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Despite being called a rice “wine”, sake has more in common with beer as it is brewed through a double fermentation process. Making quality sake involves 4 key ingredients Rice, water, kōji and yeast.
Age-old records are written around 4 – reveal that pasteurization and the process of adding ingredients to the main fermentation mash in three stages were established practices since the late 15th century.
The brewing process begins with polishing the rice to remove proteins and bran.
Next, the nuka left on the polished rice is washed away and the rice is soaked.
The ice is then steamed to make k ji mai ( 麹米 ), shubo-mai ( 酒母米 , yeast starter) and moromi ( 醪 , mash).
After 18-32 days, the fermented mash is pressed to separate clear sake from kasu ( 粕 , lees).
More Koji, steamed ice and water are added to the shubo and left to ferment to make moromi.
Shubo is made by mixing steamed rice, water, koji and pure yeast it aids the fermentation process of the mash.
Koji kin is added to steamed ice to produce koji which is then added to the yeast.
The sake is then filtered, pasteurized and starts to develop its flavor.
It is then placed in cold storage where it matures before it is bottled.
There are about nine basic kinds of specially grown rice that are used to make sake and each of them produces a unique flavor. The king of these sake rice breeds is Yamada ishiki Rice which gives a fragrant, well-blended, soft flavor. The best grains are grown in Hyogo and Toyama. To produce aromatic sake, rice needs to be polished between %50 to %70. The more polished the rice, the more delicate it becomes, and the higher the grade of sake it produces.
Water makes up almost 80% of sake and helps develop its one-of- a-kind taste. Breweries often source their water from nearby springs, mountain runoffs, springs, etc. The water is either kōsui ( 硬水 , hard water) or nansui ( 軟水 , soft water) and they can affect the sort of flavor profile that the sake will take on.
Yeast has a big influence on how a sake will taste and smell. There is a wide variety of strains, but the most common ones are #7,#9 and #1801. #7 is commonly used in complex sake like Junmai and Honjozo for its subtler, earthier rice aroma while #9 and #1801 are popular for their floral and fruity flavor and fragrance.
20% of rice sake used for brewing is turned into a mold called kōji-kin. Kōji-kin converts the starch in rice into sugar through the process of fermentation. This affects the depth of umami flavor in sake.
The beauty of the full moon that occurs in the middle of fall has been admired by the Chinese since ancient times. This “middle of the fall” moon is scheduled by the old Oriental lunar calendar that was in use before the Gregorian calendar was introduced and is equivalent to modern August. In ancient East Asia, August was regarded as the month when the air became the clearest and people started enjoying the full moon on the 15th of this month. The actual date of this ancient 15th of August can be translated into modern 27th of September this year. In Japan, traditionally, the full moon after the “middle of the fall” was also admired as “the moon after” or “the moon reminiscent of the fall”, and it was even regarded as unlucky not to celebrate both moons in some areas of Japan. is year, “the moon after” happens on the 25th of October. It is likely that ancient people were already aware that the moon and tidal changes are strongly related to life forces.
The “yang” of the “yin-yang” concept is thought to become too strong and hence inauspicious on dates which are odd-numbered in both day and month. The sekku, or seasonal festival, became an event to counter this threat. Within these days, September 9th is known as the Choyo no Sekku as it is the day when the number strongest in “yang” is doubled. It has long been believed that when the power of the nature becomes too overbearing, the life of mankind is endangered. In order to avert that danger and pray for a long life, chrysanthemum flowers are soaked in water or sake and drunk for its blood-cleansing properties. In a time when most illnesses were thought to be caused by impurities in the blood, the chrysanthemum was a type of precious kampo medicine that only the royalty could afford. One of the rituals carried out during the Choyo no Sekku is to place a wad of silk on top of chrysanthemum flowers and to use the parts that absorbed the flower’s dew to wipe one’s body to cleanse oneself. The folksong, “Kikudoji”, used frequently in noh performances, is inspired by the eternal spirit of the chrysanthemum when it bursts into full bloom. In fact, during the Heian era, ladies from the nobility would wipe their faces and bodies with chrysanthemum dew in the hopes of staying young. For the peasants, it was a day to enjoy the chestnut. We now know the chestnut as being a health food rich in vitamin C, and well-balanced in terms of protein and fat. People in the past knew this from experience and eating this in the hopes of longevity on day of the Choyo is a festival tradition that cannot be missed.
The “Tanomi Festival” later became the “Hassaku Festival”—written in a different kanji character to mean festival for ‘pleading’—among merchants and samurai warriors, and evolved as a rite to foresee if riches would be amassed and a clan would be secure in the future.
In the old days, Japanese farmers used to go around the homes of friends and acquaintances on Hassaku, the first day of the eighth month of the year in the old calendar, carrying the first ears of rice harvested on that day to pray for a good harvest and to thank the Gods for being able to grow rice. These actions were called “Tanomi”. A time of year that has been noted in history as when typhoons had been feared, this period coincides with the two hundred and tenth day since the beginning of spring. Since the days when natural disasters were considered to be curses of the higher beings, people had prayed so damage would be minimal, and they buried offerings of money hoping for the safety of their family members. Such customs began to spread throughout the country, and they included the festival of the wind, hoped to appease the God of the wind. Over the years, these festivals became integrated and later led to the Hassaku festival, which eventually started to be observed throughout Japan.
The words for this article are those used to give thanks before and after meals.
”Tanatsumono, momonokigusa mo Amaterasu, hinoookami no megumi etekoso. Asayoini, monokuugoto ni toyoukeno, kamino megumi wo omoe, yonohito”
The first half of the phrase reads: “Tanatsumono, momonokigusa no Amaterasu, hinoookami no megumi etekoso.” This is similar in meaning to the phrase “itadakimasu” that is said before eating a meal. Specifically, it means that the harvest from the fields is a blessing from the sun, which I gratefully partake.”
The second half of the phrase reads: “Asayoini, monokuugoto ni toyoukeno, kamino megumi wo omoe, yonohito.” This is said to give thanks after a meal, like the phrase “gochisousama” used nowadays. “Toyouke no kami” refers to the god of food. “Gochisousama”, when written in kanji characters, infers to the action of running about and is meant to recognize the effort of the person who prepared the meal. In other words, it means, “Be it morning or night, I give thanks to god for providing my meals.” This complete phrase was recited by an 18th century classics researcher, Motoori Norinaga, and it is still currently chanted in shrines before and after meals.
These days, the long phrases starting with “tanatsumono” and “asayoini” are not recited, but most Japanese would say “itadakimasu” before eating a meal and “gochisousama” at the end. It seems there is no equivalent for such phrases in English, but these phrases that come naturally for any Japanese when partaking in food is an expression of thanks towards nature for its bounty.
Though old-fashioned, these phrases embody an important aspect of the Japanese mindset. To reflect this history, I have expressed these words in old-style hiragana called hentaigana. This form of writing can only be deciphered by experts of Japanese classical literature nowadays, but this text, which evolved from kanji into its current typology, has a beautiful form. Each word connects to the next, and this makes it necessary to control the flow of ink from the brush, and control of one’s breath to be slow and even. These are words of thanks, suitable to decorate the dining table.
This fun summer tradition has diners working to catch their meal. Aptly named “flowing noodles”, The sōmen is placed in long bamboo flumes with fast running cold water that carries the noodles past guests who try to catch them with their chopsticks. The noodles are then immediately dipped in tsuyu (つゆ, flavoured dipping sauce) and eaten.
During the hot and humid days of summer, this chilled ramen dish is a welcome change from regular ramen. The cold noodles are served topped with a variety of ingredients such as strips of tamagoyaki (玉子焼き, egg omelet) and thin slices of cucumber, tomatoes, and ham which are tossed together before it is eaten. Some study says cold ramen is the most popular noodle dish among others for summer in Japan.
These days you might see signs hanging from your favorite Ramen shop wall saying “Hiyashi Chuka Hajimemashita”. Fear not, this only means they’ve started serving cold ramen. During summer, Hiyashi Chuka is so popular that you can get it from every convenience store offering a different taste, and these signs have even inspired the creation of a song.
“Hiyashi Chuka” literally means “Chilled Chinese” but despite what the name suggests, this cold ramen is a dish invented in Japan and it even has its own official day; July 7th, recognized by the Japan Anniversary Organization. The love for these chilled noodles even sparked the creation of the Japan Hiyashi Chuka Fans Association, an organization that was born out of an interesting anecdote.
In 1975, a jazz pianist named Yosuke Yamashita went to a ramen shop during winter and ordered Hiyashi Chuka, but the ramen shop owner told him they didn’t have any because it was winter and Hiyashi Chuka is served only in summer. Yamashita gets furious and yells:
なぜ、冷し中華は冬に食えないのか！ 生ビールもアイスクリームも食えるのに！ この差別はなくさなければならない！
“Why!, why can’t I eat Hiyashi Chuka in winter?, we drink cold beer and eat ice cream in winter after all, we have to end this kind of discrimination!”. It was this desire to eat Hiyashi Chuka during winter that drove him to create the Japan Hiyashi Chuka Fans Association and promote the dish by organizing events and spreading information about this delicious summer (and winter, Yamashita would argue) treat.
Source: News Postseven (Japanese)
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The quintessential Japanese beach activity. Similar to the Mexican piñata, suikawari involves blindfolded players trying to smash open a watermelon guided by the shouts of their friends. Usually, a sheet or piece of cardboard is placed under the watermelon so the smashed pieces are kept safe from the ground. The first person to split the rotund fruit using a bokutou (木刀, wooden sword) or baseball bat is the winner of the game.
If you want to eat your watermelon in an original and destructive way, look no further. Suikawari is so popular that in 1991 the “Japan Suika-Wari Association (JSWA)” established a set of written rules for the game. The association no longer exists but it is pretty amazing that it even did. Some of the rules concerned the distance between the watermelon and the player, the type of stick to be used and JSWA-recognized blindfolds were to be used. Judges at the competition were required to have eaten at least ten watermelons in the current year. It makes you wonder how they were even able to check all these rules.
Click here to learn more about Japanese traditions related to watermelon.