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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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

 

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