I attended a wagashi workshop the other day, and made three pieces of wagashi: two nerikiri and one kinton. Now we are in the midst of rainy season where hydrangeas bloom beautifully and delight the eye. Here in Japan, Ajisai, or hydrangea, is considered to be a symbolic flower of June and the rainy season, so the three wagashi were hydrangea-themed.
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.
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).
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).
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.
Below are Nagoshi no Harae – Summer Purification – rituals:
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).
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.
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).
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
Now we are in the midst of rainy season (that’s why the photos need more light!) – hydrangeas bloom beautifully and delight the eye. Ajisai, or hydrangea, is considered to be a symbolic flower of June and the rainy season here in Japan, so I chose Ajisai shaped confections for this month.
Rokugatsu, June in Japanese and literally means ’the sixth month’, has another name in archaic word: Minazuki. There is a confection called Minazuki and sold during this time of year.
Minazuki is a layer of white Uirou, steamed rice jelly made from rice flour, with Azuki red beans on top. The white triangle shaped Uirou represents a piece of ice, and the beans, crushed ice.
Minazuki is originally from Kyoto. In ancient times, only the nobles in the Imperial Court could afford ice in summer: on the 1st of June by the old calendar, they enjoyed pieces of triangle shaped ice brought down from icehouses, where ice was stored from winter to summer, in the mountains of Kitayama, Kyoto. The commoners in Kyoto, on the other hand, ate Minazuki as substitute for the cold solid.
In Kyoto, there is a custom to eat Minazuki on the 30th of June, which shall be mentioned later this month.
Oops, May is almost there…. I was going to post this while cherry blossoms were in bloom but missed the right timing, so this is a bit out of season….
Sakuramochi is a wagashi confectionery consisting of sweet pink-coloured rice cake with a red bean paste (anko) centre, and wrapped in a salted cherry blossom (sakura) leaf. Different regions of Japan have different styles of sakuramochi. Kanto-style uses shiratama-ko ( rice flour) to make the rice cake while Kansai-style uses domyoji-ko (glutinous rice flour). The former is called Chomyoji-mochi, and the latter is Domyoji-mochi. (Wikipedia)
Before the oyster season ends, I made Kaki Meshi, oyster rice – kaki is not the fruit （柿）but oyster（牡蠣）in this case/dish! Winter is oyster season here, and people say, ‘Do not eat oysters after cherry blossom (beginning of April)’ to avoid food poisoning.
I’m fond of Takikomi Gohan, a Japanese rice dish seasoned with dashi, or cooking stock, and soy sauce along with vegetables, fish etc., so I was going to post a recipe of Kuri Gohan, chestnut rice in the autumn, but alas, missed the season…. Phew, I barely made it this time!!
(for 3-4 servings)
[for dashi stock]
5 cm x 5 cm dashi kombu (dried kelp)
400 ml water (ideally soft water)
300 g Japanese short grain rice
(to soak: at least 400 ml water, ideally soft water)
200 g oysters, shucked
(to wash: 3 tbsp cornstarch, saltwater — 1 liter water + 1 tbsp salt)
2 tbsp + ½ tsp usukuchi soy sauce
2 tbsp sake
½ tsp mirin a pinch of salt
handfulmitsuba, 3 tbsp chopped stems, leaves to garnish
(If not available, sprinkle with 1 tbsp finely chopped spring onion)
Soak the dashi kombu in the water for overnight.
Put the rice in a large bowl with some water and wash gently in a circular motion for about 10 seconds, then discard the water. Repeat 3-4 times and drain with a sieve or strainer. Soak the rice in the 400 ml water for 60 min (30 min in summer).
To wash the oysters, dissolve the salt in the water and set aside. Put the oyster in a bowl and add the cornstarch with some saltwater, then wash gently. Rinse well with the rest of saltwater. Dry with kitchen paper.
Pour the dashi stock along with kombu in a pan and spoon in soy sauce,sake, mirin and salt. Set the pan on medium heat and remove the kombu just before it starts boiling.
Add the oysters in the stock and simmer over lower heat for 2 min. Remove from the heat and take out the oyster to set aside. Cool the stock down.
Drain the rice well with a sieve or strainer. Put the rice in a heavy-bottom pot and pour in the dashi stock and juice/stock from the oysters (do not squeeze!) , and cover with a lid. Bring to the boil over medium heat. Once water is boiling (judge from the noise and do not open the lid), cook for 2 min, then slightly reduce the heat and cook for another 3 min. Turn the heat to low and cook for 5 min. Uncover and check if the water is completely absorbed (take a quick peek). If not, cover again and continue cooking until absorbed (check every 1 min and do not overcook!). Turn off the heat and let it steam with the lid on for 5 min. Add the oysters and chopped mitsuba in and leave it covered for another 5 min. Fluff the rice with a rice paddle when it’s done.
Ladle the rice with oysters into bowls and garnish with mitsuba leaves.
I made it subtle and light taste as I’m from western Japan (If interested, read the article on East vs. West in Japan). If you prefer it richer, taste the dashi stock (Method 4) add another ½ tsp usukuchi soy sauce and ½ tsp mirin as necessary.
Traditionally, mochi was made from whole rice, in a labor-intensive process. The traditional mochi-pounding ceremony in Japan is Mochitsuki:
Polished glutinous rice is soaked overnight and cooked.
The cooked rice is pounded with wooden mallets (kine) in a traditional mortar (usu). Two people will alternate the work, one pounding and the other turning and wetting the mochi. They must keep a steady rhythm or they may accidentally injure one another with the heavy kine.
The sticky mass is then formed into various shapes (usually a sphere or cube).