Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Ramune - A Taste of Japan's Summer

Ramune ラムネ

Chilled ramune on a hot summer day.
Chilled ramune on a hot summer day

Ramune is a refreshing, Japanese, carbonated drink sold in Codd-neck glass bottles. The drink is a popular staple at summer festivals across the country, it can also frequently be found in small shops near tourist destinations. The more obscure that tourist destination is, the more old-fashioned the shop is, the more likely you are to encounter Ramune.

In a country that sees highly-touted new releases of soft drinks every season by the large beverage companies, ramune survives as a sort of niche product, seen by many Japanese in quite nostalgic terms.

Most Japanese seem to have memories of drinking ramune during a summer trip to the countryside - and of breaking the bottle to retrieve the glass ball from the bottleneck to use it as a marble to play with.

Today's parents buy their children ramune to have them experience those same childhood moments, just the way their own parents did. Thus, ramune lives on through the generations - and children like to play with glass balls no matter what the newest electronic toy may be.

Ramune bottles, Japan.
Ramune bottles

Codd-neck Bottles

The word ramune is a Japanese adaptation of the English word lemonade. Ramune is however not just any lemonade. There are plenty of lemonades in Japan sold in cans and plastic bottles – they can however never be a ramune. To qualify as ramune the drink has to come in a Codd-neck bottle.

The Codd-neck bottle was patented in 1872 by British inventor Hiram Codd as an alternative to the use of cork as a bottle cap for carbonated drinks.

In a Codd-neck bottle, a glass ball, usually called a marble, is pressed against a rubber gasket in the narrow bottleneck close to the lid by the power of the carbonate in the liquid, tightly sealing the bottle by using the power mechanics working inside the bottle. You open the bottle by pushing the glass ball out of its position and into a neighboring chamber within the bottle. The tiny tool to do this comes with the bottle, sealed under the plastic wrapper covering the top.

This demands certain techniques that customers quickly learn, though often only after having a part of the drink shoot out in a gush or by the glass ball falling back into place once they raise the bottle to their mouths. That's all part of the fun, part of those precious childhood memories that make ramune a drink handed over from generation to generation.

Hiram Cobb also introduced the idea of bottle recycling. He started a bottle exchange in London where his bottles could be returned to the original manufacturer. Agents collecting the bottles were paid a fee.

What he didn't count on was the popularity of the glass marbles inside the bottles to children, the main customers of the carbonated soft drinks sold in his licensed bottles. They rather smashed the bottles and used the glass marbles for their own purposes. For playing, for trading.

Hand-drawn ramune poster at a store in Chichibu, Saitama.
Hand-drawn ramune poster at a store in Chichibu, Saitama

Banta

Codd-neck bottles became the rage all over the British Empire but it was the Crown Colony of India where a soft drink was invented that was particularly suited to and, in fact, defined by the mechanics of the Codd-neck bottle: Banta.

The lemon or orange-flavored drink soon went from the posh Colonial clubs into the Indian street markets. Codd-neck bottles were produced by the millions in small glass works. Today. Banta is still one of India's most popular soft drinks.

Opened ramune bottle with bottle opener. The pushed-in glassball can be seen in the upper part of the bottle.
Opened ramune bottle with bottle opener. The pushed-in glass ball can be seen in the upper part of the bottle

History of Ramune

British pharmacist Alexander Cameron Sim (1840-1900) may have known about the success of Banta in India. In any case, shortly after his arrival in the newly-opened port town of Kobe, Japan, he devised his own invention, a lemon-based drink in a Codd-neck bottle that soon became known as ramune.

Introduced in 1884 to the foreign settlement, ramune soon became popular with the Japanese population after an article in the Tokyo Mainichi Shimbun praised the drink's preventative properties against cholera.

Cholera, an infectious disease caused by poor-quality drinking water, was a major concern at the time. Ramune, made from clean mountain water was seen as an easy alternative to drinking the questionable water of the wells within the big cities. As it contained no alcohol, it could also be used as a drink for small children.

Ramune Manufacturers

Today, the production of ramune is regulated by the Law Concerning Adjustment of Business Activities of Large Business Operators to Ensure Opportunities for Business Activities of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME Sector Adjustment Law), a law that also regulates the production of tofu and shochu, for example.

Major beverage companies are not allowed to engage in the production of ramune and have to leave the field to a variety of smaller businesses. Hata Kousen, based in Osaka, might be the most well-known of the ramune manufacturers active today.

Ramune comes in a very wide range of flavors though the most common is still the original lemon / lime flavor. Some people like to add a few drops of lemon juice to the drink - taking out some of its sweetness and adding more freshness.

Retrieving the Marble

In the old days, the rubber gasket at the lid was sealed to the glass bottle, necessitating the destruction of the bottle to retrieve the glass ball inside.

Today, that rubber gasket has been replaced by a plastic cap that can be unscrewed from the bottle. This makes it very easy to take the glass ball out. Just make sure to turn the cap to the right, in the opposite direction of common unscrewing. The marble then easily plops out of the bottle.

Codd-neck Bottles Today

While the Codd-neck bottle was a major invention of the late 19th century, in the course of the 20th century it was almost universally replaced by the much more convenient crown cork.

Very few beverages are still offered in Codd-neck bottles today. The two major drinks among them are India's Banta and Japan's ramune - which makes the bottles collectibles among some aficionados of vintage bottle designs.

Six-pack of Hata Ramune.
A six-pack of Hata Ramune

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Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Yanai Goldfish Lanterns

Unique Goldfish Lanterns of Yanai 柳井市

Kingyo Chochin lanterns, unique to Yanai in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Kingyo Chochin lanterns, unique to Yanai in Yamaguchi Prefecture

Yanai, a small town in the far western Japanese prefecture of Yamaguchi, is home to unique paper lanterns shaped like goldfish.

Located on the Yanai River a little upstream of where the river empties into the Seto Naikai, the Inland Sea, the tidal river in earlier times was navigable as far as Yanai.

As a result, the town developed and grew as an important port and trading center at a time when the Inland Sea was in essence the most important transportation route in Japan.

Shirakabe Street in Yanai.
Shirakabe Street in Yanai

Edo Period Architecture

A large part of the old town has escaped development and remains essentially as it was in the Edo Period. The town, in fact, is registered as a Historical Preservation District, one of only about 120 in the country.

The main street is lined with buildings displaying one of the common features of merchant towns of the Edo period, white-plastered walls.

Called Shirakabe in Japanese, quite a few tourist areas around Japan have "Shirakabe" streets. Like many of the other similar historic districts in Japan, Yanai has a wide range of local history museums, historic "open houses", interesting gift shops and cafes, and a particularly large soy sauce brewery with a museum. However, what distinguishes Yanai from all the others are the unusual paper lanterns hanging everywhere.

Goldfish lanterns strung above historic buildings in Yanai, Yamaguchi.
Goldfish lanterns strung above historic buildings in Yanai, Yamaguchi

Paper Lanterns

Lanterns made of paper are not an unusual sight in Japan. The classic red lantern, akachochin, hanging outside drinking establishments are well known.

Also many shrines and temples feature paper lanterns, also large numbers of them are hung during festivals with night-time activities such as cherry-blossom viewing parties, and most notably during the Obon period in August where the return of the ancestors is celebrated.

However, the lanterns you see in Yanai are unique and are not round or cylindrical, but shaped like goldfish.

Display of paper lanterns with designs of goldfish during the goldfish lantern festival in Yanai.
Display of paper lanterns with designs of goldfish during the goldfish lantern festival in Yanai

Goldfish

Goldfish, kingyo, have been a popular feature of Japanese summer festivals since the Edo Period, with children playing kingyo sukui, scooping up the tiny fish using a kind of paper scoop. Towards the end of the Edo Period a local merchant named Kumatani Rinzaburo had the idea that maybe the town's kids would enjoy lanterns shaped like goldfish.

The lanterns are made in the same way as traditional lanterns, out of paper and thin strips of bamboo, but with the big, dramatic eyes, and drooping tails and fins, the kingyo chochin are just as decorative during the daytime with the lights off.

Historic streets of Yanai illuminated by unique goldfish lanterns.
Historic streets of Yanai illuminated by unique goldfish lanterns

Kingyo Chochin Festival

The lanterns can be seen all year round along the streets of the old town with hundreds of them hung from the buildings, and are especially delightful when illuminated after dark, but starting in late July even more of the lanterns start to appear, culminating in the town's Kingyo Chochin Festival on August 13th.

Part of the town's Obon celebrations, both banks of the river have large numbers of lantern displays, as well as along Shirakabe Street.

The highlight of the festival are giant goldfish lanterns on floats pulled by local teams. This is very much an influence of the famous Nebuta Festival of Aomori. Bon dances are held alongside an array of traditional festivals stalls, and the culmination is a large firework display.

Goldfish lantern display along the river in Yanai.
Goldfish lantern display along the river in Yanai

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Purchase a selection of Yanai lanterns from GoodsFromJapan

Jake Davies

Gallery

In earlier times trading vessels docked at the riverside merchant town of Yanai.
In earlier times trading vessels docked at the riverside merchant town of Yanai
The goldfish lantern has now become the symbol of Yanai, appearing everywhere, even on drain covers.
The goldfish lantern has now become the symbol of Yanai, appearing everywhere, even on manhole covers
Goldfish lanterns strung along a street of historic buildings in Yanai, Yamaguchi.
Goldfish lanterns are strung along a street of historic buildings in Yanai, Yamaguchi
Kingyo chochin, a goldfish lantern from Yanai in Yamaguchi.
Kingyo chochin, a goldfish lantern from Yanai in Yamaguchi

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Friday, June 24, 2022

Japanese Dolls World of Ningyo

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo.
Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo

by Alan Scott Pate

Tuttle

ISBN: 978-0804849777
Hardback, 272 pp

Dolls, models - usually small - of humans and used by children for play but also used in magic and religious ritual, seem to be fairly universal and are found all over the world and date back millennia. Collecting dolls is also a widespread phenomenon not limited to any geographic area or specific time, and it is about the collecting of Japanese dolls that this book begins.

With short chapters on such things as the first Western collectors of ningyo, looking behind the scenes of a Meiji-era Japanese Doll Shop, etc. and the book ends with hints and tips for those who may be thinking about starting to collect Japanese dolls, including a list of dealers around the world who specialize in them, but the greatest part of the book focuses on the dolls themselves.

Page from the book showing text and photos
Copyright Tuttle


Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo covers eighteen different styles of dolls across seven broad categories, and while there are plenty of other types of Japanese dolls, most with regional variations, it covers most of the types of doll you are likely to come across. There are the obvious types such as the dolls found on display at Hina Matsuri, but also several types of mass-produced ceramic dolls and the extremely simple Kokeshi wooden dolls. Interestingly bunraku puppets are also included as are two types of karakuri ningyo, mechanical dolls.

For me, the most intriguing are the iki-ningyo, known as "living dolls" which exhibit a realism that cannot be surpassed and are truly miniature sculptures. For each style of doll we are given the origins of the style and its historical development, but more importantly perhaps, the context for the dolls, how they fit into the broader culture, the whys of their purpose etc.

More meaning is found in the costumes, the poses, the humans that the dolls are modeled on, leading us to a greater appreciation of any dolls we may come across. However, the best reason for buying this book are the photos, 400 of them, almost all full color, some whole page, and all very detailed. This is most definitely a coffee table book that will draw you in after flipping a few pages. For anyone thinking about collecting Japanese dolls, this book is a gold mine, but anyone interested in Japanese art and culture will find plenty to expand their knowledge.

Japanese doll.
Copyright Tuttle

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Monday, June 20, 2022

Japanese Crafts In Kyoto

Japanese Craft Stores in Kyoto 京都

Japanese crafts are often regarded as formal and for special occasions only. But this is not true. Just as many handicrafts are simple, inexpensive, and created for everyday life. And even simple, daily-life things are skillfully and patiently created by Kyoto craftsmen, who pride themselves on making beautiful things that last for a long, long time. Here are some arts and crafts from Kyoto's most famous stores.

Lacquerware Soup Bowls.

Lacquerware Soup Bowls

New black or dark red lacquer tableware is expensive. But Kyoto's Uruwashi-ya offers you a great solution: used lacquerware. Used or antique lacquerware is very reasonable. However, you should inquire about how it will hold up in dry climates because lacquer is ideally suited to high humidity environments. On the south side of Marutamachi, east of Fuyacho. Open 11 am - 6 pm, closed on Tuesdays. Tel: 075 212 0043.

Brushes & Brooms

Need a handmade brush or broom to clean the house or your garden? Then you've come to the right place. Naito Shoten, an early 19th-century handmade brush and broom shop, has everything you could possibly hope for. Everything from large to small, including brushes for long glasses, pot cleaners, and mats (from ¥400). On the north side of Sanjo, just west of the Kamogawa River. Open daily 9.30 am -7 pm. Tel: 075 221 3018.

Kakimoto, Kyoto.

Japanese Washi Paper Table Decorations

Warm to the touch and naturally colored, Japanese handmade paper or washi can easily be adapted to serve as a table cloth, coasters, and for all kinds of other table decorations. And best of all: washi is so strong that it can be used over and over. For a great selection of washi, go to Kamijikakimoto, on the east side of Teramachi, about 100 meters north of Nijo. Tel: 075 211 3481. (www.kamiji-kakimoto.jp)

Japanese Crafts In Kyoto.

Japanese Bamboo Takehei 竹平

In operation for over 100 years, and now in its 4th generation, Takehei Shoten is known by many as Japan's bamboo specialist.

Within their vast warehouse, they stock about 100 different kinds of specialty bamboo, ranging from the standard to the very exotic. The age-old expertise that Takehei has built up over 100 years is sought out by bamboo artisans, architects, traditional musicians, designers, and antique dealers from all over the country.

Takehei also exports bamboo materials overseas (mainly to antique dealers, interior decorators, landscaping specialists, and architects). As the fastest growing plant in the world (1.2 meters in 12 hours), bamboo is a remarkable material that remains the preference for many of Japan's traditional designs and utensils.

Their curved window frames (for a Japanese home or tea ceremony room) are just one of Takehei's many unique products. (There are only a handful of artisans left in Japan that can make frames of this high quality and intricacy.)

Takehei is located on the west side of Omiya, north of Gojo. Open from 9 am to 6 pm, except on Sundays and public holidays.

Takehei
403 Omiya-gojo, Shimogyo-ku
Kyoto 600-8377
Tel: 075 841 3803

Kanzashi Hair Ornaments 幾岡屋.

Kanzashi Hair Ornaments 幾岡屋

Ikuokaya has been doing business in the world-famous Gion district for more than 150 years. They specialize in kanzashi hair ornaments, fans, bags, and accessories.

Stepping into the shop, one enters the world of accessories that add to the exotic charm of the geiko: splendid, colorful kanzashi (hairpins), exquisitely designed handkerchiefs, little richly patterned silk bags with drawstrings, sandalwood combs. Many of the patterns and designs express the seasonal elements for which Japan is so well known: flowers, bushes, and important symbols like the moon, pine trees, cranes, and rabbits.

Ikuokaya is located on the south side of Shijo, east of Hanamikoji. Open 11 am-7 pm (closed Thursdays). Tel: 075 561 8087. Gion-Shijo Station is the nearest station.

Ikuokaya
577-2 Gionmachi Minamigawa
Higashiyama-ku
Kyoto-shi
605-0074

Asahi-do Ceramics, Kiyomizu, Kyoto.

Asahi-do Ceramics 朝日堂

Asahido is one of the most famous of Kyoto's Kiyomizu yaki pottery stores. It has been a landmark for generations of visitors to Kiyomizu Temple since its establishment in 1870.

From everyday tableware to one-of-a-kind tea ceremony bowls by well-known ceramic artists, Asahido has something for every taste and budget.

The relaxing atmosphere of the traditional Japanese interior offers a welcome break from sightseeing, and the colorful items are displayed under warm, soft lighting. It almost seems more like a ceramics museum than a store. There is also a tea room and gallery space, which exhibits selected ceramic art.

Asahido's exquisite merchandise has won it an international clientele, and it has also been privileged to supply items to the Japanese Imperial Household. However, the wide range of items is sure to provide anyone with many excellent and affordable souvenir ideas. Asahido goods can also be bought at other places around Kyoto: in the Kyoto Tokyu Hotel, the Kyoto ANA Hotel, and Arashiyama Syoryuen in Arashiyama.

Also try Asahido Toan, located just a few shops down the street from the main Asahido store for a range of Japanese crafts.

Asahido Toan offers a range of authentic Japanese traditional crafts, including woodblock prints, bamboo items, incense, as well as Kiyomizu yaki pottery. Open daily from 9 am to 6 pm. Packing and delivery service available. Located on Kiyomizuzaka, in front of Kiyomizu Temple. All major credit cards are accepted.

Asahido
1-280, Kiyomizu
Higashiyama-ku
Kyoto 605-0862
Tel: 075 531 2181

Access: Take the Kyoto city bus #206 from Kyoto Station to Gojozaka bus stop, then a 10-minute walk.

Kita no Tenmangu.

Kyoto Fleamarkets

Japan is well known for its temple and shrine flea markets, and Kyoto boasts two that draw crowds from around the country: one at Toji Temple, in south Kyoto, and the other Kita no Tenmangu, in northern Kyoto. The market at Toji is called Kobo-san by locals, which refers to the monk who founded the Kobo sect of Buddhism. It is held on the 21st of every month, on the grounds of Toji. Shoppers in the know arrive very early and bargain hard. Four days later, on the 25th, "Tenjin-san" is held at Kita no Tenmangu Shrine.

Though they are both pilgrimages and take place on religious grounds, the overall feel at both is that of a lively outdoor market. At both, antiques, clothing, statues, fabric, kimono, and fresh vegetables are for sale at booths set up early in the morning by vendors who often come long distances to sell their wares. Ceramics such as tea bowls and pots are also widely available. Pictured above left are good luck charms--mainly for driving and luck on university exams--that are sold at Kita no Tenmangu.

Tenjin-san is west of Nishijin, Kyoto's traditional weaving district also has geisha dance performances on occasion.

The markets date back many centuries, and in addition to food and clothes, and antiques they also feature games for children. There is, for example, the goldfish scoop: with a flimsy net children attempt to scoop up goldfish, which if successful they can take home. There are other cards and shooting games that will be familiar to anyone who has been to an American carnival. The vendors at the games are usually young and in many cases borderline yakuza. Count your change.

Crowds are worst when the weather is good, after 10 am, and at year's end. The smart shoppers will arrive by 6 am to pick through the best goods.

Directions

Toji Temple

Take the Kintetsu Railway local train one stop from Kyoto Station to Toji Station. Walk two blocks west. (Tel: 075 691 3325)

Kita no Tenmangu Shrine

Take the 59 bus from Shijo or Sanjo in downtown Kyoto.

OR

Take the Keifuku Railways train to Kita no Hakubaicho, and walk two blocks along Imadegawa Dori. (Tel: 075 461 0005)

Chionji Temple

Chionji flea market is on a much smaller scale than Toji and Kita no Tenmangu, specializing in hand-made crafts. Chionji market is held on the 15th of each month, and it is often easy to get a space on the morning of the market. The market is on the grounds of Chionji Temple on the northeast corner of Hyakumanben near Kyoto University.

Buses #17, #201, #206. (Tel: 075 781 9171/075 961 0005 to register)

Washi paper art.

Kurotani Washi 黒谷和紙

Kurotani is well-known for its wagami ('rice' paper) production. Appreciation for this lifetime-absorbing craft has led to the paper art of Kurotani being designated an Important Cultural Property of Kyoto.

The history of Kurotani village traces back eight centuries to a warrior of the Taira Clan who, having failed at battle, saw it as his duty to leave an art form for following generations. A communal determination to stay with the traditional techniques employed from the start have led to paper of consistent quality, and to world-wide fame.

Wagami, or washi, is made from the Paper Mulberry tree of the Mulberry Bush family, characterized by its durable, fibrous quality. The delicate beauty of each sheet is apparent, and kept in good condition this kind of paper lasts literally a millenium or more - a stunning technical achievement for the craftspeople of the Heian era.

In the centre of Kurotani the Wagami Exhibition Hall provides paper information (mainly in Japanese). It also offers also a tour of neighborhood homes and workshops, where the paper making process can be viewed. Visitors have the opportunity to produce paper themselves and to purchase products made from washi such as wallets, name card holders, greetings cards, notebooks and zabuton cushions.

Kurotani Washi Kaikan
3 Higashidani, Kurotani-cho
Ayabe City
Kyoto 623-0108
Tel: 0773 44 0213
www: kurotaniwashi.jp

Monday-Friday 9 am-4.30 pm closed weekends and national holidays.

Take the JR Sanin Main Line from Kyoto Station to Ayabe Station (70 minutes by limited express) and exit the station from the south exit. The Kurotani Washi Kaikan is a two minute walk from the Kurotani Washi Kaikan Mae stop on the Aya Bus Kurotani Line.

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Friday, June 17, 2022

Japanese Kokeshi Dolls Book Review

Book Review: Japanese Kokeshi Dolls: The Woodcraft and Culture of Japan's Iconic Wooden Dolls

ISBN: 978-4-8053-1554-5
By Manami Okazaki
Tuttle Publishing, 2021
168 pp, hardback

Book Review: Japanese Kokeshi Dolls: The Woodcraft and Culture of Japan's Iconic Wooden Dolls.
Japanese Kokeshi Dolls: The Woodcraft and Culture of Japan's Iconic Wooden Dolls

Covering every aspect of kokeshi dolls that you can imagine, and probably some that you can't, Manami Okazaki's book is as educational as it is beautiful.

Kokeshi have exploded from their origins in hot springs towns in the Tohoku (Northeast) region of Japan sometime in the 1800s.  You can now get kokeshi that are cat-themed, ninja-themed, ice cream-themed, Astro Boy-themed, hat-themed, mushroom-themed,  and 1960s psychedelic-themed. That's just for starters. Have you ever wanted a doll with mompe pants? These days, that's no problem.

There are perhaps 300 full-color pictures of kokeshi that are new and old, big and small, cute and scary, and traditional and, er, less than traditional. There are also pictures of some of the famous artisans who make them. Most of the pictures of kokeshi are of very high quality and will pique the interest of the reader.

The book opens with a short explanation of what exactly kokeshi are, what kinds of wood they are made from, a brief history of the dolls, and a description of the craft of making the dolls. Next up is a section on the 12 recognized traditional styles of kokeshi, followed by a section on what are called modern kokeshi.

Traditional kokeshi, which are still almost exclusively made in the Tohoku region, adhere to historic models, while contemporary kokeshi "have no formal rules, and are completely free from the constraints of tradition."

The contemporary kokeshi can be incredibly ornate and thought-provoking. Readers may especially be attracted to the works of Sendai's Noboru Wagatsuma. Admittedly, his work can be a bit out there, with Roswell alien and cheeseburger kokeshi among his more interesting efforts.

Example page from the book.
Example page from the book © Tuttle Publishing

The book also covers other interesting artisans and their histories. These pages often include websites, email addresses and even phone numbers to call if you are a serious buyer.

The last 25 pages are two-to-four-page sections on traveling to the prefectures - pretty much all in Tohoku - where most kokeshi makers can still be found, and also where you can go to buy kokeshi if you are in Tokyo, Australia, Europe, the Middle East or America.

Japanophiles who know the traditional Shinto belief that dolls have souls may be aware of the annual doll blessing and burning ceremony in Tokyo. You can't just throw away dolls, they must be blessed and then burned by a priest in an atmospheric ritual. This is also true of kokeshi, and their ceremony is held annually at a shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

The quality of the pictures and content of this square-shaped book are easily good enough to display on your coffee table. The book may also nudge you into purchasing a kokeshi or two, even if you hadn't planned on it.

Review by Marshall Hughes

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Examples of contemporary kokeshi dolls.
Contemporary kokeshi dolls © Tuttle Publishing

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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Calpis Soft Drink

Calpis カルピス

by Johannes Schonherr

Calpis bottles in a Japanese supermarket.
Calpis bottles in a Japanese supermarket

Calpis is a classic Japanese soft drink sold as a concentrate and based on fermented milk, first introduced in 1919. It has a slightly acidic flavor, similar to plain yoghurt.

Though Calpis is often just mixed with water or milk for quick consumption, the variety of its uses is endless. It can be mixed with any kind of fruit syrup or fruit juice, it can enhance the taste of ice cream or served as part of a cocktail.

Some people consider Calpis to be a refreshing summer drink, others drink it throughout the whole year, some appreciate its healthy properties, others just enjoy the taste. In any case, Calpis is one of Japan's most popular soft drinks.

Searching for the original Calpis concentrate in a Japanese supermarket can be a bit confusing at first. In the chilled drink section you always find a variety of ready-to-drink Calpis sodas. Looking for the concentrate, you have to go to the non-chilled section which is usually not that far away but definitely on a different set of shelves.

Calpis advertisement in the Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1920.
Calpis advertisement in the Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1920

History of the Drink

The history of the drink started in the year 1904 when Japanese businessman Kaiun Mishima (1878-1974) travelled to Inner Mongolia. He encountered there a drink named airag (in other parts of central Asia known as kumis) made from mare milk fermented with lactobacilli.

Weakened from the exhausting travel, he recovered very quickly after consuming the drink a few times. He also liked the drink's acidic flavor and he concluded, rightly, that airag played a great part in enabling the people of Inner Mongolia to stay healthy in the harsh climate of the region.

Mishima returned to Japan with the mission to create a similar drink, a drink that "can contribute to people's lives", as he said.

Since in Japan mare milk was hard to come by, he focused on cow's milk. After studying lactobacilli and the related fermentation processes for more than a decade, Mishima's newly established company introduced Calpis to Japan for the first time on July 7 1919.

Calpis ready to drink.
Calpis ready to drink

Calpis Bottle Design

July 7 is in Japan the much celebrated day of Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival. Two lovers in heaven, punished by the gods and thus separated by the Milky Way, are allowed to meet only that one night in the year.

The original bottle design of Calpis already featured the stars of the Milky Way in the form of multiple dots on a black background. Today, the bottles are white but still show lots of polka dots. The connection of Calpis to Tanabata stays on.

Popularity of Calpis

The drink was an instant success after its inauguration. As a concentrate, it didn't require refrigeration and thus could easily be stored even during the hot summer days. Consumers quickly got inventive and came up with all sorts of recipes on how to use the drink.

Mishima saw his company blooming until he died at age 96 in 1974. Perhaps his frequent consumption of Calpis had an impact on his lifespan?

In the 1980s, ready-to-drink chilled Calpis soft drinks started to appear on Japanese supermarket shelves in plastic bottles. Much research had gone into them to appeal to the tastes of as many as people as possible.

Still, that development came as a big surprise to many. "We always had our private family recipe on how to make the best Calpis drink," many wondered, "Now, the mix in the plastic bottles is how Calpis is supposed to taste like?"

Some thought that the ready-to-drink sodas were superior, other stayed on with their family traditions.

In 2012, brewery giant Asahi Group Holdings acquired Calpis.

Variety of Calpis Products

Today, the original Calpis concentrate is still available in every Japanese supermarket while the variety of the chilled Calpis sodas is almost endless. By now, Calpis candies and other sweets are also available.

An inscription on the top of the standard 470ml bottle of Calpis concentrate states that using one fifth of Calpis for a 150ml glass, you get 15 drinks out of one bottle of Calpis. It doesn't say what to mix the drink with but one might assume that it means either water (carbonated or not), milk or soya milk. Some people might argue and say that they get either much more or much less out of a bottle. It's all a matter of personal preferences.

The inscription below the logo translates to Peace to the Body, meaning that the drink is both relaxing and healthy. A remark reflecting Kaiun Mishima's original intentions.

Buy Calpis from GoodsFromJapan.
Buy Calpis from GoodsFromJapan

Purchase Calpis & A Range of Other Drinks From Japan

Purchase a range of Japanese health drinks from GoodsFromJapan.

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Yuzu Kosho Spice from Kyushu

© GoodsFromJapan.com

Monday, May 30, 2022

常滑はトイレの町だった-Tokoname Aichi Prefecture

Old Toilets in Japan, Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture

84歳の私の母は大の緑茶好き。とりわけ急須にはこだわりがあり、常滑焼の急須を母の日に何度もプレゼントした。あの赤銅色のつるっとした肌合いの陶器で入れたお茶は、まろやかで香りよく、格別なんだそうだ。

常滑焼の急須、赤土で作られている.
常滑焼の急須、赤土で作られている

ということで、陶磁器で有名な常滑に行ってきました。駅を出て左に行くと、まず緩い坂道がある。有名な「とこなめ招き猫通り」。道沿いには39体もの様々な招き猫が並ぶ。

焼き物通りウォークはここからスタートして、つづら折りの狭い道を両脇に並ぶ焼き物屋さんや土管を敷いた庭などを眺めながら歩く。GWの真っただ中、快晴に恵まれたその日は家族連れも多く、にぎわっていた。お年寄りには格好のウオーキングコース、子供たちもあまりマスクを気にせず嬌声を上げている。

焼き物散歩道、土管を捨てずに再利用.
焼き物散歩道、土管を捨てずに再利用

Recycled clay pipes in the garden.
Recycled clay pipes in the garden

歩き疲れたので休憩をして、高台から町を眼下に望む。レンガ色の煙突が澄んだ青空にニョキニョキと立っていて、「ああ、ここは古くからの焼き物の町なんだなあ」と実感。その先には青い海が広がり、窯炉で焼きあがった陶器はあそこから船で出荷されていたのだろうと思いをはせる。

煙突が立ち並ぶ常滑の町.
煙突が立ち並ぶ常滑の町

焼き物散歩道を一巡りしたので、次は南へ足を伸ばして、INAXライブミュージアムへ。歩くこと約20分。結構疲れましたが、訪れる価値ありの場所でした!

ここで見学できるのは、まずタイルの歴史そしてトイレの歴史。世界のタイル博物館(1F)では常設展として「装飾する魂」が開かれている。タイルというのは木造家屋の多い日本ではあまり馴染みのあるものではない。生活を彩るオブジェぐらいに私は思っていた。でもあれは立派に「絵」なんですね、人々の憧れや信仰を表している。

たとえば、世界最古のエジプトのタイルは美しいオーシャンブルーに彩られ、王の再生や復活を願ってピラミッドに張られた。

偶像崇拝がタブーのイスラムでは、人物や動物は描けない代わりに精密な幾何学模様を生み出した。

産業革命時代のイギリスでは富を得た中産階級がアールヌーボーの様式美を生活の中に取り入れた。そして日本人は?

銭湯のタイル壁に富士山を描いたのです!

ピラミッドに残る世界最古のタイル.
ピラミッドに残る世界最古のタイル

イスラームのタイル張りドーム天井.
イスラームのタイル張りドーム天井

真骨頂は企画展示室(1F)で見られる古便器コレクション「デザイン性豊かな昔の便器」。そうです、INAXといえばTOTOと並ぶ日本の2大トイレメーカー。

青磁の古便器.
青磁の古便器

暗い空間を華やかに彩った昔の小便器.
暗い空間を華やかに彩った昔の小便器

人目をはばかる空間で昔は「ご不浄」とも呼ばれた日本のトイレ。江戸時代末から明治にかけて、便器はそれまでの木製から、衛生的で耐久性のある陶磁器製に変わっていった。染付で華麗に絵付けされたものや、青や緑の釉薬が縦に横に流し掛けられたものなど、焼き物として装飾が施された便器は、暗いトイレを華やかに彩る意匠だったようだ。

実は、うちの隠居にもそんな古いトイレがあった。懐かしいなー。あれは昭和40年代、祖父母の部屋の隣に青磁のアサガオ(小便器)が佇んでいた。孫の私は少し気味悪く思いながらも、その横を通り障子の部屋を開けたものだ。

INAXライブミュージアムには、非水洗式の大小便器、尿瓶やおまる、厠下駄など、陶磁器製のトイレコレクションが600点近くある。ぜひ一度のぞいてみて。

招き猫のご購入はこちらからGoods From Japan

Buy Japanese Gifts From Aichi Prefecture

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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Calpis

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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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