Umeshu Matsuri – Plum Wine Festival in Tokyo

If you live or happen to be around in Tokyo this long weekend, why don’t you pop in Yushima Tenmangu, or Yushima Tenjin to sip umeshu, Japanse plum wine?

Umeshu (梅酒 : 梅 ume = plum, 酒 shu = sake) is made by steeping unripened Japanese plums in alcohol and sugar to allow the flavours to infuse. It is called plum ‘wine’ in English, but it is liqueur type of alcohol.

venue: Yushima Tenmangu, near Ueno

Over the weekend, the Umeshu Matsuri, Plum Wine Festival is held at the Shito shrine, which is famous for its beautiful plum blossoms in spring. Beer is nice – Oktober Fests are thrown here and there around this time of the year even in Japan, but it may be a good idea to try this aromatic, sweet and plesantly sour liqueur.

the leaflet and token coins

At the entrance, purchase 18 token coins for 1,600 yen (advanced ticket was 1,400 yen). 1 or 2 coins are required for a small cup of umeshu (about 30 ml/cup), but 3 for some or award winning ones. Okay, now you are ready to sip. Enjoy and find your favourit(s) out of 156 umeshus from sake breweries all over Japan.

made with distilled alcohol – from Hiroshima
made with sake – from Hyogo
made with sesame shochu – from Fukuoka
Kosher umeshu – made with sake – from a brewery in Kyoto (established in 1673!)
made with brandy – from Akita
blended with yuzu juice – from Wakayama
blended with gyokuro green tea – from Kyoto
nigori umeshu from my favourite sake brewery in Hyogo producing Kotsuzumi which I mentioned on Kinosaki Onsen post (left: more fruity and tastes like peach juice right: with plum pulp and full flavour)
umeshu hopping

If you find your favourit(s), you can buy it/them!!

I bought a bottle of 梅申春秋, Baishin Shunju from my fav brewery!

left: Baishin Shunju / right: Daku Daku


Umeshu Matsuri

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Period: 6th – 9th October 2017
Venue: Yushima Tenmangu
Access: Nearest staion is Yushima on the Chiyoda Line. Take Exit 3 and the left, turn left at the first intersection and walk down about 30 metres. It’s on the left hand side.


Now that you’ve come all the way, why don’t you look around the site?

Tribute to the Shito deity: the first rice sheaves of the harvest are presented as offerings, called shinsen, to the kami, deity or sacred power of Shintoism during agricultural and other festivals.

Yushima Tenmangu(湯島天満宮)a.k.a. Yushima Tenjin(湯島天神)was originally founded for Ameno Tajikaraono Mikoto in 458, and became one of Tenjin shrines in 1355 – Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto is the most famous one.

‘Tenjin’ is the name of Michizane Sugawara (845-903), a scholar and a high government official. Like other Tenjin shrines, Yushima Tenjin is visited by students to pray for passing exams and inscribe ema – small wooden plaques – with petitions for success in exams, esp. entrance exams.

Among lots of ema, you will find Michizane on a cow. A cow, a typical feature of a Tenjin shrine, is believed to be the servant of the deity.

In the precincts of the shrine, there is a bronze cow, which is known as nade ushi (a cow to stroke). People believe that touching or stroking the cow will cure physical illness, and that is the reason why its head  and forehead are so shiny.

You will also see plum trees in the garden and bonsai as well.

Tenjin is strongly related to plum because Michizane had always favoured the trees and blossoms (There is a legend about him and his tree, called ‘Flying Plum Tree‘),  so ‘plum’ became a crest of the shrines.

 

plum blossom crest in the blue circle

Strolling in the precincts, you might come across a wedding ceremony.

Would you like to try omikuji, sacred lot?

If the fortune telling is not a good one, tie it around branches of a pine tree or some such. If good, keep it in your purse or wallet!

Hope you enjoy umeshu and the visit.

See you!  S/he is cute, isn’t s/he?

 

More about Umeshu:
Umeshu seminar in London last year
Umeshu made with whiskey by Suntory produsing Hakushu, Yamazaki, Hibiki whisky

More about Tenjin, read the post of one of my blogger friends.

 

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Nanbanzuke – Japanese Escabeche

Nanban is a Sino-Japanese word, originally referred to the inhabitants of Southeast Asia, particularly the islands of modern-day Philippines and Indonesia. After Portuguese first made contact with Japan in the 16th Century followed by Spaniard, the trades based in their colonies in Southeast Asia were carried out. Consequently, ‘Nanban’ became to designate Portugal and Spain (mainly the former), the people and things from the countries and trades.

As the name indicates, nanbanzuke (tsuke or zuke means ‘marinade’, ‘pickled’, ‘soaked’, ‘dipped’), a Japanese dish which is principally deep-fried fish soaked in vinegar based marinade flavoured with soy sauce, dried red chili pepper, onion or Japanese leek etc., is Portuguese origin and derives from the escabesche.

… in Portugal, escabeche (eesh-kah-besh) is a way of preserving food in vinegar and aromatics. It is commonly served cold as a petisco (Portuguese tapas) with some bread to soak up the sauce. Recipes vary but the basics consist of fried sardines or mackerel marinated in a sauce made with vinegar, olive oil, onions and herbs. Its origins go back to the Romans who used vinegar to preserve both fish and meat though the word comes from the Arab iskbê.

(source: Portugal on a Plate)

 

Sardinha de escabeche (source: Pinterest)

 

When it comes to the main ingredient of nanbanzuke, it usually refers to aji, Japanese horse/jack mackerel, but there are many varieties: wakasagi Japanese smelt, mackerel, sardine or salmon, meats like chicken nanban, or even vegetables. The Nanban-style marinade and the history of influence to Japanese cuisine remind me of Filipino Adobo originated in Spain.

 

Click here for my Chicken Adobo recipe

 

Red chili pepper and deep-frying cooking method you can recognise in nanbanzuke dishes, were also introduced to Japan through Nanban. That is the reason why the pepper is also known as ‘nanban kosho’, or nanban pepper.

At soba or udon noodle places, you might come across kamo nanban (soba/udon) and/or curry nanban (soba/udon). In this case, ‘nanban‘ designates red chili and onion or Japanese leek (as substitute of onion), which is  plausibly said that Nanban-jin were eating a lot of Japanese leek to prevent cholera at the time when kamo (duck) nanban was invented in the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867). Onion was also brought to Japan by Nanban trade during the period, but remained as an ornamental plant until the turn of the last century.

Oops! Sorry, too many trivia. It’s already September, but summer is still here. Enjoy this refreshing nanbanzuke dish in hot weather!

 

 

 

Ingredients

(for 2 servings)

[Marinade]
5 cm x 5 cm dashi kombu (dried kelp)
60 ml water
50 ml rice vinegar (acidity 4.5%)
2 tbsp usukuchi shoyu (Japanese light soy sauce)
2 tsp caster sugar
½ dried takanotsume red pepper or dried red chili pepper (small-sized)

60 g onion, finely sliced
20 g carrot, julienned
6 small fillet of aji, mackerel, salmon or sardine
10 g plain flour
10 g katakuriko or cornstarch
vegetable oil, to deep fry

optional as garnish:
shishito pepper or okura,  prick each to avoid explosion
kabocha, sliced

 

 

Method

  1. Leave the akatogarashi in water for a while. Drain, seed and cut into thin slices.
  2. Put the water, vinegar, soy sauce and sugar in a non-reactive tray, and mix well until sugar dissolved. Add in the kombu and akatogarashi, then onion and carrot to marinate. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil over medium heat to 180℃. Lightly dust the fish with a mix of the flour and starch. Fry shishito and kabocha (without flour/batter coating) first, both sides until slightly brown and drain excess oil. Fry the fish in the same way.
  4. After frying, immediately marinate: remove the vegetables from the marinade, put the fries into the liquid and cover with the onion and carrot. Stand for at least 30 minutes or refrigerate overnight.

 

 

On more trivium:

 

You may already know, but tempura is one of the Nanban cuisine as well.

Portuguese merchants introduced tempura to Japan. They were in the habit of eating fried fish during the religious seasons (“tempora“) of abstinence from meat.

The word “tempura“, or the technique of dipping fish and vegetables into a batter and frying them, comes from the word “tempora“, a Latin word meaning “times”, “time period” used by both Spanish and Portuguese missionaries to refer to the Lenten period or Ember Days (ad tempora quadragesimae), Fridays, and other Christian holy days. Ember Days or quattuor tempora refer to holy days when Catholics avoid red meat and instead eat fish or vegetables. The idea that the word “tempura” may have been derived from the Portuguese noun tempero, meaning a condiment or seasoning of any kind, or from the verb temperar, meaning “to season” is also possible as the Japanese language could easily have assumed the word “tempero” as is, without changing any vowels as the Portuguese pronunciation in this case is similar to the Japanese.

(source: Wikipedia)

Wagashi of the Month: Minazuki

Here comes June again –  the month of Minazuki, June in the lunar calendar, and the month for Minazuki, a confection. One of my colleagues brought the latter Minazuki from Gionmanju in Kyoto for me, so once again I am posting this Wagashi.

 

Wagashi of the Month: June last year

 

Kyoto Trip in Minazuki Day 1  from my post last year:

 

Kyoto Trip in Minazuki Day 2 and Minazuki sweets from my post last year:

 

 

Kinosaki Onsen Hot Spring Town

As I mentioned last March on this blog (Kusatsu Onsen Hot Springs Resort), a friend of mine and I made a visit to another Onsen place. It was just before the New Year’s Eve and Kinosaki was ready for the 2017.

Shimekazari : traditional Japanese New Year decoration or wreath hung over the front door to keep evil spirits away and to welcome the Toshigami, the deity of the New Year
Kadomatsu (Gate Pine) : another New Year decoration to welcome in good fortune for the New Year – normally set up on either side of the front entrance to the house

Kinosaki Onsen is one of the most well-known hot spring resorts in Japan. One of the reasons is that it appears in At Kinosaki (1917) by Japanese writer, Naoya Shiga  – there still exists the ryokan, Mikiya where the author stayed. In the short story, the main character visits Kinosaki Onsen to recuperate from injury.

Not for recuperation, but I used to dip in the hot spring in winters when I was a resident in Kobe (Arima Onsen in Kobe is my another favourite). Kinosaki is getting popular among foreign tourists – but still less compared to Hakone, Kusatsu etc. – although it is far from Tokyo, and even from Kyoto or Osaka, it takes about three hours.

map from Independent

Whether it’s popular or not, you would surely be charmed once you visit the onsen town along a willow-lined river. Walking down the high street with old-fashioned shops, restaurants and amusement arcades, you would feel the ambience of good old Japan.

The top attraction at Kinosaki is sotoyu meguri, ‘public bath stroll’ although every ryokan has its own bath. There are seven public bathhouses in town, and in the evenings, people enjoy onsen hopping from one to another in yukata outfit and wooden geta sandals – also some in early mornings as well.

Sotoyu meguri is enjoyable, but you should be mindful of yuatari, bath dizziness, which may cause your blood pressure and heart rate to rise temporary. To avoid yuatari, we didn’t bathe too long or longer than our body can handle, and didn’t try all the seven bathhouses – just two or three a day at most is enough! – and had two at night and one in the morning.

Below are the seven along with the sotoyu meguri map:

 

 

① Satono-yu
② Jizou-yu
③ Yanagi-yu
④ Ichino-yu
⑤ Goshono-yu
⑥ Mandara-yu
⑦ Kouno-yu

The weather forecast expected snow for the days, however, we had some rain and occasional sleet or hailstone instead. Our bare feet in geta sandals miserably got soaked and frozen on the way to the baths, so we had to defrost them in the hot spring 😦

Other than that, we relaxed in the hot springs and enjoyed hopping (and a bottle of German wine afterwards 😀 )

Kinosaki Onsen promotion video

 

MUST EAT & DRINK at Kinosaki

Seafood from the Sea of Japan

Onsen tamago again (Read my Kusatsu Onsen Hot Springs Resort). Buy nama (raw) tamago and cook your own in a hot spring well!

(You can make onsen tamago – not in a hot spring though – at home! Here is the wonderful recipe.)

Takeaway Ohagi/Botamochi at Chikara Mochi.

(from left) cinnamon daifuku, shio (salt) daifuku, ohagi/botamochi

Kinosaki Beer from a microbrewery in Kinosaki.

The beer is good, but I would like you to try Japanese sake, Kasumitsuru. If you visit Kinosaki in winter, try Kasumitsuru Shiboritate sold only for winters.

If you drive to Kinosaki or can afford a one-hour taxi drive from Kinosaki, visit Kasumitsuru Brewery, where you can join the guided tour (booking is necessary) and try some samples.

Sake brewing at Kasumitsuru Brewery (in English)

To be honest, I prefer Kotsuzumi from adjacent province, Tamba. There are variety of Kotsuzumi, and among others, I like Akino Hiyaoroshi most. Unfortunately, this one is also seasonal product and only available in autumn months.

Visit the liquor store, Sakamotoya in Kinosaki where you can find the drinks I mentioned above and buy not only bottled but also a glass (glasses 😀 ) of sake at the counter.

crab crab crab crab

In winter months, from November to March when Matsubagani crab is in season, many, especially from Kansai region (I used to be the one of them), head to Kinosaki for Matsubagani cuisine – kani sashi, yaki ganikani suki/kani nabe etc.

However, Matubagani is pretty expensive. If you find less expensive ones or dishes, they are not Matsubagani but crabs from Russia.

Kani suki, crab hot pot (pic from Mikiya website)

If you would like to enjoy sushi, sashimi, Matsubagani and other seafood dishes in high quality, dine at Orizuru, one of the best restaurants in Kinosaki. Reservation is a must.

Orizuru

As you can easily imagine, the bill would come out quite…, but their lunch menu is more affordable. I popped in the restaurant at lunch time after seeing off my company who headed for Izumo Grand Shrine, and took away a bento box of kani chirasi, scattered sushi with crab meat.

kani chirashi (1,400 yen)

If you are Wagyu or Kobe Beef lover, Tajima Beef is a must!

 

How to get to Kinosaki Onsen

By bus (Zentan Bus)
From Osaka (nr Umeda Station) or Shin Osaka (departs from nr JR Shin Osaka Station): about  3-3.5 hour journey
From Kobe (nr JR Sannomiya Station): about 3 – 3.5 hour journey

By train (JR)
Click here for further information.
Hyperdia – timetable and route search

 

Where to Stay in Kinosaki

http://visitkinosaki.com/lodging/inn/

 

More options: minshukua kind of bed & breakfast or guest house usually run by family – a bit away from the central Kinosaki but more budget

Hashimoto –  We wanted to try this minshuku but had fully booked. (Not sure if English-speaking available)

Or stay in KasumiShibayama etc. small towns by the Sea of Japan and visit fish markets!

Maruya – I have stayed here many years ago. The place was cosy and comfortable, and I remember they served good Matsubagani cuisine. (Not sure if English-speaking available)

Kasumi Tourist Information: http://kasumi-kanko.com/index.php

Accomodation in Tajima province: http://www.hyogo-tourism.jp/english/accomodations/hi_tajima.html

 

Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year to everyone!

image
Osechi, traditional Japanese new year’s food and Ozoni, broth with rice cake
Ikebana, Japanese flower arrangement, for new year (by Rotwein)
Ikebana, Japanese flower arrangement, for new year (by Rotwein)

 

Wagashi of the Month: December

Wagashi of the Month for December – Christmas tree and boot

 

 

 

 

Honey Yuzu Marmalade

Tomorrow, the 21st of December this year is Toji, or winter solstice. The two most commonly practiced Japanese customs associated with the beginning of true winter are eating kabocha and having a yuzuyu, a hot bath with yuzu citrus fruit floating in it.

Yuzuyu is a tradition with its roots in prayers for safety and good health. It is said that bathing with yuzu at winter solstice keeps a cold away during winter. And besides, the strong smell of the citrus is believed to remove evil from the body and purify it.

In fact, a component of yuzu is known to be good for skin protection, and to warm the body, and it is also known that the aroma has a stress relief effect. Actually, the fragrance is very pleasant and soothing!

Yuzuyu with my duckies 😀

What I’m posting here today is not ‘how to make’ or ‘how to have a yuzuyu’ but the recipe of pleasantly bitter Honey Yuzu Marmalade.

Ingredients

500 g yuzu, preferably organic
100 g caster sugar
35 g honey (I used orange blossom honey)

Method

  1. Wash the yuzu thoroughly and pat dry with paper towel or something. Cut the citrus in half crosswise, squeeze out juice and strain. Reserve seeds and any removed membrane.
  2. Scoop the pips and pulp into a non-reactive pan and add the seeds and membrane. Pour in enough water to cover and simmer for 10 minuets on medium heat. Strain through a sieve into a bowl, remove the seeds and push to draw out pectin, using a wooden spoon.
  3. Meanwhile, slice the peel into very thin pieces, put into a large bowl of water and wash gently by squeezing. Change the water and repeat the process two more times for a total of three washes.
  4.  Place the peel in a large pot with a plenty of water. Bring to the boil over medium heat and simmer for a few minutes. Then remove from the heat and drain in a strainer. Repeat this process two more times.
  5. Put the peel into a non-reactive pan along with the juice, pectin liquid from the process 3 and 50 g sugar. Simmer on lower heat for 10 minutes, skimming off scum.
  6.  Add in the rest of the sugar and simmer stirring regularly for further 10 minutes or until thick. Spoon in the honey and bring back to simmer, then remove from the heat.
  7. Cool completely. Keep refrigerated and finish in 1-2 weeks. 

Wagashi of the Month: November

As autumn deepens and it gets cooler, leaves change colour into bright red and yellow.

Wagashi of the Month in November is fallen Momiji, or Japanese maple leaves on the bottom of river.

 

Autumn colour from my album:

Day Trip to Hakone – Nov. 2011
Lake Ashinoko, Hakone – Nov. 2011
Tokyo in late autumn, 2014

I’ll add some more photos from a local autumn festival last month.

There are countless local festivals (Matsuri) in Japan because almost every shrine celebrates one of its own. Most festivals are held annually and celebrate the shrine’s deity or a seasonal or historical event. Some festival are held over several days.

An important element of Japanese festivals are processions, in which the local shrine’s Kami (Shinto deity) is carried through the town in Mikoshi (palanquins). It is the only time of the year when the Kami leaves the shrine to be carried around town.

(source: japan-guide.com)

 

Mikoshi

 

Wagashi of the Month: October

Flavours of autumn:

Kaki, persimmon

 

and Kuri, chestnut

 

Things have been hectic lately, but I will come back soon (hopefully)!!

 

 

Wagashi of the Month: September

‘Moon Rabbit’ and ‘Chrysanthemum’ for September

Of all the year’s 12 full moons, the harvest moon in autumn is considered to be the most beautiful here in Japan. There is a moon viewing custom to admire the beauty at the night on 15th August in the lunar calendar, which falls on 15th of September this year. The night is called Jugoya, the night of 15th, and it is said that the moon at Jugoya is the brightest, most beautiful and most sublime of the year although the moon is not always full.

Tsuki Usagi, Moon Rabbit

Why rabbit?

The moon rabbit in folklore is a rabbit that lives on the moon. … The story exists in many cultures, prominently in East Asian folklore and Aztec mythology. In East Asia, it is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle, but the contents of the mortar differ among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklore. In Chinese folklore, it is often portrayed as a companion of the Moon goddess Chang’e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions, it is pounding the ingredients for rice cake. (source: wikipedia)

On the surface of the moon, Japanese people see not ‘a man in the moon’ but a rabbit pounding Mochi, rice cake.

Mochitsuki – pounding rice cake

Click for more about Tsukimi, moon viewing.

sugar candies: full moon, mountains, Chinese bellflowers, rabbits
full moon and rabbits

 

Another one is Kiku, or chrysanthemum, which symbolises autumn.

Kiku, chrysanthemum

 

Kiku is a symbol of Japan itself as well as Sakura, cherry blossom. I should have put a sword next to the chrysanthemum?