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Beautiful Japanese Lacquerware

  • Posted by:
  • July 21, 2016

Negoro-nuri-spoonsLacquerware is made by coating and recoating materials like bamboo and wood with the sap of the lacquer tree, a tall deciduous tree in the cashew family. Lacquer is the material of a traditional Japanese craft that is centuries old. Lacquer is known to have as much protective strength as paint, and when made properly is resistant to alkali, acid, and friction. It is lightweight and durable, and lacquering is a favorite technique for coating most Japanese everyday things.

Japanese lacquered spoons, 20th century. | WolfgangMichel

Japanese lacquerware has been a form of decorative and fine art in Japan for centuries. Lacquer has been used in prints, paintings, and a wide variety of objects, from religious statues to everyday bento boxes.  It has been an iconic symbol of Japanese arts and creativity.

10897113653_8c2e7de4ac_zLacquerware is referred to in Japan by a number of terms.  Shikki (漆器), lacquer ware in Japanese, is the most literal. Other terms are nurimono (塗物) which means “coated things,” and urushi-nuri (漆塗), meaning “lacquer coating.” The sap of the lacquer tree is poisonous to the touch until it dries, and the creation of lacquerware is practiced only by well trained and dedicated artisans.

Lacquered scabbard, sword stand, and tabletop cabinet. | Dennis Amith

Ewer_(Yuto)Lacquer can be traced as far back as 7,000 BCE during the  Jōmon period. Evidence of this was discovered at the Kakinoshima “B” Excavation Site in Minamikayabe Town (北海道の南茅部町の垣ノ島B遺跡) in Hokkaido.  Many Japanese traditional arts and crafts as well as industrial arts produced throughout history were influenced by the Chinese. Local stylistic influences were slowly adapted through the centuries. During the Edo period (1603-1868) lacquer trees were widely cultivated for the development of the technique in lacquerware making. By the 18th century, colored lacquers came into mainstream use.

Lacquered pitcher. | Sean Pathasema

Today, production of lacquerware is prolific all around Japan, but Echizen lacquerware, with its long history, stands out particularly. As the story goes, during the sixth century, a lacquerware crown decorated with gold and silver that belonged to a prince of the Yamato Dynasty (today’s Nara Prefecture) was broken. It is said the aids of the prince sought far and wide for a craftsman  skilled enough to repair the crown. Finally such a craftsman was found in the area known today as Sabae City’s Kawada in Fukui Prefecture. The mountains of Kawada even at the time had lacquer trees growing naturally in the area and lacquer was already being produced. Kawada today still has hundreds of lacquerware craftsmen and is known as the home of lacquerware.

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Amazing Miso

  • Posted by:
  • July 18, 2016

Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soybeans with the fungus kōjikin (Aspergillus oryzae), salt, and other ingredients like barley and rice. The outcome of the fermentation process is usually a thick paste used for sauces and spreads for traditional Japanese culinary fare. It is a delicious Japanese staple that is fast catching the attention of the world, not just for its delicious taste but also for its amazing health benefits!

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The origin of miso is not clear but it can be traced back to Japan’s Neolithical era (Jōmon period 14,000 to 300 BCE). Miso was used for grain and fish and was called “Jōmon miso.” It was similar to the early fish and soy-based sauces used throughout East Asia.  Other types of fermented soy-based food was introduced to Japan at the same time as Buddhism from China. During the Muromachi era (1337 to 1573), Buddhist monks discovered that soybeans can be ground to make a paste which created the cooking methods using miso to flavor other foods.

Miso soup. | www.bluewaikiki.com

Some of the amazing health benefits of miso:

  • Miso contains essential amino acids to make it a complete protein.
  • Miso stimulates secretion of digestive fluids in the stomach.
  • Miso restores probiotics in the intestines.
  • Miso contains isoflavones that inhibit the development of breast cancer in women.
  • Nutrients in miso are vitamin E, vitamin B2, Vitamin K, potassium, lecithin, choline, calcium, and iron.
  • Miso contains linoleic acid, which helps keep the skin soft and supple.
  • Miso is a good source of antioxidants and eliminates free radicals from the body.

Check out our photos of KCP Spring 2016 students as they learn to make miso soup in cooking class.

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KCP Flickr.

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KCP Flickr

More photos of the cooking session here.

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Izumo: “The Land of the Gods”

  • Posted by:
  • July 14, 2016

Izumo‘s long history dates back to the beginnings of Japan. Izumo in Shimane Prefecture, the Land of the Gods, is a famous place for reliving old Japanese myths. According to Shinto myths, there was a time in history when the islands of Japan were controlled from Izumo, hence the name. Izumo is also known for soba noodles and the Taisha Shinto Shrine (Izumo Taisha). Several walking routes offer breathtaking views and pass by famous sites. There are museums and the beautiful Inasa Beach, the setting for several ancient Japanese myths. Izumo is a wonderful place to bask in Japan’s history and get lost in pristine and majestic scenery.

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Torii at Taisha Shinto Shrine. | Shibuya246

The Taisha Shinto Shrine is the oldest Shinto Shrine in Japan. No actual records give a date of when the shrine was built. In the two oldest chronicles of Japan, the Nihon Shoki and the Kojiki, when the grandson of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, descended from the heavens, the god Ōkuninushi gave his lands to Ninigi-no-Mikoto. Ōkuninushi is considered the great creator of Japan as well as the founder of the nation. Ōkuninushi is also acknowledged as the guardian god and god of happiness, as well as the god who establishes good relationships. His actions pleased Amaterasu so much that she gifted Ōkuninushi with the Taisha Shinto Shrine. Its main structure was originally constructed to glorify the great achievements of Ōkuninushi. Several other buildings in the shrine compound are on the list of Important Cultural Properties of Japan.

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A tree-lined path at Izumo Taisha. | Freedom II Andres

In 2009, a team of archeologists discovered the Sunabara Remains in Taki-chō, Izumo City. These are the oldest stone tools ever found in Japan. There were about 20 tools found that date back an estimated 120,000 years. It’s about 80,000 years earlier than previous estimates of when the very first humans arrived in Japanese soil. Various tombs and temples are also found in Izumo. The largest Tumulus (a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave) style tomb is also found in the area.

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Izumo Dome. | Kenta Mabuchi

Several canals run through Izumo carrying the Takase River and the Hiikawa River. They were constructed by Okaji Shichibei in 1670. Izumo was previously infertile land and was unable to grow rice and grain. With the development of canals, Izumo soon flourished in agricultural endeavors. Another cultural highlight of Izumo is the Izumo Dome, a venue just north of the city proper. It is considered Japan’s largest wooden structure at 49 metres in height and 143 metres in diameter. It is the venue for many of Japan’s sports events. Hinomisaki Lighthouse is a modern stone lighthouse and from the tower, Oki Islands can be seen.

Izumo is a wealth of wonders waiting to be discovered.

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     Hinomisaki Lighthouse. | GanMed64

 

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Scrumptious Udon

  • Posted by:
  • July 11, 2016

Udon (饂飩) is the thickest of Japanese noodles. White in color and made from wheat, they can be served either hot or chilled with dipping sauces, in broth, or in an array of other hot dishes. Udon is usually topped with various ingredients like mixed tempura fritters (kakiage), deep fried tofu pockets (aburaage), tempura, or prawn. Some examples of udon dishes include curry udon, kitsune udon, and yakii udon. A thin slice of fish cake (kamaboko) usually completes the dish.

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Flavors of the broth used for udon dishes usually vary from region to region. A type of dark brown broth made from soy sauce (koikuchi shōyu) is used usually in eastern Japan and a lighter broth made from light soy sauce (usukuchi shōyu), is used in the western areas.

Udon noodles. | Yuya Tamai

There are many tales about the origins of udon. One is that in 1241 CE, a Rinzai monk named Enni introduced the technology of flour milling to Japan. Flour was turned into many forms that can be used in Japanese cuisine. Flour products such as noodles like soba and udon as well as pancakes were popular among the locals. Flour milling techniques spread across the country, and by the Edo period, the thicker wheat noodles came to be called udon. It was served with a hot broth called nurumugi and the chilled variety was called hiyamugi.

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Another story tells us that during the Nara period, a Japanese envoy was introduced to 14 different kinds of confections while he was in China. One of them was called sakube, also known as muginawa according to the ancient dictionary, the Shinsen Jikyō. Muginawa is the origin of many Japanese noodles. But the muginawa mentioned in the Shinsen Jikyō was made with both wheat and rice flour.

Making udon. | Ken FUNAKOSHI

27013057_1dcfd33dfc_oUdon are versatile noodles. The are usually served chilled during the summer and hot in the winter. Ingredients are based on what’s available: almost anything goes great with udon. Although udon is usually prepared with broth, it can also be stir fried. The latest udon craze is from the newest product of the snack and dessert company Bourbon.  Their creation is crunchy flavored udon noodles. The flavor is a concoction of seven spices known as “shichimi” and is something amazingly different for udon lovers.

Kinubiki-udon. | Hideya HAMANO

Noodles are a delicious staple in Japan and there are a variety of noodles to choose from that would surely satisfy your hankering for Japanese cuisine. Oishi!

 

 

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The Multifaceted Nō-men

  • Posted by:
  • July 7, 2016

Noh, Japan’s oldest traditional form of musical drama, has bee performed since the 1300s. Noh performances can last all day.  Usually they consist of five plays and a shorter comical version (kyōgen).  Noh acts combine drama, dance, poetry, and music; performers are mostly males donning expressive masks called nō-men.

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  Noh actors with masks. | Jim Epler

Nō-men (能面) or omote (面) are noh performance masks worn by the main actor (shite) and secondary character (tsure) to represent female characters.  The masks are carved from blocks of Japanese cypress and painted with natural pigments on a neutral base of crushed seashell and glue. There are about 450 kinds of nō-men based on 60 types and all are unique with distinct names. Some masks can be used repeatedly in many different plays, while others can be used in only one or two plays. Nō-men depict a character’s age, social ranking, gender, and whether the character is a human, demon, or a god. They are an important element of the performance.

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Three pictures of the same nō ‘hawk mask’ showing how the expression changes with a tilting of the head. | Wmpearl

Nō-men may cover an actor’s  face but their use in Noh performances does not mean the actor’s own facial expressions are completely abandoned. A nō-men is supposed to stylize and codify the facial expressions of the actors and to encourage the imagination of the audience. It enables the actors to convey different emotions in a controlled manner such as a slight tilt of the head. With lighting to show more or less expression from the nō-men, facing slightly upward can convey happiness while facing downwards can express sadness or anger.

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nō-men. | ichidoru

There are nō-men in Noh schools in Japan that are centuries old and are priceless. There are also some in private collection that are not for public display.  Nō-men are beautiful examples of art, part of Japan’s unique culture and history.

 

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KCP Spring 2016 Students at Cooking Session

  • Posted by:
  • July 4, 2016

Every term, KCP students whip up yummy Japanese meals to be consumed with gusto after all the chopping, slicing, and boiling. Spring 2016 class is no exception. Check out our photos!

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KCP Flickr.

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For more photos of the cooking session, visit our KCP Flickr set.

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Tofu: The Super Food

  • Posted by:
  • June 30, 2016

3751073447_caea338f8f_zTofu is made in a process similar to making cheese, except instead of cow’s milk, it’s curdled soy milk that is pressed into blocks. Tofu is a popular staple in Japanese cuisine and, used in numerous Japanese dishes. It is a rich source of protein and an important ingredient in vegetarian Buddhist cuisine (shojin ryori) and among sumo wrestlers (chankonabe). On its own, tofu has a very mild flavor that is easy to incorporate into various sweet and savory dishes,. It’s an easy favorite ingredient to use.

Warm tofu. |  Jonathan McIntosh

4862593631_704c37e924_zTofu making was first recorded two thousand years ago in China during the Han dynasty. Chinese legend further attributes the creation of tofu to Prince Liu An (179-122 BCE). Tofu making was later introduced to Korea and Japan during the Nara period ((710-794) and spread to other parts of Southeast Asia. The spread of tofu production may have coincided with the spread of Buddhism, as tofu is an important source of protein in a vegetarian diet of East Asian Buddhism.

Soy beans. | Simon D.

Tofu has many health benefits:

  • Tofu, a plant  source of protein, lowers levels of LDL cholesterol. Low LDL levels decrease the risk of high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (a condition where the arteries become narrow and hardened due to an excessive buildup of plaque around the artery wall).
  • 5457163731_63bacc7bc9_z (1)Soy contains genistein, a predominant isoflavone that contains antioxidant properties that inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the body. Studies show that consuming at least 10mg of soy per day decreases breast cancer recurrence by 25%.

Tofu salad. | Taku

  • Medical studies indicate that for Type 2 Diabetes sufferers, kidney disease is a common health concern. It causes the body to excrete an excessive amount of protein in the urine. Evidence shows that patients who consumed only soy protein excreted less protein than those who consume protein from animals.
  • The presence of soy isoflavones increases bone mineral density during menopause, reduces menopausal symptoms, and decreases the loss of bone density (osteoporosis).
  • Studies suggest that tofu of all types that has been curdled with different coagulants can be used to prevent liver damage caused by free radicals.
  • Geographical epidemiological findings indicate that people who consume larger amounts of soy have less incidence of age-related mental disorders.

Tofu, a delicious way to stay healthy, is one of the super foods to have in one’s daily diet.

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Exciting Summer in Japan!

  • Posted by:
  • June 27, 2016

Summer in Japan is full of excitement: it is a season of fireworks and festivals all around the country.  Almost every night, firework displays color the evening skies. The Sumida River Fireworks Festival, celebrated in late July, is one of the most anticipated fireworks festivals in Tokyo.  Several traditional festivals are celebrated with pomp and pageantry such as the “Don odori” dances.

There are also several summer purification rites to participate in around Tokyo. These rituals cleanse you of impurities from the past six months and give you a fresh beginning. Some cleansing ceremonies are held at Enoshima Shrine (Enoshima), Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (Kamakura), Samukawa Shrine (Samukawa), and Hakone Shrine (Hakone).

Summer in Japan can also bring on the heat. There are a number of places that visitors can go to in the Tokyo region to relax and cool off away from the crowds. These places include:

Nakamise-dōri

Walk along Nakamise-dōri, one of the oldest shopping streets in Japan.  The street was named after the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu who once ruled over Japan during the Sengoku Period (1493-1590). He was responsible for the creation of the Edo Shogunate that made Edo, now modern-day Tokyo. The famous street has all the signs of old world Japan: strolling down it is a great way to experience the Japanese culture and way of life. The shops along Nakamise-dōri sell a range of items like traditional Japanese wooden dolls, hair accessories, post cards, and other ideal souvenirs to remind you of your adventures in Japan.

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KCP Flickr.

Meiji Shrine

People-watch at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward. It is one of the most popular Shinto shrines in Japan and is used by many locals for prayers, rituals, and other religious activities.The Meiji Shrine was built to commemorate Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken, both significant contributors to the modernization of Japan through the Meiji Restoration.

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The Walkway around Meiji Jingu Shrine. | Tim Arai

Tokyo’s Imperial Palace

Experience Japanese history in Tokyo’s Imperial Palace in the city’s Chiyoda area. The Imperial Palace, also called Kōkyo, it is the main residence of Japan’s Imperial Family. The outer gardens are open to the public for most of the year. The East Garden is the most popular place to visit with its little bridges, grassy knolls, ponds, and flowering trees. Its gorgeous landscape reflects Japanese aesthetics at its finest.

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KCP Flickr.

Wherever you feel like relaxing, whether it be in tranquil Japanese gardens, old world streets of the ancient city, or historical temples, there is always something for everyone.

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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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