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KCP Fall 2015 Students Visit Yamanashi Winery

  • Posted by:
  • June 23, 2016

Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture, with all its rich, cultural, and historical aspects, is also responsible for 40% of domestic wine making production. Hokkaido in Miyazaki Prefecture also cultivates grapes and produces wine although in more limited quantities.

Koshu_GrapesJapan has a wide range of grape varieties. However, most are for table consumption and only a small percentage is used for wine making.  The types of grapes used for wine making are usually the imported cultivars including Chardonnay, Müller-Thurgau, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, the Koshu grape variety used in making white wine has evolved over the centuries and is now considered a local variety.

Koshu grapes. | Aw1805

The Koshu grape (Koshu is the former name of Yamanashi) is primarily grown in Yamanashi Prefecture. It was developed from vines imported from the Caucasia (a region at the border of Europe and Asia), through the Silk Road around a thousand years ago. The grape is a hybrid indigenous to Japan and has a relatively thick skin that can withstand Japanese summers.

Wine made from Koshu grapes is light in color and has a soft, fruity bouquet with overtones of citrus and peach. The taste is commonly describes as clean, delicate, and fresh. It makes a great pairing for Japanese cuisine.

Join KCP Fall 2015 students as they visit the Yamanashi winery and sample local wines.

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KCP Flickr.

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KCP Flickr.

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KCP Flickr.

For more photos of the trip, visit KCP Flickr.

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A Brief History of Japanese Wines

  • Posted by:
  • June 20, 2016

Viticulture is the science, production, and study of grapes. The native territories of the common grape vine are from Western Europe to the Persian shores of the Caspian Sea. But grape vines have proven to show adaptability to new environments, promoting the popularity and spread of viticulture in every continent except Antarctica.

wine1Grape growing in Japan began as early as 718 AD in Katsunuma, Yamanashi Prefecture. The first ever documented wine consumption in the country was in the 16th century, when the Jesuit missionaries from Portugal arrived. Saint Francis Xavier brought wines as presents for the Japanese feudal lords of Kyūshū.  Other missionaries continued the practice of using wine in their services, and soon locals acquired the distinct taste of wine made from grapes, importing it on a regular basis. Portuguese wine was called chintashu which combined the Portuguese word tinto (chinta in Japanese) meaning red and shu meaning liquor.

Japanese wines. | tzejen

wine2In 1873, returning members of the Iwakura Mission brought detailed reports on European wine culture back to Japan. This enabled the Japanese to make focused attempts to promote domestic wine production using sake brewing equipment by Hironori Yamada and Norihisa Takuma in Kofu, Yamanashi. They sent Masanari Takano and Ryuken Tsuchiya to Bordeaux to learn viticulture and wine production techniques. Cultivation of early European grapes formed the core of early attempts of growing grapes. However, this was hampered by the Phylloxera (a pest of commercial grapevines) that arrived with the imported root stock in 1884.

Wine barrels at Meiji Jingū. | Wally Gobetz

After World War II, wine making became more popular.  But the acidity and astringency for domestically produced wines were not readily accepted by Japanese taste. For some time, sugars like honey were added to make sweeter (amakuchi) wine. In the 1970s and 80s, skills in Japanese wine making become more refined and demand for both domestically produced and imported wines increased with the boom of the Japanese economy. Domestic wineries began to focus on producing superior wines using only domestically cultivated grapes.

wine3The 90s saw a reduction in taxes on imported wine as well as developing tastes for the Japanese food culture, and wine consumption continued to grow. Shinya Tasaki became the first Japanese to be awarded the title of Meillieur Sommelier du Monde in 1995. This significantly raised public awareness of wine appreciation as well as all the health benefits of polyphenol (tannins) found in wine.  In 2002, Yamanashi Prefecture led competitions that focused on “Japanese wine using only 100% Japanese grapes.”

Grapes at a Yamanashi winery. | Masaki Tokutomi

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KCP Fall 2015 Students Experience Zen Meditation

  • Posted by:
  • June 13, 2016

Throughout history, Buddhism and Buddhist institutions have had great influence on the Japanese people, peaking during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods. Buddhism was introduced to Japan by five Chinese monks from Gandhara (an ancient kingdom extending to the Swat valley and Potohar plateau regions of Pakistan and the Jalalabad district of northeastern Afghanistan) who traveled to the country during the Kofun period (250 to 538). Buddhism soon became the Japanese state religion according to national policies; Buddha was made into a Japanese deity and coexisted with other Shinto gods.

Zen is a school of Mahayana (Sanskrit for “Great Vehicle”) Buddhism, one of the main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. The practice of Zen meditation or zazen is the heart of the Zen Buddhist experience. Also known as dhyana in India, it is a very precise and simple meditation practice that can bring a whole new meaning to life.

Join KCP’s Fall 2015 students as they experience Zen meditation in Yamanashi.

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KCP Flickr.

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KCP Flickr.

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KCP Flickr.

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KCP Flickr.

For more photos of the trip, visit our KCP Flickr album.

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The Art of Zazen

  • Posted by:
  • June 9, 2016

Japanese culture is deeply rooted in Zen, a school of Mahayana (Sanskrit for “Great Vehicle”) Buddhism, one of the main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. Zen is a practice that was passed on from master to disciple in the purest context known as “uninterrupted bloodline,”  believed to have originated from the Awakening of a man named Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as Buddha, in India, some 2,500 years ago. Zazen or “seated meditation” is a meditative discipline in Zen Buddhist practice. The goal of zazen is to just sit and free oneself from all thoughts, words, images, and ideas.

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Thousands of years ago in India, Buddha sought to find the solution to end human suffering. The answer came to him while practicing Zen meditation under a tree, and it was “Enlightenment.” This was the realization that while we possess all that we could ever desire in life, we still often remain unsatisfied. The reason for this is that true happiness doesn’t depend on what we have but on who we are. Buddha’s doctrine, teaching and practice helps us achieve inner peace through zazen.

A Zendo, or meditation hall.  | John Gillespie

The practice of zazen meditation is the heart of the Zen Buddhist experience. It is a very simple yet precise method of meditation.  Namely:

Sitting

zazen3Zen monasteries and  temples require the tradition where participants sit as a group in a meditation hall usually called a zendo. The practitioner sits on cushion called a zafu that is commonly placed on top of a low, flat mat called a zabuton. Before the participant is seated, he must bow to the seat and to fellow practitioners. The beginning of a period of zazen  is traditionally announced by ringing a bell three times (shijosho), and  the end of a round is by ringing the bell once or twice (hozensho). Long sessions of zazen are usually alternated with periods of walking meditation (kinhin).

Zafu in Sōji-ji. | geraldford

Posture

When practicing zazen, usually one sits with hands and legs folded and spine erect yet settled. The hands are folded together (mudra, a symbolic or ritual gesture) over the belly. The practitioner should breathe from the center of gravity in the belly (hara), with the eyelids half-lowered and neither to be fully opened nor closed to avoid distraction.

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The legs can be folded into any of the sitting styles:

Kekkafuza – full-lotus
Hankafuza -half-lotus
Burmese – ankles crossed together in front.
Seiza – a kneeling posture using a bench or zafu.

Mudra. | Richard

Mastering zazen is truly an art that, when achieved, can free the mind and body and attain peace.

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Get a Taste of Hōtō

  • Posted by:
  • June 6, 2016

Hōtō is a famous regional dish from Yamanashi Prefecture. Made with stewed, dumpling style noodles, vegetables, and miso soup, it is a delicious, hearty meal that epitomizes the unique tastes and culture of Japan.

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At a time in Japan’s history when the country was experiencing shortage in rice crops, hōtō was created to address food shortage. Silk was much in demand, and lands that were traditionally reserved for rice crops were turned into silk farms. Rice farming was a daunting task. It was nearly impossible for the crop to flourish in Yamanashi’s Gunnai region with its frigid climate and the amounts of volcanic debris in the soil. Wheat farming was a more ideal crop and its popularity spread throughout the region as well as into the neighboring Saitama, Shizuoka, Nagano and Gunma prefectures. Yamanashi Prefecture focused on wheat farming and flour culture and hōtō was born.

Hōtō . | Jungle

According to other stories, hōtō was invented by Takeda Shingen, a daimyo and warlord of the latter part of the Sengoku period. After World War II, tourism became Yamanashi Prefecture’s most lucrative source of revenue. Locals thought of many ideas to promote the area’s regional products. Hōtō was promoted as the meal eaten by Takeda Shingen and his soldiers before each battle.

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KCP Fall 2015 students enjoying a bowl of hōtō. | KCP Flickr

Hōtō is traditionally made by kneading dough with bare hands in a wooden bowl and stretching it out to dry. The dough is then folded over and over into large pieces with a kitchen knife. Unlike the usual udon noodles, hōtō has a tougher texture of dough due to the amount of gluten, and it is not mixed with salt. Hōtō is boiled along with the other ingredients of the dish, usually dashi (a soup base) made from niboshi (dried baby sardines) and miso soup. Vegetables are usually seasonal, during the summer negi (bunching onions), onions and potatoes are common ingredients. Winter vegetables are usually taro, carrots, and Chinese cabbage. Mushrooms such as shiitake and shimeji, pork, and chicken are common ingredients all year round.

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KCP Fall 2015 make the dough. | KCP Flickr

Hōtō is a tasty dish that can satisfy the appetite of any battle ready warrior as well as any adventurous traveler who is ready to take in the sights and tastes of Japan.

Check out photos of KCP’s Fall 2015 students learning how to make hōtō during their Yamanashi trip.

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Discovering Myōhōkekyōzan Ankokuron-ji

  • Posted by:
  • June 2, 2016

4335636747_e099fb5787_zMyōhōkekyōzan Ankokuron-ji  is a Buddhist temple of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism in Kamakura, Kanagawa, in Japan. Nichiren was a Japanese Buddhist priest of the Kamakura period (1185-1333). He was known for his devotion to the Lotus Sutra, and his belief that the ultimate teaching of Siddhārtha Gautama was the way to achieve true enlightenment.  It is one of three temples near the site in the Matsubagayatsu (Valley of Pine Needles ) where Nichiren’s hut supposedly stood.

Myōhōkekyōzan Ankokuron-ji. | Hidetsugu Tonomura

NichirenNichiren (1222 – 1282) was born as Zennichimaro. In 1260, he founded the sect bearing his name and wrote a treatise called Rissho Ankoku Ron (Treatise On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land) which concerned the proper way to approach politics and religion.

Nichiren wrote this historical document in a mountainside cave called Gohokutsu in the precincts of Myōhōkekyōzan Ankokuron-ji. It was in this place where he also preached his teachings and beliefs. The teachings of Nichiren were controversial for the times. His treatise brought about hostilities among the people. A cavern called Nanmenkutsu is located also within the temple precincts where Nichiren retreated when people banded and burned down his dwelling.

Depiction of Nichiren by Hasegawa Tohaku.

The stone lanterns near the gate of Ankokuron-ji were brought from one of the two Tokugawa funerary temples in Tokyo’s  Zōjō-ji. To the right of the temple is Goshoan or Small Hermitage where Nichiren wrote his historical document Risshō Ankoku Ron. An ancient tree that stands at the front of Goshoan is believed to have been planted by Nichiren himself from a sapling be brought back from Chiba. The main hall was rebuilt in 1963 after having been destroyed by a fire. Beyond the main hall lies the cemetery where Nichiro’s (one of Nichiren’s close followers) funerary pavilion is located containing his ashes. The Nanmenkutsu or the South-facing cave is where Nichiren, in 1260, retreated when people banded and burned down his dwelling.

4335637003_fae40fd87a_zThe statue of a white monkey in the cave commemorates his escaping the fire with the help of the monkey who led him to safety and fed him. The white monkey is believed to be the manifestation of the Buddhist god Taishakuten. A mountain path beyond the cave leads to the temple’s bronze Bell of Peace. Further along is a spot called Fujimidai where Nichiren used to visit everyday to gaze at Mount Fuji and where whole city of Kamakura can be seen.  Finally, down the stone steps is Inari Shrine where the samurai who served Nichiren is enshrined.

Temple facade. | Hidetsugu Tonomura

Myōhōkekyōzan Ankokuron-ji  is just one of the amazing sights to discover in Kamakura, a treasure trove of history and culture.

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The Pristine Beauty of Ogasawara Islands

  • Posted by:
  • May 30, 2016

IOgasawaramaru_at_Takeshiba_piern this modern age, it’s a refreshing change of pace to be able to get away from all the technology that dominates everyday life. Many opt to relax and get lost in all that nature has to offer in remote corners of the world. There are very few places left on earth that are untouched by modern civilization: a few are Easter Island in Chile, Foula in Scotland, Svalbard in Norway, the Galápagos Islands in the Himalayas, and Ogasawara Islands in Japan.

The Ogasawara Islands, also known as the Bonin Islands, are about a thousand kilometers south of Tokyo. The area is almost totally secluded and the only access to the islands is by boat. The Ogasawara Maru  is a 6,700 tonne vessel with a capacity of 1,031 passengers that shuttles visitors to the islands. There are some 30 subtropical and tropical islands. The name “Bonin Islands” is from the Japanese word bunin (an archaic reading of 無人 mujin) which means “uninhabited.” The only inhabited islands of Ogasawara Islands are the group of islands Haha-jima and Chichi-jima islands (the seat of the municipal government), including the Ogasawara Village.

Ogasawara Maru at Takeshiba Pier. | しんかわな

ogasawara1Prehistoric and carved stones discovered on Chichi-jima indicate that the islands may have been inhabited in earlier times. The earliest recorded visit to the islands by Europeans was on the 2nd of October in 1543 when the Spanish explorer Bernardo de la Torre sighted Haha-jima and charted it as Forfana. At that time, the islands were uninhabited. They were discovered by the Japanese in 1670, soon followed by a Shogunate expedition 1675, and the islands were claimed as a territory of Japan.

Minamijima shark inlet, Ogasawara. | Ippei and Janine Naoi

The Ogasawara Islands Group has a total population of 2,440 with about 2,000 on Chichi-jima and 440 on Haha-jima. Because it  has never been connected to a continent, many of the animals and the plants in the area have evolved into unique species. This has led to the Ogasawara Islands’ reputation as the “Galápagos of the Orient.” It was nominated as a natural World Heritage Site in 2011.

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People can visit the pristine islands and witness some of its unique fauna and flora. You can swim with wild dolphins, take a ride on an excursion boat, island-hop, scuba dive, ride a kayak, and see the thriving marine life of the area. There are guided eco-tours in the forests and hills. Walking through some of the most beautiful scenery on earth, untouched by time, makes us appreciate the simple pleasures in life away from all the chaos of the modern world. A visit there will truly be an unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience.

Kopepe Beach, Ogasawara. | yuukin

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Traditional Japanese Arts

  • Posted by:
  • May 26, 2016

Japanese traditional arts and handicrafts have been subjected to many outside influences from other cultures. It was a result of the numerous sudden invasions the island nation endured through the course of history, followed by long periods of minimal contact from the outside world during Japan’s sakoku period.

The earliest complex Japanese art form was Buddhism, from the 7th and 8th centuries. During the 9th century, the Japanese began to develop their own indigenous forms of expression as they incorporated their own styles into what they had adapted from the Chinese. The culmination and aesthetic uniqueness of traditional Japanese art is a result of assimilating the influence of foreign cultures and elements.

Many regions of Japan have their own specialties in traditional handicrafts. Here are just a few of them.

kutaniKutani ware, Ishikawa – a style of Japanese Gotō Saijirō porcelain known for its colorful, vibrant painted designs.  Kutani ware was established by Gotō Saijirō of the Maeda Clan.  He was responsible for setting up a kiln in the village of Kutani, now part of the city of Kaga, under the orders of Maeda Toshiharu, head of the Kaga domain. Kutani ware is distinguished by designs mainly using five colors (red, yellow, purple, blue, and green) that are used to paint over intricate line drawings. Many different products such as vases, tea sets, and ornaments are made using this traditional technique.

Kutani incense burner. | antefixus21

kokeshiKokeshi dolls, Miyagi – traditional hand-crafted Japanese wooden dolls with origins traceablle to northern Japan. The dolls have a straight, cylindrical body with large, round heads. The faces of the kokeshi are painted with very simple lines that still convey their various expressions. Since the dolls are hand-painted, each doll is unique; no two kokeshi dolls have identical faces. Traditionally, the body is coated with wax and usually decorated with floral designs of varying colors. The bottom of the dolls should bear the signature of the artist.

Kokeshi dolls. | Hitty Evie

temariMatsumoto-temari, Matsumoto  – these handcrafted balls are decorated with scraps of yarn woven to create beautiful designs.  Initially, the balls were meant to be used as beanbags for children. But a way to make the bean bags bounce was discovered, and the toy soon became known as temari handballs.  Some balls are made with bells inside. They make a unique sound when bounced around. Temari balls are commonly used today as decorative accent pieces in many Japanese homes.

Temari balls. | GrinnPidgeon

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Unique Non- Food Japanese Souvenirs

  • Posted by:
  • May 23, 2016

Travelling to new places introduces us to other cultures and wondrous sights, out of which we create memories that we can look back on. Whenever visiting a new country or place, we almost always want to take back home with us souvenirs either to give as presents to family and friends or to keep for ourselves. These keepsakes remind us of the places we’ve been to, the people we’ve met along our travels, and their unique way of life. In Japan, souvenirs are called omiyage. There are many kinds of omiyage that would be great to take home.

Here are a few Japanese souvenirs:

souvenir1Hagoita – these are Japanese wooden paddles used in the traditional game hanetsuki. The game, something like badminton, is usually played during the New Year. Hagoitas have intricate designs and are usually rectangular, lacquer-painted with conventional Japanese symbols and characters from kabuki dramas, and decorated with silk collages. They continue to be a decorative item in many Japanese households.

Hagoita with box. | talina

souvenir2Daruma dolls –  one of many traditional Japanese dolls, daruma dolls are spherical in shape with red bodies, white faces, and no pupils. They typically represent Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. Daruma dolls are supposed to bring good fortune, prosperity, and fortitude to reach goals.

Daruma dolls. | David Pursehouse

souvenir3Tenugui – a traditional plain-woven Japanese hand towel. What makes it unique are the different colorful printed patterns. Tenugui is often made of cotton but is smooth in texture, unlike Western terry cloth hand towels.  It can be used to dry your hands or body, as a dish cloth, or even as an apron. The tenugui is also a popular head covering in kendo (martial art form) where it functions as a sweatband and extra padding under the headgear.  Multipurpose—very sustainable!

Tenugui. | yoshinari

souvenir4Jubako – these lacquered lunch boxes are used for special occasions like New Year. Three to five layers of lacquer coat the beautifully decorated containers that can also be used as picnic lunchboxes.

 Jubako. | Tom Head

souvenir5Geta  – these are traditional Japanese wooden flip-flops with a cloth thong called hanao. Hanao are made with many types of materials like silk, leather, or cotton. Getas are usually worn with a yukata, the less formal traditional Japanese kimono-type clothing, or even with conventional clothes.

Geta. | jean y

souvenir6Edo Kiriko cut glass – an original Japanese art-craft founded by the Japanese artisan Kyubei Kagaya. He began exploring the technique of cutting patterns into the surface of glass during the Meiji period about 130 years ago. By combining Western glass cutting techniques with traditional Japanese style, he created original designs and patterns such as chrysanthemum flowers and hemp leaf.

Edo-Kiriko. | Don Tatsu

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KCP Spring 2016 Students Experience Chanoyu

  • Posted by:
  • May 19, 2016

Matcha, a finely ground powder of specially processed and grown green tea, is a popular flavoring in Japan for many types of food.  Matcha is also used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony that centers on the preparing, serving, and drinking of green tea.

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KCP Flickr.

Chanoyu (“hot water for tea”) is the Japanese term for the traditional tea ceremony. It is essentially an elaborate ritual of serving green tea, along with some sweets. The chanoyu is a way to relieve the stress of everyday life, even for just a short while, by immersing in the Zen aesthetics of serenity and peace. Each gesture and act in the tea ceremony is deliberate. The process is simply about drinking or making tea, but about serving the best bowl of tea.

At KCP International, every student is introduced to the ancient tradition of chanoyu, a result of centuries of meditative, ritualized interaction among host and guests. For the Way of Tea, the year is divided into two main seasons: the sunken hearth (ro) season (the colder months, November to April), and the brazier (furo) season (the warmer months, May to October).  It is a wonderful way to get to know the Japanese culture and way of life.

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KCP Flickr.

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KCP Flickr.

 

For more photos of the KCP Spring 2016 tea ceremony, visit KCP Flickr.

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