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 Katsumitsuru 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

 

 

 

 

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?

 

Wagashi of the Month: August

 

Towards the end of August… but the very hot weather will continue one more moth. We are still in the midst of summer and seeking for coolness through five senses. The green colour and the fresh smell of bamboo and the leaf evoke a sense of coolness.

 

Kuzu-mochi, a clear jelly of Kuzu (starch from Kuzu or Kudzu Root) wrapped in a bamboo leaf. Kuzu-mochi is also considered a summer dessert.

 

Nadeshiko flower – Dianthus or Pink

 

Yokan, gelled sweet bean paste, in a bamboo tube

 

 

 

Wagashi of the Month: July

 

Kingyo, or goldfish fascinates many people with its beautiful colours and adorable shapes. Here in Japan, the fish is most popular in summer as Japanese people regard that its gently swaying tail in water evokes a sense of coolness.

 

 

Another one is Himawari, or sunflower. I think the flower is a bit modern motif, not a traditional one, but it was too pretty to pass over!

 

Himawari

 

We are still stuck in the raining season although it’s high time it had been over. Well, I’d rather this than the awful heat and humidity waiting ahead though….

 

 

Kyoto Trip 2014 – Day 2

Itinerary – 2nd day (30th June 2014):

Central Kyoto – Shugakuin Imperial Villa – Kamigamo Shrine – Tenyu – Kamesuehiro – JR Kyoto Station – Tokyo

Unlike the rainy first day in Kyoto, the following day was bright and clear. Lucky enough to have such a lovely day as I was suppose to visit Shugakuin Imperial Villa with breathtaking beauty and great masterpieces of Japanese gardening.

The Shugakuin Imerial Villa (Shugakuin Rikyu), built in the mid 17th century for retired Emperor Gomizuno, is a set of gardens and outbuildings (mostly tea-houses) in the hills of the eastern suburbs of Kyoto. It consists of the Upper, Middle and Lower Villa areas, each featuring gardens and buildings of the traditional imperial style.

 

Fusuma sliding doors of Jugetsu-kan, the Lower Villa building where Gomizuno would rest before going on to the Upper Villa.
Cedar wood sliding doors depicting the Gion Festival, Kyoto’s most well known festival in July (Middle Villa)
Regarded as one of the ‘three most treasured shelves’ in Japan (Middle Villa)
on the way to the Upper Villa
Upper Villa

shugakuin 3

shugakuin 2

The Shugakuin Imperial Villa is only accessible through guided tours, which require advanced booking because it is one of the Imperial properties and under supervision of the Imperial Household Agency (Click for the application).

For more information:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3936.html
http://www.japanvisitor.com/japanese-culture/shugakuin-villa

Kamigamo Jinja (Shito shrine)

After Shugakuin Rikyu, caught a taxi and hurried to Kamigamo Shrine (Kamigamo Jinja), one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for Nagoshi no Harae, an ancient Japanese summer purification rite which many shrines conduct on the 30th of June. In this religious ceremony, of which origin goes back to the Nara period (AD 710 -794), people atone for their sins in the first half of the year and then pray for their health for the remainder of the year by walking through a tall chinowa wreath (a large sacred ring made of loosely twisted miscanthus reeds called chigaya).

Shinto priests

Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach the shrine in time for the rite – well, I knew I couldn’t make it after the Shugakuin Rikyu guided tour, but anyway, I followed the worshipers: walked through the chinowa wreath three times  in a 8 shaped like form (1. counterclockwise, 2. clockwise and then 3. counterclockwise) praying ‘Purification Prayer’ to purify myself from misdeeds (tsumi), impurities (kegare), and misfortune, and wished for good health for my family and for myself.

Chinowa

Below are Nagoshi no Harae – Summer Purification – rituals:

evening ritual

The 30th of June is the day of Oharae or Oharai (Grand Purification), purifying sins and bad lucks not only for an individual but also for the public and the country. This Shinto ritual is held twice a year: on the 30th of June and the 30th of December (Toshikoshi no Harae). On the day of Oharae in June, people in Kyoto eat Minazuki (as for Minazuki, read my Wagashi of the Month).

Minazuki

It is said that the triangular shape and Azuki bean, especially its red colour, guard people against evil spirits and protect against misfortune and illness. Minazuki is also believed to expel any negative actions of the first half of the year like the ritual. That is the reason why they eat Minazuki at the halfway mark in the year, praying for a good second half.

Nowadays, you can buy the confectionery anywhere in Japan, but I wanted to try authentic one, so I tried Kamesuehiro (est. 1804),  one of the most famous traditional confectioneries in Kyoto. Unlike others (very exclusive! – ‘Ichigen-san, okotowari’ which means ‘New customer/first-time customer/chance customer, no admittance’ is common among long established restaurants, tea-houses, confectioneries etc. in Kyoto), Kamesuehiro is exceptionally customer-friendly. I recommend, however, you should make an appointment and place an order in advance as people do with other long established confectioneries, esp. when you purchase a seasonal speciality like Minazuki.

Minazuki
Minazuki from Kamesuehiro

Also bought a small box of Kyo no Yosuga with higashi (dried sweets) and hannamagashi (half-raw sweets). Kyo no Yosuga is ideal for gifts (Click for more info).

Kyo no Yosuga: the sweets represent seasonal feature of Minazuki, or June: e.g. blue one with a green leaf — hydrangea; pink (dianthus) etc.

Hang on, what about lunch? The foodie is highly organised when it comes to food 😀
I had already ordered a bento lunch box to takeaway as well as Minazuki. I can’t afford to stay and dine at Tawaraya Ryokan, one of the best ryokan inns in Kyoto, but I can afford a box from the tempra restaurant Tawaraya runs! So I made a phone call to Tenyu (Reviews on Tripadvisor and photos of their dishes and obento boxes).  Tenyu offers a bento box of the month as the photo shows below: for June, Ayu Gohan bento box – fishing season of ayu, or sweetfish starts in June and the fish is one of the most popular ingredients of Kyo Ryori, or Kyoto Cuisine.

 

Fully enjoyed Minazuki, June in archaic word, in Kyoto, and the bento on a Shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo :-9