. Storing things in them was one of them.

Masu boxes in the sake corner of a Japanese supermarket.
Masu boxes in the sake corner of a Japanese supermarket

Masu Today

The masu most popular today is the 1go box. Already in Edo times, they had become a serving box for sake. When served mokkiri style, the bar owner showed his generosity by serving the sake cup placed inside it overflowing.

This tradition has become deeply ingrained in Japanese culture - that is what you witness when being served a masu cup of sake in an izakaya bar.

Taking Care of the Masu

Masu are made of raw cedar or cypress wood, they, therefore, need some care to stay in good condition.

According to the experts at chibasake, wash the masu only with water, and don't use chemical detergents as they will destroy the scent of the wood. Do not leave the masu in the water for an extended period of time.

If you have to remove stains, rub the spots using baking soda or salt.

Never clean it in a dishwasher as that will dry the wood and make it vulnerable to moisture - which might result in mold.

After washing the box, wipe it with a cloth and let it air dry in a well-ventilated place. Make sure to always store the masu in a dry place away from direct sunlight.

Buy masu from GoodsFromJapan.

Buy Masu from GoodsFromJapan

Drinking sake from a masu is a very unique experience. Still, you can try it in your home or with friends wherever you live. GoodsFromJapan works with traditional masu manufacturer Maruni in Gifu Prefecture, producing high-quality masu not only of the 1go sake drinking variety but also masu of many different shapes and sizes for many purposes. All are made of precious fragrant Japanese cedar or cypress wood.

Please feel free to contact us if you are interested in more detailed information on the variety of Maruni masu boxes available beyond the 1go sake drinking box.

Buy masu for your home or business from GoodsFromJapan

Printing and branding on the masu with your company logo or Japanese characters are also possible. Please contact us for further details.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2022

最下位県の自慢-茨城 干し芋

最下位県の自慢-茨城、干し芋 

とあるTV番組で茨城が人気ランキング最下位に選ばれて久しい。そのマイナスイメージは今も払しょくできていない気がするのだが、そんなに悪い所じゃありませんよ、茨城。

関東平野の北に位置し、南東北と言われながらも、気候は温暖。晴れた日には富士山も眺望できる。茨城ー静岡間に高い山はほとんどないからである。大昔、富士山が噴火した時に火山灰もここまで運ばれてきたに違いない。茨城全域に積もりに積もった関東ローム層。これが茨城の土壌なのだけれど、ここで育つサツマイモが滅法美味しいのをご存じですか? 

サツマイモは土が大事。適度に湿度を保ったサラサラの赤土が、甘くてねっとりとした品種を育ててくれます。そして、たくさん取れたサツマイモを農家さんが蒸干して作るのが「干し芋」です。これこそ、茨城の一押し特産物!

干し芋.
紅はるかは「紅イモよりはるかに良い」から来たネーミング

Buy Ibaraki Hoshi imo from GoodsFromJapan.
干し芋 Dried sweet potato

Making hoshi imo in a traditional process.
サツマイモ農家さんの直販

干し芋は生のサツマイモを蒸して干すことで水分が抜けて栄養素が凝縮。そのため生のサツマイモに比べて、タンパク質、食物繊維、カリウムなどの栄養価は倍増!加熱してあるから甘い。

また今流行りの糖質オフダイエットにもお薦め。GI値(食後の血糖値の上昇を示す指標)が、白米は88、食パンは95、でも干し芋は55なんだって。

最下位県の自慢-茨城 干し芋.
茨城のもう一つの自慢、「鹿島アントラーズ Kashima Antlers」とコラボした干し芋。


干し芋はドライフーズで日持ちがするので、海外配送もオーケーです。

ぜひ、海外のお友達に茨城のサツマイモのおいしさを伝えてあげてください。

彼らが知っているアフリカ産の自然薯みたいなサツマイモとは別物で、「え、これがサツマイモ?スイーツ?」とびっくりするんじゃないかな。

また、海外在留の日本人の方は、美味しいサツマイモが懐かしくて仕方がないはず。

茨城の干し芋、送ってあげて。最下位県だけど、お役に立ちます。

Buy Ibaraki Hoshi imo from GoodsFromJapan

© GoodsFromJapan.com

Monday, April 11, 2022

Dokudami Tea From Japan

Dokudami ドクダミ 蕺草

Dokudami seen in Japan in May 2022.

Dokudami (Fish Mint; Houttuynia cordata) flowers around May in Japan. The plant Dokudami, lit. "poison stop" is considered medicinal, acting as a mild laxative and diuretic as well as a general body cleanser.

Some elderly Japanese people still make a tea from its dried leaves, though its medicinal properties are more highly thought of now in the west rather than Japan.

Fish Mint; Houttuynia cordata.
Fish Mint or Houttuynia cordata is a mild detox

Few people in Japan now eat dokudami leaves in salad and the plant is less widespread than it was 25 years ago, though it has adapted well to most environments in urban and suburban Japan.

Dokudami can be found throughout Japan, China and Korea.

Purchase dokudami tea direct from GoodsFromJapan.

Containing no caffeine, dokudami tea is suitable for all ages and can be readily brewed and enjoyed just like ordinary tea at any time of the day.

Purchase dokudami tea direct from GoodsFromJapan

Dokudami Tea From Japan.
The dokudami plant flowers in early May in Japan

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Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Arimatsu Shibori Tie Dye

Arimatsu & Arimatsu Shibori 有松絞り

The main street in Arimatsu is flanked with Edo Period style buildings.
The main street in Arimatsu is flanked with Edo Period style buildings

Arimatsu, located in Midori-ku in southeast Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture, was once an old Edo-period (1603-1867) post station town on the Tokaido highway between Kyoto and Tokyo.

The Tokaido (lit. "East Sea Road") is Japan's most famous highway and historically links the ancient capital of Kyoto with Edo (present-day Tokyo) along the Pacific coast via Nagoya. The Tokaido officially started in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo and finished at Sanjo Bridge in Kyoto. Arimatsu lies between the post stations of Narumi-shuku and Chiryu-shuku.

During the Edo Period, the Tokaido inspired the many artists and poets who walked along its route. These included the ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige (1797-1858) who painted the 53 post stations where travelers rested after their day's journey.

Contemporary shibori.
Contemporary shibori

Nowadays, Arimatsu's main claim to fame is its intricate Arimatsu shibori (tie-dyed fabrics). The technique is used to produce colorful designs for cotton kimonos, yukata, noren, handkerchiefstable cloths, and even masks and iPhone covers.

It was once sold to travelers on the old Tokaido and is still going strong today.

Arimatsu traditional wooden building and noren.
Arimatsu traditional wooden building and noren

Traditional Wooden Architecture

As the industry is still carried on to this day, many of the original merchant houses have been preserved. There are a number of shops and shibori museums where visitors can purchase both traditional and more contemporary tie-dyed products as well as try their hand at producing them.

Arimatsu Narumi Shibori Kaikan is a good place to start.

If you stroll down the main street of the old quarter there are a number of fine, preserved merchant houses, with Nurigome-style, anti-fire, clay coatings, and second-floor latticework windows, including Takeda's house, which are all well worth a look. The original buildings were destroyed by a fire in 1784 and the houses seen today date from after that year when the buildings were rebuilt with thick plaster walls and tiled roofs as a defense against fire.

Buildings of historic interest marked with signboards include the House of Oka, the House of Takeda, the House of Kozuka, and the House of Nakahama.

The contrast between old and modern Arimatsu could not be starker and the station area is dominated by a huge Aeon store and a new elevated highway, the contemporary successor to the old Tokaido, has been constructed just outside the town.

Arimatsu noren curtain.
Arimatsu noren curtain

Shibori

The technique found its way to the Nagoya area when craftsmen from Oita in Kyushu, skilled in the shibori technique were ordered to help in the construction of Nagoya Castle by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and later settled in the area. The most influential figure in the history of Arimatsu's tye-dye industry was Takeda Shokuro, whose memorial can be seen just behind the car park of Arimatsu Narumi Shibori Kaikan.

This tall wooden building holds a festival float.
This tall wooden building (dashiko) holds a festival float - the Karako-sha

Arimatsu Festival

Arimatsu's colorful festival is held on the first Sunday of October and consists of a street parade with floats and participants in traditional costumes celebrating Arimatsu's history as a shibori center and Tokaido post town since 1608. The floats have mechanical dolls (karakuri) riding on top of them - one of which can even write!

It is also possible to see the impressive festival floats at the Arimatsu Festival Float Museum (Open 10 am-4 pm; closed Wednesday; Tel: 062 621 3000) and in the other large storehouses where they are kept.

Aya Irodori.
Aya Irodori Atelier

Shibori Today

As with many Japanese crafts in the 21st century, younger designers are re-inventing traditional designs and motifs. One good example is Aya Irodori Atelier, a third-generation design company dealing mainly in women's fashion. Some designers are also using shibori designs on leather products such as shoes and wallets.

Arimatsu is an old post town on the Tokaido.
Arimatsu is an old post town on the Tokaido

Access - Getting to Arimatsu

Arimatsu Station on the Meitetsu Honsen Line from Nagoya, Horita, or Kanayama stations.

Several buses also stop in Arimatsu. These are the numbers 30, 32, 33 and 34 from Kanayama Station.

Contemporary shibori.
Contemporary shibori

Arimatsu Related

Shibori Ladies' Bags

Shibori Flower Pattern Handkerchiefs

Gallery

Arimatsu is in Midori-ku, Nagoya.
Arimatsu is in Midori-ku, Nagoya - here the building has anti-fire, clay coating
Wooden slatted building in Arimatsu, Aichi Prefecture.
Wooden slatted building in Arimatsu, Aichi Prefecture
Arimatsu noren curtain.
Arimatsu ありまつ noren curtain

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Ishigaki Sea Salt

Sayama Japanese Green Tea

Shichimi Togarashi Seven Spices

Yatsuhiro & Tatami

Yuzukosho Spice of Kyushu

© GoodsFromJapan

Friday, April 01, 2022

Yatsushiro and Tatami

Yatsushiro and Tatami 畳

Jake Davies

The skyline of Yatsushiro, Kumamoto, an unlikely setting for one of Japan's unique cultural products.
The skyline of Yatsushiro, Kumamoto, an unlikely setting for one of Japan's unique cultural products

Yatsushiro is a small city on the coast of Kumamoto Prefecture in central Kyushu. Located at the mouth of the Kumagawa River where it empties into the sea across from the Amakusa Islands, it is not a well-known tourist destination and for most is just glimpsed out of the Shinkansen window.

Once home to a small castle, the town's major landmarks now are the chimneys and industrial structures of a large paper mill. North of the town is a flat, coastal plain covered in fields and paddies dotted with small farming settlements, and it is from here that Yatsushiro produces what is arguably its most important crop, igusa, the type of rush that is used in tatami mats, and of which Yatsushiro produces a full 90% of all that is now produced in Japan.

Tatami mats, the traditional Japanese flooring that was originally only for the elite and wealthy.
Tatami mats, the traditional Japanese flooring that was originally only for the elite and wealthy

Uniquely Japanese

Tatami are the rectangular mats that cover floors in traditional Japanese homes and spaces. They are a uniquely Japanese product, unlike so many that actually have their origins in China or Korea. If Japan had imported the chair from China then maybe tatami would not have even been invented.

In the Heian Period (794-1185) most Japanese homes had dirt floors with straw mats. The wealthy, however, had wooden floors, and tatami was used for seating. By the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), the use of tatami had become more widespread and by now whole rooms would be covered in tatami. By the late 17th century the use of tatami had spread to many commoners' houses.

Small, local tatami workshops still can be found in many towns.
Small, local tatami workshops still can be found in many towns

Tatami Parts

There are three parts to a tatami mat: tatami-doko, tatami-fuchi, and tatami-omote. Tatami-doko is the bulk of the mat, the interior. Traditionally it was compressed rice straw, but nowadays foam, wood-chips, and other materials are often used, sometimes in combination with straw. Tatami-fuchi is the woven brocade strips that cover the edges of the mat. These are woven in a variety of standard designs. Tatami-omote, is the surface of the mat, the woven strands of igusa, and it's from the Yatsushiro area that most of the Japanese igusa now come from.

Flooded paddy in December being prepared for igusa planting.
Flooded paddy in December being prepared for igusa planting

Igusa

Igusa (pronounced igsa, the u is very weak), Juncus effusus, is known as soft rush or common rush in English. It grows naturally throughout the Japanese islands, and is actually found growing over most of the world. Its natural habitat is near water, on river banks, marshy land, etc. As the use of tatami mats spread, the Japanese began to cultivate it, and about 500 years ago the daimyo of Kumamoto gave a license to produce igusa to 5 villages in the Yatsushiro area. In the Meiji period restrictions on who could grow igusa were lifted, but whereas nowadays there is little igusa grown in most of Japan, igusa production flourishes in the Yatsushiro area.

Young igusa shoots growing in paddies near Yatsushiro, Kumamoto. Virtually indistinguishable from a rice paddy.
Young igusa shoots growing in paddies near Yatsushiro, Kumamoto. Virtually indistinguishable from a rice paddy

Paddies

Igusa is grown in flooded paddies, in a similar way to rice, though the seasons are almost opposite. Igusa is panted in late Autumn to early Winter, after the rice has been harvested. The small machines used in the planting and harvesting of igusa are variations on the same machines used for rice. In the Spring a net is stretched over the paddy so that as the plant grows tall the net supports it and stops wind damage. The igusa is harvested in the peak of Summer when it has grown to up to a meter and a half tall.

The growing igusa plants will soon need a supportive net.
The growing igusa plants will soon need a supportive net

Processing

After harvesting, the same farming families that grew the igusa also do the processing. First the igusa is dried and then stored in dark conditions. This enables the retention of the light-green color typical of a new tatami mat. Though igusa is only harvested once a year, the weaving of the mats goes on pretty much all year round.  Every small village will have several workshops where the "chaka-chaka-chaka" of machinery can be heard. The igusa straw is first graded, then trimmed, and finally woven into mats ready for tatami-makers throughout the country.

Dried igusa is trimmed and cut to length.
Dried igusa is trimmed and cut to length
The first mechanical looms for weaving igusa into tatami were invented in the 1930s.
The first mechanical looms for weaving igusa into tatami were invented in the 1930s
The final product waiting to be shipped to a tatami maker.
The final product waiting to be shipped to a tatami maker

Purchase Tatami from Japan

Purchase a selection of tatami products from GoodsFromJapan

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© GoodsFromJapan.com