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Seasonal Words

Spring

"Cherry blossom" - symbol for Japan -

Daigo Cherry Blossoms

Japan extends north and south from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Cherry Blossom Front lands on Okinawa Prefecture in late January, moves northward, and finally reaches Hokkaido in early May. In many parts of Japan, cherry blossoms are at their best from late March to early April.

Cherry trees have a wide distribution in north temperate regions. Flowering cherry trees are widely distributed in Asia, such as China, Korea and Japan, whereas cherry trees bearing edible fruits are widespread in Europe.

Since the ancient times in Japan, it has been believed that deities of harvest dwell in the cherry trees and the trees have been considered important. In the eighth century, cherry trees were not so popular as plum trees from the effects of Chinese culture in which plum trees were more valuable than them. After the sending of envoys to Tang China were abolished in 894, the indigenous Japanese culture was developed and cherry trees became the mainstream of flower viewing. It is said that Emperor Saga's cherry blossom viewing party held in 812 is the first viewing event of cherry blossoms on record and later it came to be held as a court function hosted by the successive emperors. In 1598, the Daigo Flower Viewing, the most gorgeous cherry blossom party which became history, was held at Daigo Temple in Kyoto. Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who unified the country as the leader of the territorial lords and the chief adviser to the emperor in the period of Warring States after more than a hundred years of civil disorder, reconstructed the devastated temple, and had 700 of cherry trees brought in to be transplanted. In company with 1,300 guests, including his son, wife and mistresses, he celebrated the beauty of spring through the flower viewing. In the early 18th century, cherry blossom viewing became widespread among town people in Edo, or current Tokyo, by a policy of the eighth Tokugawa Shogun, who had cherry trees planted in Asukayama, Mukojima and other places to make recreational areas for them.

There are ten original cherry species in Japan. Cherry trees mutate and crossbreed easily, so now more than a hundred of varieties grow wild in Japan and more than two hundred of the garden plants have been developed from them. Taiwan cherry trees grow naturally in the area from southern China to Okinawa Prefecture. The typical variety in Okinawa Prefecture has drooping scarlet red flowers and blossoms in January and February. The Yoshino cherry is well known as the most popular cherry blossom in Japan and accounts for 80 percent of cherry trees growing in Japan.

The Yoshino with good appearance grows very fast and is easy to grow, but it is said to have a short life span of sixty years if it is not much cared for, compared with Yama-zakura having a life span of hundreds of years. It is supposed to be a crossbreed of Oshima-zakura and Edohigan-zakura. However, it is incapable of reproducing trees with the same characteristics as the original by crossbreeding because every Yoshino generates from the same genes and it has the property of self-incompatibility, which refers to inability to self-fertilize or fertilize the other plants that are genetically the same to reproduce the same ones. Every Yoshino is a clone from the original. It is reproduced by grafting a scion on a stock or planting a cutting. The first Yoshino tree was sold at Edo Somei Village, a cluster of gardeners, around the middle of the 19th century. Before that, the Yama-zakura, a tall-growing and long-lived species of wild cherry, had been typical of the cherry since long ago. The cherry trees on Mt. Yoshino in Nara Prefecture, one of the most popular cherry blossom viewing spots, are Yama-zakura. The flowers of the Yoshino open before their leaves come out.

The cherry is a shallow-rooted plant, so treading down the earth around the roots causes difficulty in breathing of the roots, and then hinder the growth and causes destructive rot of them. Cherry blossoms must be seen at a distance.

The Japan Weather Association and several private weather information companies announce the forecasts of the opening dates when five or six flowers bloom on the sample Yoshino trees and the peak bloom dates on which more than 80 percent of the blossoms are open in the season. During the season, the places famous for cherry blossom viewing across Japan are alive with people having a picnic under blooming trees and taking pictures of the delicate blossoms.

The biggest cherry tree in Okayama Prefecture would be Daigo Cherry Tree with the height of 18 meters and the branch extension of 20 meters. Judging from a lot of documents, the lone tree is estimated to be 700 years old. On the other hand, the local people believe it to be 1,000 years old. It is standing on a hill in a peaceful countryside in Maniwa City, located in the north of the prefecture. Daigo Cherry Tree was named after Emperor Godaigo, who stopped by the tree when exiled to the Oki Islands in 1,332. Kakuzan Park, or Tsuyama Castle, in downtown Tsuyama is chosen as one of Japan's Top 100 Cherry Blossom Viewing Sites. About 1,000 cherry trees in the castle site come into bloom around the beginning of April. Tsuyama Cherry Blossom Festival is held in and around it from April 1 to April 15 every year.

*Reference Sites:

Japan Cherry Blossom Association

Minna no Hana Zukan: Pictorial Book of Flora for Everyone

Japan Weather Association

The Japanese Society of Plant Physiologists

World Heritage Kyoto Daigo Temple

Toto norenkai: Association of Long-Established Stores and Restaurants in Tokyo

HANAMONOGATARI: Cherry Blossom Story

hibiyakadan.com

Okayama Shizen Hyakusen: The Best 100 Natural Scenic Areas in Okayama Prefecture

Japan TSUYAMA City of cherry blossoms

"First picked tea leaves" - with plenty of flavor -

Tea Picking

Most of tea produced in Japan is green tea. Tea leaves are easily oxidized. Freshly-picked tea leaves are heat-treated to inhibit oxidizing fermentation in Japan. Green tea refers to the unfermented one. It is characterized by having the aroma of its fresh leaves and containing sweet and bitter tastes and astringency. Green tea includes a lot of vitamins whereas black tea contains little vitamins. Normal sencha tea, a typical Japanese tea, accounts for two third of the tea produced in Japan. The first picked tea of the year has little astringency and bitterness, and plenty of flavor with the aroma of the fresh leaves. It is harvested from late April to early May. The eighty-eigth day after the first day of spring in the Japanese traditional calendar, May 1 or May 2, has been considered the best time for harvesting tea. Generally, tea leaf plucking machines are used to reap the leaves except high-grade tea and tea in pocket-size tea gardens.

After the opening of Japan to the world in the middle of the 19th century, tea supported the Japanese economy as an important export item to the Western countries, mainly to the USA, along with raw silk. At the market's peak in 1917, about 31,000 tons of tea was exported. However, the increase in export of low-cost tea from India and Ceylon caused the decline in the one from Japan early in the 20th century. With the shift to growth led by domestic demand, tea is deeply rooted in the life of the Japanese.

Hard water with high content of calcium and magnesium is not suitable for green tea because it lightens the taste in response to catechin and caffeine contained in it whereas soft water is suitable.

Catechin as an astringent component leaches out in water at a high temperature of more than 80 degrees Celsius or 176 degrees Fahrenheit. Sencha tea that is made from finely processed burgeons of tea plants grown without blocking out sunlight contains a lot of catechin and less theanine. Theanine as a flavorful component is dissolved in water at a low temperature of more than 50 degrees Celsius or 122 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a major amino acid component which is further contained in earlier picked burgeons, notably first-picked ones. It inhibits excitatory action of caffeine. Gyokuro, a refined green tea made from tea leaves grown shielded from the sunlight before harvested, richly contains theanine as a flavorful component. Konacha tea is the powdery fragments collected in the finishing process of sencha and gyokuro. Basically, sushi restaurants use it.

Matcha tea was brought from Southern Song China about 800 years ago as a medicine by Eisai, a Zen priest born in Okayama. In contrast to Sencha tea, whose drinkable ingredients is extracted in hot water, matcha tea is made by powdering dried tea leaves without kneading. Tea, along with the manners on how to drink it, spread among Zen Buddhist temples and later among the samurai class. The tea style of refined simplicity was established by Juko Murata in the late 15th century and completed by Sen no Rikyu in the late 16th century. The three Senke schools of tea ceremony, Omote-Senke, Ura-Senke and Mushanokoji-Senke, originate from Sen no Rikyu. Omote-Senke and Mushanokoji-Senke schools feature making a thin cover of bubbles on tea in a cup with a bamboo tea whisk, while Ura-Senke school is characterized by producing a generous foam like cappuccino. It is said more than half of tea ceremony students belong to Ura-Senke school now. In 1738, a method of making sencha tea was developed by Soen Nagatani and the reasonable priced tea spread among common people.

Nikkan Bancha tea of Mimasaka City, called Mimasaka Bancha or Sakushu Bancha, is nationally known and it is one of the local specialties of Okayama Prefecture. Unlike sencha tea and other high-grade teas, the tea leaves are picked between the middle of July and the middle of August. In its unique method for production, the tea leaves are dried in the sun, with the tea juice poured over them. Having less bitterness, it is easy to drink for many people without distinction of age, including babies.

*Reference Sites:

O-CHANET presented by World Green Tea Association

Ocha Hyakka: The Encyclopedia on Tea

Japan Tea Central Public Interest Incorporated Association

Sado no Michi-Shirube: The Guide to Tea Ceremony

Chugoku-shikoku Regional Agricultural Administration Office

HARENOKUNI OKAYAMA CATALOG

"Koi-nobori" - carp-shaped streamers -

Koi-Nobori

May 5 falls on Children's Day, which is a public holiday set aside in Japan to respect children's personalities, celebrate their happiness, and appreciate their mothers. Japan has a custom of celebrating the day with carp-shaped streamers and windsocks called koi-nobori flown outside from April through early May. Koi means carps and nobori refers to streamers. The carp is a fish which can survive not only in clear streams but also in marshes and ponds with very strong vitality. Parents wish their sons to follow the strong vitality. The decreasing number of families with children hoists koi-nobori in their garden because of a drop in detached houses with a large garden and increased collective housing such as apartments. Now, however, a large number of koi-nobori are decorating the landscape of Japan with the aim of regional revitalization and the attraction of tourists. Koi-nobori sets suspended from a ceiling or a decorative base and those for veranda can be easily installed without the need for a wide-open space. Today they much penetrate general households.

The origin of koi-nobori is derived from a Chinese legend. It says that there was a waterfall called the Dragon's Gate which was too rapid for most carps to leap over in a stream of the Yellow River and that carps which could climb it would turn into dragons. The carp which had tried to overcome the great difficulty became a symbol of strength and success in life. In the middle of Edo Period (1603-1867) when town people had more economic power, they began to fly streamers representing carps against samurai families that hoisted streamers with their family crest on May 5, one of the five seasonal festivals in the lunar calendar.

Originally, only a black koi-nobori representing the first son was hung to celebrate the growth of the eldest son. The scene was depicted in ukiyo-e paintings such as that depicting a black koi-nobori large enough to cover the full-screen with a view of Suido-bashi Bridge across the Kanda River of Surugadai, a samurai district, in the background by Hiroshige Utagawa. A red carp began to be added after the Meiji Restoration when colorful living carps which were derived from black carps appeared in the market. The black koi-nobori started representing the father, followed by a smaller, red koi-nobori representing his eldest son because patriarchal values in the family became significant. After the Second World War, the red carp came to represent the mother of a family and an additional blue koi-nobori symbolized their child. These days koi-nobori in various colors, including green, orange and gold color, are added to the set in order to represent all the family's children.

A typical koinobori set consists of a pair of arrow-spoked wheels with a ball-shaped spinning vane on the top of a pole, a top tubular streamer in five colors coming from five natural elements and three carp-shaped streamers. It is said that the arrow-spoked wheels with a ball-shaped spinning vane acts as a landmark to refer the gods to the families with a boy or boys. The tubular streamer is believed to protect children from evil.

A local koi-nobori maker in Wake Town, located in eastern Okayama Prefecture, has the largest market share in Japan. Carp streamers, installed by the company, are put on display in the international terminal of Okayama Momotaro Airport during the season. By the way, the entrance of the Prime Minister's official residence is decorated with their koi-noboris. In the Yoshii area of Ibara City, 50 of koi-noboris span the Oda River from mid-April to mid-May. Koi-noboris are also flying in the breeze at Enyo-tei House in Okayama Korakuen Garden and Children's Day is celebrated with several activities.

Families with little boys also celebrate Children's Day by displaying Japanese armour, helmets or Warrior dolls called Musha ningyo in the houses.

Children's Day is part of the Golden Week holiday composed of some consecutive holidays, starting with Showa Day on April 29 followed by Constitution Memorial Day on May 3, Greenery Day on May 4 and Children's Day, with well placed weekends.

*Reference Sites:

Nippon Koi-nobori Kyokai: Japan Koi-nobori Association

Zen-Nippon Ningyo Senmon-ten Chain: All Japan Doll Shop Chain

worldfolksong.com

Nippon Ningyo Kyokai: Japan Doll Association

Cabinet Office

News Service Nikkei

Okayama Airport Terminal

Okayama Korakuen Garden

Tokunaga Koi-nobori

Summer

"Hydrangea" - flower native to Japan -

The hydrangea

The hydrangea is the sign of the rainy season in Japan. It starts to bloom in late May and is best viewed in late June in the central region of Japan including Tokyo and Okayama Prefecture. The flower color ranges between red and blue through purple. The soil chemistry is a main factor that determines the bloom color. Japan is made up of volcanic islands. The Japanese archipelago is covered with volcanic ash, weakly acidic soil. Acidic soil usually produces bloom color closer to blue. A kind of anthocyan dye contained in hydrangeas responds to the aluminum ions dissolved in the acidic soil and absorbed through the roots. It results in bluing of the petals. In Europe, the flowers thrive in dry alkaline soil having a low solubility of aluminum ions. It turns them pink or red.

The name hydrangea comes from the Greek "hydor," referring to water, and "angeion" meaning vessel, derived from the shape of its capsular fruit. The plant needs for plenty of water to make up for moisture loss due to evaporation from stomas of leaves. The part generally called flower is not a flower, but a calyx, or an ornamental flower to attract insects. The petaloid part is sepals, and the flower is a tiny part with five petals in the center.

Garden hydrangeas originate from lacecap hydrangeas which grow wild by the Pacific coast south of Kanto region in Japan. In 1789, an English botanist donated hydrangeas growing wild in the east of the Yangtze River in China to the Royal Botanic Gardens. They were originally brought from Japan to China and went wild there. Hydrangeas brought from Japan by plant hunters gained popularity in Europe. In the early 20th century, improvement was made repeatedly in European countries such as France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. And then improved mophead hydrangeas with ball-shaped clusters of decorative flowers were re-imported to Japan.

For a long time, the hydrangea had not been popular among the Japanese due to its negative images, such as volatility and infidelity. However, there are a lot of hydrangeas in gardens of temples located in areas where plagues spread in the past. Many died from sudden temperature changes in the rainy season until modern breakthroughs in medical technologies. The hydrangeas, which bloom in the rainy season, were offered to dead persons at the temples. After the Second World War, they started to be used as valuable tourist attractions. Many temples began to plant mophead hydrangeas, varieties from Europe, in their gardens.

In Okayama Prefecture, Daishoji Temple in Mimasaka City, Chohoji Temple in Tsuyama City and Ohtakisan Seihoin Temple in Bizen City are also called Hydrangea Temple and a lot of tourists invade the temples during the blossom season.

*Reference Sites:

The Association for Japanese History and Travel

Nippon Communications Foundation

The Japan Weather Association

Toho University, Department of Biology

Konan University, Frontiers of Innovative Research in Science and Technology

Me ga Ten! Library presented by Nippon Television Network Corporation

GKZ Plant Dictionary

tour de sakai

Hanamonogatari: The Flower Stories

"Wagasa" - Japanese-type umbrellas -

Wagasa

The rainy season in Japan sets in around the middle of June, lasting more than one month. Umbrellas are indispensable when we go out this season. Traditional Japanese umbrellas called wagasa are made with bamboo-strip ribs covered with washi paper waterproofed with plant oil. There are four main types of wagasa: bangasa, janomegasa, wahigasa and maigasa.

Bangasa is simple and sturdy. By contrast, janomegasa with snake-eye pattern of concentric circles on paper features its fashionable and cool design as well as its slender shape. The pattern resembles the eye of a snake that is considered to be a messenger of a deity, and the eye is believed to have the effect of charming against evil spirits. Its basic color such as red or dark blue contrasts with the white doughnut-shaped pattern. The relatively lightweighted umbrella is generally used for women. It is also one of typical props of Kabuki, a traditional Japanese performance art. Wahigasa is a Japanese-type parasol. High-priced maigasa is made of silk and has beautiful transparency which makes performers look glamorous. It is used mainly for Japanese traditional dance performance and Kabuki. The desighn is simple enough not to obstruct the pattern of the kimino which a performer is wearing. Wahigasa and maigasa are made without coating the surface with oil. They play an important role to serve as a foil to a bride in a Japanese-style wedding party.

Wagasa originates from a canopy used for sunshade or charm for Chinese nobilities. At first, it spread as a installed canopy or a larger parasol held over the head of a court noble by a servant in Japan. It began to be used from the medieval period as waterproof and openable rain gear in unassisted state. Meanwhile, the common people used a sedge hat and a straw rain cape as rain gear. Around the beginning of 19th century, wagasa was favored by the general masses as well.

Peter F. Drucker, known as the Father of Modern Management, mentioned in one of his books that the concept of marketing was started by the Mitsui family, the founder of the Mitsui Group, who began to run a dry-goods store in Edo, current Tokyo, more than 300 years ago. In the time when it was common for merchants to sell goods on credit, they started business for cash to minimize a bad debt loss and mark down goods, adopting a fixed price policy. One of their epoch-making strategies for promotion is that they lent their wagasas printed with a number and the store's name written with large-sized characters to customers and passerby when raining. The streets were filled with the wagasas with the store's name on. Bangasa literally means a numbered umbrella. For this reason, the umbrellas came to be called bangasa. Thus the store's name spread throughout the town.

Kabuki triggered a janomegasa boom among the town people in Edo. In a kabuki play called Sukeroku: Flower of Edo, the audience was attracted by a cool-looking hero who appeared with a janomegasa in his hand on the stage.

After folded into a compact shape, a wagasa is kept close and folded if you hold the top, not the handle. It stands with the handle touching the ground when put in a stand. In addition, it prevents rainwater from entering the inside of a wagasa, the unoiled part. A longer drying time is necessary in drying it.

Japanese-style umbrellas are much less popular than western-style umbrellas now. They are used mainly as interior decoration like lamp shades. At some events, including tea ceremonies and festivals, they play a role to add more opulence to them.

Some shops such as kimono shops and umbrella shops rent wagasas as well as sell them. The Japanese Weather Association has lent out to visitors from other countries as part of the Heatstroke Zero Project in summer at several gardens in cooperation with Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association since the summer of 2016. Wagasa Denho Kan, or Folklore Umbrella Museum, located in Yonago City of Tottori Prefecture on the northeast of Okayama Prefecture, provides an observation tour of the manufacturing processes of wagasas. The base for making wagasas in Yodoe area offers a workshop where applicants with reservation can experience affixing paper over a frame of bamboo-strip ribs.

Wagasa lovers can enjoy themselves in Okayama Prefecture. Some events held in the prefecture features a wagasa exhibit. They include "Kurashiki Spring Light Festival" in Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, and "Special Late-Night Garden" at Okayama Korakuen Garden.

*Reference Sites:

Japan Oilseed Processors Association

"The Mark of Beauty" presented by NHK World-Japan

Tsuyama Business Support Center

Mitsui Fudosan: Mitsui Real Estate

The Mitsui Public Relations Committee

Heatstroke Zero

Wagasa Denho Kan, or Folklore Umbrella Museum

Wagokoro

"Yukata" - casual summer kimono -

Girls in yukata

In summer Japanese people enjoy summer dance festivals and fireworks festivals. Many families, couples and friends in yukatas add to the festive mood. Yukata is one of the seasonal charms of summer.

Yukata is an abbreviation of "yukatabira", which means an unlined kimono that was made from hemp and worn during taking a steam bath in the Heian period before the first samurai government was born. The nobles wore it to protect their skin from hot water vapor, get rid of sweat and hide his or her naked body. In the middle of 19th century, yukatas made of cotton were widely worn by common people as garments worn after bathing. In the late 19th century, they obtained popularity as informal summer clothes because they were cool and comfortable.

Typical traditional female yukata has indigo blue design on white ground or its reverse. People used to wear a white yukata on which the pattern was dyed in indigo blue in the daytime and indigo blue one with white patterns in the evening because the ground color of white looks cool in the hot and humid daytime in summer and the indigo blue dye has an effect of keeping insects off in the evening when they are activated. Now, yukatas in pastels and bright colors are in fashion, especially among young women.

Black and dark blue yukatas without patterns or with simple patterns such as thin striped patterns and splashed patterns are popular among men.

Yukata is suitable for being used in the hot and humid summer of Japan. It is made of breathable fabrics such as mesh cloth. There are several yukata rental shops around Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter. Some tourists rent a yukata to walk about the historical townscape, wearing it.

*Reference Sites:

The education program for the cultural folklore and for the transmission of "kimono" culture presented by Bunka Fashion Research Institute

Kimono Term Dictionary

Tokyo Cleaning Association

In Hamamatsu.com: Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan Visitor Guide

Kimono Information Library Shimanowa

Chigai no Hyakka-Jiten: Encyclopedia Showing Differences

"Cool Touch Fabric Products" - fabrics that keep you cool in the heat -

Cool Touch Fabric Products

A wide variety of cool touch fabric products go on the Japanese market in summer. Cool touch textiles are cool to the touch. The fabric materials are used for bedding which includes pillows and bed pads, clothes such as underwear and pants, and small articles like towels and socks. These products are getting more and more popular among Japanese people year after year.

Why do cool touch fabrics create a cooling touch? They help lower skin temperature by heat conductance. Heat flows from higher temperature to lower temperature. Accordingly, heat is transferred from skin to textiles. Textiles with fabric contact coldness are characterized by being higher in thermal conductivity and thermal diffusivity, having structure that can contain more quantity of water which is twenty times higher in thermal conductivity than air, and being slightly hard to the touch. Polyethylene has a higher contact cold sense value than other textile fibers, whereas it has low water and moisture absorption properties. On the other hand, linen, rayon, ramie and cupra are high both in them.

Japanese traditional clothes for summer season, yukatas, make use of high technology in recent years. Cool touch fabric yukatas keep us cool in the heat.

*Reference Sites:

Japan Chemical Fibers Association

Japan Textile and Cleaning Council

Japan Linen, Ramie & Jute Spinners' Association

Kaimin Times

"Peach" - specialty food of Okayama Prefecture

Peach

Peaches were brought to Japan from China in the Yayoi Period when an agrarian society based on food production by rice-paddy cultivation had been established in Japan. Many stone seeds of peaches were found from remains in the period. Peaches had been considered to expel evil spirits and bring longevity. They were much smaller and less juicy than the present ones. The varieties which are widely distributed to Japan today were developed based on varieties from China and Europe about 150 years ago. More than 30 varieties have been developed since then.

With sunny climate and few rainy days, Hakuto, or White Peach, which is a specialty food of Okayama Prefecture, was discovered accidentally in 1899. The fruit with translucent white rind and flesh melts in the mouth. Shimizu Hakuto, a variety of Hakuto, is said to be the best of all the varieties, called "Queen of Peach". Peaches of Okayama Prefecture are grown with protective bags around the fruits after becoming the same size as ping pong balls. The bags protect them from rain, wind and garden pests. And then, they eventually become the same size as softballs and are harvested. Yellow peaches popular in Western countries are produced mainly for processing use in Japan.

The outside of the peach around a stem remain green when unripe. Peaches which have symmetric shapes taste great. The very best season for eating peaches is from mid-July to August.

Cooling peaches in a refrigerator for a couple hours before eating is a key to deliciously eat them. Keeping them in a fridge for a long time spoil the flavor and the sweetness. Therefore, it is important to store them at a normal temperature unless you eat soon.

Okayama Prefecture is the largest producer of white peach varieties whereas it is the sixth largest of all the peaches in Japan. Processed food of peaches is welcomed by tourists as souvenirs. Many kinds of peach products such as steamed peach-jam bun, peach vinegar, peach sake are sold at main stations and famous tourist spots.

Some tourist farms offer experiences of harvesting the high-quality peaches with your own hands and tasting them on the spot.

*Reference Sites:

Okayama Prefecture Web Site

Okayama Prefecture Official Tourism Guide Explore Okayama, the Land of Sunshine

014okayama

JA-group

Okayama Fruit Information Site

Okayama Prefectural Ancient Kibi Cultural Properties Center

The Kanazawa City Central Wholesale Market

Noumaru Engei: Noumaru Horticulture

"Amazake" - nourishing drink called "drinkable IV drip" -

Amazake

"Malted rice amazake" is a traditional sweet beverage made from fermented rice. It is made by keeping steamed rice, rice malt and water at a temperature of 55 to 60 degrees C. The milky drink is called a drinkable IV drip because it is high in glucose, amino acids, vitamin B complex, and minerals. The other kind of amazake, which is made from sake lees and sugar, contains alcohol content of less than one percent with higher calories than malted rice one. This amazake is not referred to as a drinkable IV drip because it contains far less glucose compared with the other, but it is rich in resistantprotein which lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol, and s-adenosylmethionine which has inhibitory effects on liver function failure, depression and arthritis. The mixture of it and refined water can be used as a face pack.

Amazake was drunk cold on a hot summer's day during the Edo period. More people died in summer because summer heat deprived of their physical strength in no time. People drank nourishing amazake to preserve their strength. Today, amazake is enjoyed as a warm beverage during winter. However, amazake is regarded as a drink in hot weather again these days. Amazake has been used as a summer season word in haiku, Japanese seventeen-syllable poem.

Malted rice amazake can be eaten by spreading on bread as well. It can be substituted for sugar in cooking. Amazake which is a fermented food goes well with yogurt and cream cheese.

Many amazake products are made by soy source companies, miso companies and sake breweries. Marumi Koji Honten located near Minagi Station on JR Hakubi Line produces malted rice amazake made from natural farming rice without any use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and organic fertilizers. It is a miso company which won the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Award given to excellent workplaces, organizations and persons for their contributions to the fields of health and safety in 2016.

*Reference Sites:

Japan Malted Rice Association

Nikkei Style

Hakutsuru Sake Brewing

Marumi Koji Honten

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare

Kimurashiki Shizensaibai Jikko Iinkai of Okayama Prefecture: Kimura-style Natural Farm Executive Committee of Okayama Prefecture

Autumn

"Grape" - Okayama is a large producer of premium grapes. -

Grape

Okayama Prefecture characterized by little precipitation and a mild climate is famous as a large producer of premium grapes such as the Muscat Of Alexandria with rich aroma and flavor, the Pione with deep flavor and large and juicy pulp, and the Shine Muscat with high sugar contents and juicy pulp in Japan. According to the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations Okayama Office, the production amount of the Muscat Of Alexandria accounts for 95 percent of nation's total amount. It originated from the glasshouse grapes that two horticulturists succeeded in growing 130 years ago. Since that time, grapes have been made by using greenhouses to controll humidity and temperature and to avoid raindrops. The Pione was developed in Izu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, 60 years ago. Grape farmers of Okayama began to work on it 50 years ago. Today, Okayama makes up 40 percent of the production and it is the highest in the nation. The Shine Muscat is a new variety developed by National Agriculture and Food Research Organization and registered in 2006.

According to OKAYAMA FRUITS Information Site, a unique feature of the grapes produced in Okayama is that they are commonly oval-shaped like rugby balls while others are formed into the shape of inverted triangle. The cultivation techniques of grapes for eating raw remains at the world-class level. They are widely sold in stores from August to October.

*Reference Sites:

The National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations Okayama Office

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications

National Agriculture and Food Research Organization

HARENOKUNI OKAYAMA CATALOG

OKAYAMA FRUITS Information Site

Okayama City Museum Digital archives

"Red rice harvest" - red carpet of ancient rice -

Red rice paddies

Red rice, a variety of ancient rice, is native to Southeast Asia. Japonica-type red rice was brought to Japan before brown rice 3,000 years ago and cultivated all over the country in the seventh and eighth centuries. The seed coats and the pericarps of the unpolished rice contain red pigments, kinds of polyphenol such as catechin and tannin. Today, it draws attention as a health food because it contains more protein, vitamins and minerals, compared with brown rice.

It was believed that red color had power to remove wickedness in ancient times. Shinto rituals such as Red Rice Planting Festival has passed down up to now in three regions, Tanegashima Island of Kagoshima Prefecture, Tsushima Island of Nagasaki Prefecture and Soja City of Okayama Prefecture. In Soja City, red rice is cultivated to make an offering to the deities in the rice paddies specializing in the red rice used for religious services of two divided shrines and rice paddies of followers on duty, located in Shimpon district, and then it is offered at the beginning of the year and a ritual held in the eleventh month of the lunar calendar.

Indica-type red rice was brought to Japan from China in the 14th and 15th centuries and widely cultivated in the area except northern Japan. It is highly resistant to bad environments, plant disease and insect pests, and grows faster.

Most of red rice had disappeared from Japan in the late 19th century. However, Japonica-type red rice started to attract attention as a health food and a resource for tourism in recent years. It is preferable to cook by adding 15 percent of red rice into white rice. There are red rice paddies located across Bitchu Kokubunji Temple in Soja City. Red Rice Festa, a live concert by J-pop singers with the red rice paddies in the background, is held at the temple in the middle of September.

*Reference Sites:

Soja City

Japan Food & Chemistry

J-STAGE by Japan Science and Technology Agency

Tamago Club

Winter

"Sake brewing" - featured by multiple parallel fermentation -

Steaming of Japanese Sake Rice

Japanese sake is mainly made from polished rice, water and rice malt. Rice is harvested between September and October. The rice grain for sake brewing is bigger and softer than that for cooking. Sake brewing is carried out from October to March, especially from December to February during the cold season, expect the major sake manufacturers which have automatic temperature control devices. Sake brewing starts after harvest. The season is the best time to facilitate temperature control in vats in fermentation and to prevent unnecessary bacteria from developing in them.

Rice is milled to remove the outer portion of the grain which contains protein and oil, a cause of unfavorable taste of sake. Super high-quality sake with fruity aroma is brewed from rice grain polished to 50 percent weight or less. After the rice steamed, Aspergillus oryzae is inoculated into the steamed rice for producing rice malt. Then, yeast mash, which mass-produces yeast, is made from the steamed rice, the rice malt, water, and sake yeast. The rice malt helps starch in the yeast mash and unrefined sake change into glucose. Sake brewing is characterized by a complex fermentation and saccharification process occurring in a vat in parallel, called multiple parallel fermentation. The raw unrefined sake is pressed to separate the sake from the lees. Lastly, it is pasteurized twice, or once, except the liquid which becomes raw sake called namazake.

Hiyaoroshi is seasonal and limited edition sake available in autumn. It is fresher than normal sake because it is heated only once, in spring, during the brewing process. Shiboritate is winter sake. It is fresh sake made from rice harvested in the year, without the final heating process.

With more than 150 years of history, “Omachi”, which have been developed and produced at Omachi located in Okayama City, is well known as the oldest sake rice. It is difficult to grow because it has little resistance to lodging and disease. Having faced the threat of extinction, the amount of production is gradually increasing through the effort of sake makers of Okayama Prefecture and for responding to the demand as a material of sakes with specific class names around the nation in recent years. Its enthusiastic fans are called “Omachist”. They join various sake events held all over the nation, notably Omachi Summit in Tokyo.

Some breweries offer tours of the sake brewery to visitors with a reservation.

*Reference Sites:

Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association

Japan Choice Brewing Association

Japan Prestige Sake Association

Okayama Sake Brewers Association

The National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations, Okayama Branch

"Yuzu" - citrus fruit deeply rooted in Japanese culture -

Yuzu & Yuzu Products

Yuzu is a yellow-golden colored citrus fruit. It is tarter and more acidic than other citrus fruits and rarely eaten as fresh fruit. The peel with a rough, and uneven surface is highly fragrant and mainly used as flavoring for cooking and making sweets. The flesh tastes like a cross between grapefruit, lemon and lime with a little bit of bitter taste.

Yuzu ripens from November through January. Most areas that produce yuzu are situated in well-drained mountainous regions slightly inland than the temperate coastal regions because the temperature difference between day and night is enough large to put the scent of the citrus in the areas. The fruit is widely cultivated in Japan except Hokkaido. However, Kochi Prefecture, located to the south of Okayama Prefecture, accounts for over 50 percent of the production. In Okayama Prefectre, Kumenan Town, located northeast of Okayama City, produces the most yuzu now.

Yuzu have been widely used as an ingredient for Japanese confectionery. Yubeshi is one of popular yuzu sweets. There are many kinds of yubeshi over the country, including yubeshi without yuzu. A long time ago, it was a portable ration during wartime or for a trip. Maru-yubeshi, or round yubeshi, is a luxurious cake often served at a tea ceremony. It is made from yuzu, powdered glutinous rice, miso, walnuts and other ingredients, varying among every region and producer. After the mixture of all the ingredients stuffed into a yuzu cup and then steamed, it is dried by hanging it on a string outside for weeks or months. A local brand of yubeshi called Bitchu-yubeshi is made in Takahashi City and Yakage Town of Okayama Prefecture. These areas have been known as yuzu production areas. Sheet-like yubeshi of Takahashi City is made by boiling down the mixture of ground yuzu peel, steamed glutinous rice flour, and malt syrup, letting it dry, and being coated with sugar. The production was promoted to support the finance of the Bitchu Matsuyama Domain in the 19th century and then achieved significant results in financial reconstruction through sales of yubeshi as well as other local products in Edo, current Tokyo, and Osaka. The other, called bo-yubeshi, is made by steaming the mixture of powdered glutinous rice, miso, and minced yuzu and being packed in a bamboo-sheath.

Yuzu kosho is a popular Japanese condiment that is made by mixing yuzu and chili paste with salt. There are two kinds of yuzu kosho, green one and red one. The former is made from young green yuzu and green chilies, and the latter is made from ripe yellow yuzu and red chilies. Additive-free red yuzu kosho named Beni-Daruma, which won the Jury's Special Award at Seasoning Championship 2017 hosted by the Japan Vegetable Sommelier Association, is a specialty of Fukiya area of Takahashi City. Yuzu kosho goes well with various dishes, including buckwheat noodles, grilled chicken and sashimi.

In Japan, there is a legend that taking yuzu-bath on the winter solstice around December 22 prevents catching cold all year round. It is said a public bath originated when they soaked some yuzus in the bath water to attract new users in the Edo Period. The peel is rich in an essential oil component called limonene that helps improve blood circulation through the whole body and affords beautiful skin. The flavor enhances relaxing effects.

Yuzu is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Food and beverages with the elegant and rich flavor have attracted a number of Japanese people. It has been indispensable for Japanese cuisine. The fragrance component is used in various aromatizing products such as bathing agents and aroma oil. The citrus fruit can last over three months by being put into a plastic bag, hermetically sealed, and then stored at a temperature between 0 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius.

*Reference Sites:

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Hiroshima Institute of Technology

Yubeshi no Tennindo

Sato-Gyokuundo

Nariwa Museum

Osaka Municipal Central Wholesale Market

Nippon Communications Foundation

University of Kochi

Kochi-marugoto Net

"Kotatsu" - Japanese heating device -

Kotatsu

In winter, kotatsu, a table with a built-in heater to keep our legs and feet warm, had been at the center of the Japanese family before air conditioners became major heating apparatus. The scene of family members getting together around a kotatsu and eating mandarin oranges on the table was a typical image of a family happily spending time together during the winter.

There are devices similar to kotatsu in the world: Spanish brasero , Iranian korsi, and Afghan sandali.

Kotatsu originated from a combination of "irori", a Japanese fireplace that is set in the middle of a room, and a short-legged square-frame covered by clothes, later by a heavy blanket or a thick quilt, dating back to the 14th century. The fire was damped down by covering it with ashes. People kept themselves warm with their legs on the frame. It was especially favored by people living in urban areas abundant in fuels. Later, irori was placed below the floor surface, and it made it easier for users to sit on the floor. Portable kotatsu, a combination of "hibachi", a Japanese brazier, and a long-legged square-frame, replaced the old type kotatsu in the 17th century when tatami mats became popular.

Sunken kotatsu became popular among general people in the early 20th century. Bernard Leach, who is known as a prominent British studio potter, had great interest in Japanese culture including kotatsu. But he had difficulty in moving his legs underneath kotatsu. Sunken kotatsu for housing was first built in his residence. Naoya Shiga, a Japanese novelist called "the god of novels", largely contributed to the spread of it to the public. He gave it a rave in his essay.

The primitive form of the kotatsu that we currently use traces back to the electric kotatsu which Toshiba Corp. launched in the 1950's. Nichrome wire was used in the device heater fixed on the lower face of the top. The product sold explosively. That made the appliance penetrate common households. The spread of it reduced the risk of fires and accidental carbon monoxide poisoning significantly.

As mentioned earlier, kotatsu has lost its popularity since air conditioners became much more popular. Moreover, the number of tatami-mat rooms in which kotatsu is generally used in Japan has decreased sharply. However, it is gradually recovering popularity in recent years. There is a strong demand for the products for individual use among elderly adults and young people who live alone. Higher-legged kotatsu matching chairs was developed and is spreading through the market.

Kotatsu boat service and kotatsu train service running through an epic scenery offer passengers special experience in Japan. They are vehicles equipped with the comfort of kotatsu heaters. Mogami River Boat Ride running through Yamagata Prefecture is one of well-known cruises with kotatsu. Kotatsu Train on Sanriku Railway Company's Kita Riasu Line, running along the Pacific coast of Iwate Prefecture, is one of the winter attractions in the northern region.

There are some events that use kotatsu in Okayama Prefecture: the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Kibi International University and a live concert in Soja City Hall's parking lot.

*Reference Sites:

Iwate Science Museum of Agriculture

Hagi City Newsletter, January 1, 1991

Toyo Keizai Online

Fukushima Minpo

The Japan Folk Crafts Museum

Wa no Suteki by Jojuji Temple

Lifull Home's Press, October 8, 2016

Cotaco: Fashion Store

Wikipedia