Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Chiba Prefectural Boso-no Mura

"When you look at Japanese traditional architecture, 
you have to look at Japanese culture and its relationship with nature. 
You can actually live in a harmonious, close contact with nature 
- this very unique to Japan"

Tadao Ando
Japanese self-taught architect



The shouka-no-machinami (商家の街並) or "merchants street" at Boso-no Mura.

One hidden gem in Chiba Prefecture, where you get to get a tantalizing time slip experience of traveling to the olden days of Japan is Chiba Prefectural Boso-no Mura (千葉県立房総のむら) or Boso Village. This is an unique museum that reproduces a Japanese scenery of 150 years ago at the Boso area. Here, visitors get to learn about the history and deepen their understandings of traditional skills and lifestyles in Boso area not only by the exhibitions but also by their own experiences. Among the interesting attractions in this village are old samurai residences, farmhouses and old buildings.  

This place is basically divided into two areas, namely "Fudoki-no-Oka area" (風土記の丘エリア), where visitors can learn about history and nature from the many excavated artifacts from tombs and ancient temples in Chiba prefecture,  and "Furusato-no-Wazataiken area" (ふるさとの技体験エリア), an area where visitors can experience first-hand various types of Japanese culture such as traditional crafts and events that have been passed down through the generations.


An unidentified person with a basket covering his head, blowing to a flute walking along the street.


Hello from Boso-no Mura!


Sakura-do (佐倉堂) is a pharmacy (薬の店), where several types of traditional medicine prescriptions and equipments are displayed.


Woodwork factory (木工所), called Nagara-ya (長柄屋). There are many types of wooden clogs displayed on the shelves inside this shop.


Kendama is a traditional Japanese hand-held game which is very popular in Japan and enjoyed by people of all ages. The modern Kendama has a wooden handle (ken) with three shallow dishes (sara) and a bluntly pointed tip (kensaki) which the player uses to catch a wooden ball (tama) using a variety of fun techniques (waza).
  This game got so popular that an international competition for this game was introduced recently.


  Guess what is this? It used to be a taxi in those days. Amazing, isn't it?


Got the chance to take a hold on a samurai katana (sword), which is made of errrrrr.... aluminium lol!

The "Furusato-no-Wazataiken area" is mainly divided into two parts - "Shouka-no-Machinami" (商家の街並) or "merchants street" and "Bukeyashiki & Nouka-no-yousu" (武家屋敷・農家の様子), which translates "Samurai residence and farmhouses". Machinami (街並) is a reproduction of a typical commercial street consisting of 16 shops, an information office, a guardian deity for children, the town square and Inari shrine, modeled after those found in Katori city (formerly Sawara city). These buildings were commonly found from the last years of the Edo period to the early years of Meiji period.

A short walk along this street gives a feel of bustling town market through the demonstrations done at most of the shops.


Kazusa farmhouse (上総の農家), a reproduction of the village's headman's (or nanushi (名主) in Japanese) farmhouse in Oami-Shirasato town (大網白里町). 
There is a mezzanine in the main building of the house.


Yo Yo requested for a photo together, which I gladly acknowledged. The gap between our height is just [fill in with an adjective] .... lol!


A reproduction of a middle-class samurai residence built in the latter half of the Edo period.


 A picture perfect shot at one of the tatami rooms of the farmhouse (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).


 This is how the kitchen in the olden days look like.


Dried chillies and other kinds of herbs harvested from nearby farm are being dried under the blazing summer sun.

Bukeyashiki (武家屋敷) represents middle-class samurai's warriors residence of Sakura clan in the last years of Edo period. Bukeyashiki of Sakura clan is characterised by the construction on high premises.   The main building is modeled on Takei's house in Miyakoji (宮小路) in Sakura city. 

It consists of guest's room called genkan (玄関) and zashiki (座敷), and family's rooms that include ima (居間), chanoma (茶の間), daidokoro (台所), and doma (土間). There are many bukeyashiki in Miyakoji at present, which remind us of the Edo period.


One group photo of the Chiba Kun Ambassadors with the performers at the village (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).


※ INFORMATION ※
Chiba Prefectural Boso-no Mura (千葉県立房総のむら)
Address: 1028 Ryukakuji, Sakae-machi, Imba-gun, Chiba Prefecture, Japan (千葉県印旛郡栄町龍角寺1028)
Opening Hours: 09:00 - 16:30
Closed:
Mondays (Tuesday if Monday falls on a holiday), beginning and end of the year, other extra holidays
Admission: 300 yen (adults), 150 yen (high school/college students), free admission (senior citizens of 65 years and above, junior high school students and below)
Website: http://www.chiba-muse.or.jp/MURA/index.html (Japanese); http://www.chiba-muse.or.jp/MURA/e/index.html (English)

Email: mura@chiba-muse.or.jp
Tel: 0476-95-3333
Parking: Available for free (155 cars, 12 buses)
Access: Train: From JR Narita Station (JR成田駅) on JR Narita Line (JR成田線), take bus by
"Ryukakuji-dai-shako" (竜角寺台車庫) for about 20 minutes and alight at "Ryukakuji-dai-2-chome" (竜角寺台2丁目). Walk for approximately 8 minutes, (bus schedule here - Japanese only), ※ There are 1 to 2 buses going in either direction every hour.
Car: 20 minutes (15 km) from Higashi-Kanto Expressway Narita Interchange.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mouthwatering Unaju From Kanetaya

"Japanese eel is said to be 
the most expensive fish in Japan"
Froese and Pauly 2011





Golden-brown and spitting hot unagi fillet, served over rice as unaju, in square lacquer-look box.

Unagi, or eel may sound like a foreign ingredient to most of us who are not familiar to Japanese cuisine. However, when unagi is served, it always looked like a typical fish fillet to me. To be honest however, I find it hard to connect the dots between the snake-looking fish in the water, and the "fish" I was eating. For better or for worse, that experience did not stop me enjoying unagi all these years.  The combination of delicious warm rice and glistering sweet caramel-like unagi sauce (we call it "unagi no tare") over the perfectly grilled unagi is simply irresistible.

For those of you who pays visit to sushi restaurants from now and then, unagi sushi or anago sushi (salt-water eels) should be a common menu you find there. However, the satisfaction from eating freshly-grilled unagi on top of warm rice is completely a different and incomparable experience. The aroma of the sauce is more than enough to make anyone's mouth water.



Kametaya - a restaurant that specializes on traditional Japanese cuisine.

Our lunch during the second tour of Chiba Kun Ambassadors took us to a traditional Japanese restaurant - Kanetaya. We had two options to choose - between the unaju or makunouchi bento. It was a pretty straight-forward choice between the two; I opted for the former. As is standard practice, it is served either in a two-tiered lacquer container with the rice separate; laid on top of the rice in a fancy square or rectangular box - unaju (うな重); or on rice in a wide bowl - unadon (うな丼).

This style of cooking is called kabayaki (蒲焼き), similar to teriyaki (照 焼き). It is a very typical way to prepare unagi but other fish that can be prepared the same way as well.  Basically the fish is split down the back (or belly), gutted and boned, butterflied, cut into square fillets, skewered, and dipped in a sweet soy sauce based sauce before broiled on a charcoal grill. In the Tokyo region, the skewered eel is first broiled without the sauce, and we call it shirayaki (白焼き). Then the unagi are steamed, before being dipped in the sauce and grilled again.



Here comes our scrumptious unaju set. They come in several sizes - jyo (上), nami (並), matsu (松), take (竹), ume (梅), etc. This nami unaju cost 2,000 yen.



Side dish which tastes very much like the Chinese shumai, but with an interesting twist; notice how they made the skin with sliced wonton wrappers, topped with a dash of chopped ginger and boiled green mustard.



Colourful pickles made of radish and green mustard.



The Shoukadou (松花堂) makunouchi bento, or traditional Japanese lunchbox, is a highly lacquered wooden box divided into quadrants, 
each of which contains different delicacies - fish, meat, pickles, eggs and vegetables along with rice and an umeboshi.

Freshwater eel, especially when broiled in the savory kabayaki style, is credited with the marvelous ability to provide energy in face of the debilitating heat of mid-summer. Unagi is rich in vitamins A and E, and omega-3 fatty acids. From Edo Period (1600-1850), the Japanese have a tradition to eat unagi on a particular mid-summer day called doyō-no ushi-no-hi (土用の丑の日) in order to gain stamina from the hot summer heat.

Finally, our highly anticipated unaju made its entrance. Like everything else here, it is simple and just as good as you would expect. The melting-soft texture of the fish is basted with a rich, savory tare sauce that oozes into the rice. A dash of color and texture is provided by the small saucer of pickles.



For dessert, we got a pleasant surprise as we were served a special home-made black beans castella (黒豆カステラ). One word to describe it - orgasmic!

 

Each of us were given a little token of souvenir after our satisfying meal - an origami with the lyrics of a Japanese folk song.

Thank you for reading, and do make it a point to drop by this restaurant if you are looking for palatable Japanese cuisine in this area of Chiba.


※ INFORMATION ※
Kanetaya (金田屋)
Address: 3692 Ajiki, Sakae City, Imba Gun, Chiba Prefecture, Japan (千葉県印旛郡栄町安食3692)
Opening Hours: 11:00 - 22:00
Closed:
The second Wednesday of every month
Reservation: Available
Website: http://kanetaya.jp (Japanese only) 

Email: mail@kanetaya.jp
Tel: 0476-95-1105    Fax: 0476-95-8855
Parking: Available (40 spaces)
Access: From JR Awaji Station on JR Narita Line, walk for 12 minutes; Car: 20 minutes (15 km) from Narita Interchange. 

※ Free shuttle bus available for groups more than 10 peoples.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pear Picking In Kamagaya City

"There are only ten minutes in the life 
of a pear when it is perfect to eat."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
American essayist, lecturer, and poet




Pears plucking in Kamagaya city in Chiba prefecture.

One thing I love about living in a seasonal country like Japan is the chance to enjoy different kinds of delicious fruits throughout the year. Autumn is often associated with fruits like pear, peach and persimmon (looks like all of them start with the letter "P" hmmm...). The Japanese pear is more commonly known as nashi, which are generally larger, crispier and have a similar but lighter taste and a rougher skin compared to the Western pear. Furthermore, they are spherical rather than "pear-shaped". Nashi are mostly found during the late summer and autumn, and are generally eaten peeled. They have been cultivated by the Japanese since pre-historical times.

The second tour for the Chiba Kun Ambassadors took us to a pear plucking tour in the city of Kamagaya, in the northern region of Chiba prefecture. For the record, Chiba prefecture is the number one producer of nashi in Japan, while Kamagaya city ranks third in terms of the nashi produced in Chiba.


Ogawa Farm is one of the many fruit farms in Kamagaya city that offers visitors to experience plucking the fruits themselves.


Posing with the mascot of Kamagaya city - Kamatan, who came to welcome the Chiba Kun Ambassadors. By the way, was he blushing? Lol!


The list of fruits available for picking today - Niitaka pear, Niagara and Steuben grapes.

Fruit picking is a popular activity in Japan, both among the locals and tourists alike. Many farms across the country offer fruit picking opportunities to visitors. The typical procedure is for the visitor to get charged for a certain time period during which he/she can pick and enjoy the fruits on the spot.  Farms usually charge between 800 and 3000 yen, depending on the fruit being picked. The time allowed typically ranges from 30 to 60 minutes. Sometimes, farms charge based on the weight of the fruits retrieved, instead. The time of the year in which a particular fruit is available depends on the location and the weather. 

There are no less than 10 farms in Kamagaya city that offers fruit plucking for visitors. Among the fruits that are popular during autumn are Japanese pear, peach, grapes and blueberries. There are also stalls set up temporarily along the street that offers direct sale of these freshly harvested fruits, which sometimes the local call the street as the "nashi kaido" (梨街道) or "pear road".


How it looks like from the top of the pear trees.


The pear trees are usually about 1.5 meters tall; so even kids get to enjoy plucking the fruit by themselves.


Harvest them when they are fully coloured and detach easily. Roll them upward with a twist.


Found my pear, and ready to twist them around lol!

This time, we were taken to Ogawa farm, which is just five minutes walk from Kunugiyama station (くぬぎ山駅), running on the Shin-Keisei Line (新京成線). After a short introduction of the history of pear cultivation in this city, which apparently started more than 200 years ago, we were taken into the farm. In this farm, they have the popular Kosui (幸水) and Hosui (豊水) cultivars, and also Niitaka (新高), which is what we would get to enjoy on the day.

The branches of the tree was made to grow just about the height of average human's height; so that it will be convenient for people when they pluck the pears while standing below the tree. However, for an over-average person like me, it was quite a nightmare to walk around the farm, to be honest hahaha! I had to keep my body in a bending posture mostly all the time. Only once in a while, I get to stuck my head out through the openings at some spots.


The pears were so huge, that even the paper bag got torn off.


My harvest of the day. The cultivars that we pluck on the day was Niitaka (新高).



Enjoying the freshly harvested Japanese pears under the tree (photo credit: Madoka Usui).


A photo with Ishikawa-san (Director of Chiba Prefecture General Planning Department International Affairs Division)
and Usui-san from the International Affairs Division of Chiba Prefectural Office.


Kamatan thanking us for the visit. By the way, visitors can also buy back pears as souvenirs from the shop.

Basically, the eat-all-you-can concept is common in most of the fruit plucking farms. However, for our visit this time, we were limited to pluck only 2 pears per person. There were however, freshly cut pears on the table, which was specially prepared for the Chiba Kun Ambassadors. Nothing beats the feeling of eating these juicy pears under the pear trees. Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, "there are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat." 

There is something so sensuous about biting into a pear in its prime: first, the sweet juiciness; then the mild, but distinctive, sensation of texture. Enjoying the perfect pear requires patience; pears are one of the few fruits that don’t benefit from ripening on the tree. In fact, pears left unpicked tend to rot from the inside out. So pickers in prime pear-producing states are trained to identify when a fruit’s sugars are at their peak and time the harvest so that the fruits reach the market (or arrive by mail-order from companies) just as they achieve the perfect balance of sweetness and texture.

If you are planning for a pear plucking experience, Kamagaya is definitely the place to go!


※ INFORMATION ※

Ogawa Farm (小川園)
Address: 4-4-3 Kunugiyama, Kamagaya City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan (千葉県鎌ヶ谷市くぬぎ山4-4-3)
Opening Hours: 09:00 - 17:00 (August 25 to mid-October)
Admission Fee: 900 yen (adult), 500 yen (children under 13 years old) (special discounts available for groups)
Website: http://www.kamagayasikankounougyoukumiai.info/ (Japanese only)
Tel: 0478-35-5071       Fax: 0478-84-7472
Parking: Available
Access: From Shin-Keisei Line Kinugiyama Station, walk 5 minutes

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kiyose Sunflower Festival 2014

"Keep your face to the sunshine 
and you cannot see the shadow. 
It's what sunflowers do."

Helen Keller




"Live, laugh, love!"

The arrival of summer is often associated with the much-loved himawari or sunflowers. Along with morning glory, sunflowers are the representative flower of this this season throughout Japan. You find them at schools, houses, roadsides, and of course florists. There are several spots in the Kanto region where you get to visit the sunflower fields and one of the popular one is in Kiyose, a city in the northern part of Tokyo.

Here, visitors get to view a rare sight of Tokyo - a field full of over 100,000 sunflowers in full-bloom, all at once! This field measures about 24,000 meters square (that's the size of more than 2 football field!) and was originally a wheat field. After the wheat are harvested in June, they grow sunflowers as green manure and make it an annual event. This festival was started in 2008 and during the festival, besides enjoying the beautiful sunflowers, there are also stalls selling locally grown vegetables, including Kiyose's famous carrot shōchū (Japanese distilled beverage) and carrot jam. For photography enthusiasts, there is also a photo contest to take part at this sunflower festival.



A wonderful weather to make an outing to the sunflower field.



The scientific name of sunflowers is Helianthus; Helia for sun and Anthus for flower.  

Sunflowers originally came from the United States. However, the former Soviet Union grows the most sunflowers and it is no coincidence that sunflower is the national flower of Russia. 
There are more than sixty different kinds of sunflowers growing in the United States, Europe, Japan and Russia.



Sunflowers are one of the fastest growing plants. It requires only 90 to 100 days from planting to maturity and they can grow 8 to 12 feet tall in rich soil within six months.



Sunflower plants can be from 3 to 18 feet tall.  The tallest sunflower ever recorded was in the Netherlands (776 cm (25′ 5.5″) tall) grown in 1986 by M. Heijmf. That is more taller than a two-story tall building! 



There is only one flower on each sunflower stem. Sunflower heads consist of 1,000 to 2,000 individual flowers joined together by a receptacle base. The large petals around the edge of a sunflower head are individual ray flowers which do not develop into seed.   



One sunflower can have up to 2000 seeds. There are two kinds of sunflower seeds - black and stripe. Oil is made from black seeds. Snacks are made from striped seeds.


A well-known sunflower characteristic is that the flowering heads track the sun’s movement, a phenomenon known as heliotropism. The daily orientation of the flower to the sun is a direct result of differential growth of the stem. A plant-growth regulator, or auxin, accumulates on the shaded side of a plant when conditions of unequal light prevail. Because of this accumulation, the darker side grows faster than the sunlit side. Thus, the stem bends toward the sun.   

It is pretty easy to get to there sunflower field. Visitors just need to get to JR Kiyose station (清瀬駅) on the Joban Line, which is under an hour from Tokyo station. There are bus platforms at the north exit of the station and visitors just got to hop onto the Seibu bus (西武バス) #61 bound for JR Shiki station south exit via Green Town (グ リーンタウン経由志木駅南口) on platform #2.

The bus ride takes about fifteen minutes and get down at Shitajuku-iriguchi (下宿入口). Once you alighted from the bus, there should be signboards showing the way to the sunflower farm. Here is the bus time-table and the method of getting to the sunflower farm from Kiyose station (both in Japanese only). Reference page here.

 

   Sunflowers are a great choice for planting to attract birds to your yard.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Making Boso Peninsula's Futomaki Matsuri-Zushi

"The most beautiful expressions 
of the culinary art"
Futomaki matsuri-zushi
 

Beautiful treats that are the result of over 100 years of culinary refinement.

If you have heard of "futomaki matsuri-zushi", you are a real sushi connoisseur! The Chiba Kun Ambassadors recently was given a cooking class. Yes, being an ambassador for Chiba Kun is not limited to only introducing the tourist spots in Chiba prefecture, because we gotta attend cooking class once in a while as well hahaha! So, this time we were given the opportunity to learn how to make one of Japanese most well-known food - sushi.

This time, we would be making "futomaki matsuri-zushi" (太巻き祭り寿司), literally "thick-rolled festival sushi". Futomaki matsuri-zushi is common in the Chiba Prefecture of Japan and is considered as another form of traditional culture that is passed down through the ages. These unique and colorful sushi rolls are rolled with intricate patterns and commonly made for special occasions and festivals since old times. They transform your traditional California roll and turn it into the linkness of a panda, flower, or even a pop culture icon.


The sushi masters were there since early in the morning in preparing the ingredients. Here they are making tamago-yaki (Japanese omelet) (photo credit: Madoka Usui).


The three sushi chefs plus a visiting student from a local university, who would teach us the way to make futomaki-sushi.

Futomaki-zushi is a type of rolled sushi that is distinguished for its large size and careful balance of ingredients. Most people, especially the non-Japanese probably have the image of sushi as rice cubes topped with raw fish. However, they might be surprised by the care and artistry that goes into these rolls of futomaki. They are usually filled with different coloured vegetables and may not even contain fish at all. Chef design futomaki to be both delicious and pleasing to the eye, and they often choose ingredients for how well they balance with each other in taste and looks.

The word "futomaki" (太巻き) is Japanese for "fat roll", and this name could not be more appropriate. Futomaki rolls are usually 4 centimeters in diameter if not larger, and are made up of three main parts. The outside "casing" or "shell" of the roll is traditionally a thin sheet of nori seaweed, which is basically seaweed that has been pressed and dried into a thin but flexible rectangle. Soy paper or thin cooked egg can be used in rare instances. The inside is made up of both sushi rice and chosen fillings.


A recipe book written by Eiko Ryuzaki-sensei (龍﨑英子), in her efforts to aspire and promote the art and techniques of futomaki-making not only to the younger generations in Japan, but also to foreigners. For more information about the recipes, you can take a look from this link (Japanese only).


Minegishi sensei, showing us the packet of Susshi (すっし〜), which is used to make the rice pink in colour.
 

Sushi mat is made up of bamboo slats woven together into a flexible surface. There are two kinds of sushi mat prepared for us,
one the normal size and the other a slightly bigger one.

Sushi rice is a special variety of short-grained, sticky rice. When it is used in rolls, it is usually seasoned with a bit of mirin, a rice vinegar, and may also be salted in order to help it stick together and adhere to the other ingredients. These "other ingredients" are where the sushi chefs have the most flexibility. Vegetables are common choices, particularly cucumber, carrot, and mushroom; cooked seafood such as crab or eel may also be used. Some rolls feature raw fish, but not often.

This time, the Chiba Kun Ambassadors were so lucky to have the opportunity to be taught by a group of three members from Chiba Traditional Regional Cuisine Research Group (千葉伝統郷土料理研究会), who had experience giving classes of sushi-making in many countries abroad, to show us how to make futomaki. The Chiba Kun Ambassadors were divided into two groups and we were given two motifs to choose from - rose or peach flower. Since I had made the peach flower motif one a year ago, I went to rose this time. The basic rolling process can take some time to master, but is not particularly difficult.


Minegishi sensei started the demonstration of making rose-motif futomaki-zushi. Pink rice and sweetened red capsicums were used for the petals part.


Thin eggs complete the petal part, which thinly sliced cucumber were used for the stalk.


And here is the final result - rose petal futomaki-zushi.
 

Next up is making the peach flower futomaki-zushi.
 

Adding in the final portion of sushi rice to complete the masterpiece.

The first step usually involves putting the nori directly on the mat, and will then cover nearly the entire surface with prepared sushi rice. The other ingredients, cut into thin strips, are placed on top of the rice. Most of the time, these ingredients are stacked in the center and do not take up the entire surface area.

When everything is in place, the chef will create the roll by slowly folding the bamboo mat inwards. This movement causes the nori to fold over onto itself from one edge to the next. The end result is a thick log that should hold itself together. Chefs sometimes present the futomaki as a single whole like this, but more commonly will slice it into individual rounds. Each round contains a small taste of all of the ingredients that were stacked on top of the rice.



The rose group is ready to rock sushi and roll (photo credit: Madoka Usui).


This is one of the ingredients for the rose petal - sweetened red capsicums.


Minegishi sensei reminding us the correct method of using the bamboo mat (photo credit: Madoka Usui).


And we started to create the petal with pink rice, capsicums and tamago-yaki (photo credit: Madoka Usui).


Pickled celery is used as the stalk of the rose.


The rose futomaki-zushi, by yours truly.


Taking a photo with the sensei and the sushi I made.


And the rest of the Chiba Kun Ambassadors in the rose group (photo credit: Madoka Usui).

Sushi is well-known the world over as a popular part of Japanese cuisine; however, in some countries, including Malaysia, eating raw fish is not common practice. Therefore, in these locations, they prefer to have unique makizushi (巻き寿司) rolls made with local ingredients. One of the many types of makizushi is futomaki matsuri-zushi, a type of sushi that contains no raw fish.

These makizushi rolls look like splendid works of art. However, in actual fact, there are very few sushi masters who know how to make them, so futomaki matsuri-zushi is not very well known even in Japan. This is because these rolls are the brainchild not of sushi chefs, but of local farmers from the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture.


Exchanged half of my sushi with the other group, and here are some of the peach flower futomaki-zushi.


A splendid work of arts made by the amazing chefs.


A group photo with the sushi chef and the Chiba Kun Ambassadors. Yes, I was the only guy there lol! (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama)
 
This is the traditional way for the locals to eat sushi. Farmers know better than anyone else the hard work involved in growing rice, and they wish for people to experience happiness when they eat their carefully grown produce. They take vegetables, eggs, as well as dried local ingredients that are easily preserved, and roll them up into a sushi roll. The beautiful patterns crafted within each roll show a spirit of welcome toward the recipient. For that reason, they are must-haves at weddings, festivals, celebrations, and other special days.

Locals have cherished futomaki matsuri-zushi for many years, a sushi that is only available in the Boso Peninsula, and where recipes have been handed down through many generations. Every year, design contests have given birth to new works of art. Incidentally, the Boso Peninsula refers to Chiba Prefecture, where Narita International Airport can be found. If you head out there, not only can you buy some futomaki matsuri-zushi yourself, but you will also be able to stop by workshops that let you roll your own. Why not go and visit the area and enjoy the rich variety of designs, and the classic, simple flavors on offer.


Chiba is waiting for you!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dashi Kaikan And The Great Float Festival Of Sawara

"A great passion for 
the splendid festival of floats."
Sawara's Great Float Festival




 
The entrance to the Suigo Sawara Dashi Kaikan (Float Hall).
 
Sawara, a town of canal by the Toner River, is a vibrant community known for its summer and autumn festivals. The dynamism of these festivals can be experienced at "Dashi Kaikan", where 2 of the 24 floats are shown up close. "Dashi" is generally a float pulled on the streets at festival time, decorated with a figure of a mountain fish, doll, bird, animal, or plant. The word "dashi" (山車) was derived from the word describing the targeted location where God descents down.

The wooden floats are mostly made of zelkova tree. They are surrounded on all four sides by ornamental handrails and are decorated with twisted fresh straw ropes as well as gorgeous canopies. This is because the "dashi" is considered a symbolisation of the throne. Big dolls of 4-meter high or other kind of symbols are set on the top of the floats. Towards the end of the Edo era, luxurious dolls were made by experienced craftsmen of Edo.


Visitors will get the chance to see the floats from close-up at the Float Hall.

 
The front view of the 8-meter tall float.
 
 
 To be honest some were a little intimidating, but they were still pretty impressive.

 
A close-up view of the one of the two floats figure.

An anecdote says that in the age when Sawara was well-known as a village that produced good rice wine (sake) and soy sauce, there lived a lot of sake masters and young workers at every brewery. On festival days, they were smart "chonai-banten" (workman's livery coat with the initial letter on the back) and draw carts fully loaded with his first products of the year to dedicate them to the shrines. These carts were beautifully decorated with sacred tree branches with green leaves and pendant strips of cut paper, which prompted the villagers to call these carts "dashi" or "heidai". 

Back then, after the festival ended, any decoration on the top floor of the "dashi" was thrown into the fire and  villagers will rebuild a new one in the following year. However, the same decoration are used every year at present day. In the olden days when there were no electric lines over the sky, the figures on the top floor of "dashi" were so huge, that people in nearby village is said to be able to see the upper parts of the figures from distance away across the field.


The artful engravings and beautiful embroidery around the float may make you feel as if you were on the day of the festival.


A mikoshi which is a divine palanquin. Shinto followers believe that it serves as the vehicle to transport a deity in Japan
while moving between main shrine and temporary shrine during a festival.


Small paper lamps which is carried by the people who accompany the float procession during the grand festival.


The floats seen from the second floor of the Float Hall.

As times went by, these "dashi" become more and more beautiful, bigger and taller in size as the brewers began to compete with each others in terms of their decorations and the claim superiority in its size. The brewers also kept in touch with people in other parts of Japan and adopted different culture from every part of Japan. This made Sawara Festival to become more and more gorgeous every year. Today, Sawara Grand Festival (佐原の大祭) which has a tradition of about 300 years, is called one of the three major float festivals in Kanto region (for some reason, in Japan they always list top things in threes). This festival is held twice a year - in the summer festival, 10 floats are operated on Onogawa's east side region; while 14 floats are operated in Onogawa's west side region in autumn.

The summer festival is called "Honjuku Yasaka Shrine's Festival" held for three days on the second or third weekend in July, and the  autumn festival is called "Shinjuku Suwa Shrine's Festival", also held for three days on the second weekend in October. Sawara is divided into two parts - Honjuku on the eastern part and Shinjuku on the western part, by a river called Onogawa river.


A panoramic photo of the grand festival, taken during the special anniversary year, which featured all 24 floats.


Some of the materials on Sawara's float festival, which has been designated as an Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Property.


Musical ornaments such as drums and pipes as well as wooden float sculptures are on display.


There are various dolls, skillfully carved by a group of craftsmen that decorate the top of the floats.
 These dolls, usually measuring about 4 to 5 meter-tall, were derived from the folk tales in the olden days.

 
Black-and-white photos of the "dashi" taken during the festivals in the olden days. 

The town area called Honjuku, which supports the summer festival includes, Honhashimoto, Kaminakacho, Shimonakacho, Yokaichiba, Tajuku, Terajuku, Niijuku, Hamajuku, Araku, Honcho, Konkawagishi, and Funado. The other area called Shinjuku, which supports the autumn festival, includes, Shinhashimoto, Wakamatsucho, Minamiyokojuku, Shimowake, Kamishinmachi, Shinmoshinmachi, Kitayokojuku, Nishisekido, Higashisekido, Shinuwagashi, Nakakawagishi, Shitagashi, Tanaka, and Yokokawagishi. Each of these blocks owns its proudest festival float.

On festival days, town people pull the floats not only through broad streets but even narrow lanes that could allow it to go through. The floats are all decorated with elaborate carvings on four sides and with a set of tall figure on the top floor. The amazing feature of the festival is the festival music - "Sawara Bayashi", played by music players firmly sitting on the rails of the float. This music, said to date from 400 years ago, is now designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset. There is also a dancing team called "Tekomai", performed by young girls drawing the ropes attached to the float, which is a spectacular view worth watching.


 A huge Japanese carp or "koi", made of straw, which will decorate the top of one of the float from Yokaichiba (八日市場) area.

After dark, the best view of the festival is enjoyed on both sides of the Onogawa River. The lit-up floats and figures reflected in the river will be seen swaying on the surface of the water. In the years of good harvest, people are likely to adopt ingenious programs in addition to the ones of the usual year.

There is no written record about the origin of this festival. However, according to "The History of Sawara City", Shinjuku Shrine's festival is believed to have started in 1721. It says that Uno Gonnojo, the 4th head of village (called "nanushi"), took responsibility to organise every procedure with the festival in that year. Unfortunately, any documents about Honjuku Yasaka Shrine's Festival is said to have been lost in a fire. The whole procedure to administer the festival is traditionally decided by a meeting on July 1st (known as "shochokaigi") on the Honjuku side, and on September 1st (known as "hassakusankai") on the Shinjuku side.

Make sure you catch this unique festival, considered the highlight of the year in Sawara.

※ INFORMATION ※
Suigō Sawara Dashi Kaikan (Float Hall) (水郷佐原山車会館)
Address: 3368 Sawara-I, Katori City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan (within the proximity of Yasaka Shrine grounds) (千葉県香取市佐原イ3368) (八坂神社境内)
Opening Hours: 09:00 - 16:30 (09:00 - 20:30 during the summer festival season)
Closed: Every Monday and Year End and New Year holidays (open every day during the Iris Festival and national holiday)
Admission Fee: 400 yen (adult), 200 yen (elementary and junior high school students) (special discounts for group more than 15 people and set tickets).
Website: http://www.city.katori.lg.jp/dashikaikan/index.html (Japanese only)
Tel: 0478-52-4104
Parking: Available
Access: From JR Sawara Station (JR Narita Line) (about 90  minutes from JR Tokyo Station), walk for 15 minutes; Car: 10 minutes from Higashi-Kanto Expressway Interchange・Sawara Katori IC

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Modern Japanese Cuisine At Chiyofuku

"A deep respect for Japanese tradition"
Chiyofuku of Sawara



The entrance to Chiyofuku that welcomes diners into this classy restaurant.


A simple sliding wooden door before we step into this restaurant.

The opportunity to broaden my palate a bit is one of my favourite aspects when I travel to far-away places. It is during these times I get to try something that I could probably never replicate in my own kitchen. It is those culinary experiences that had me steadily loving Japan more and more.

Our trip to Sawara, we were brought to a post restaurant in the middle of Sawara town to have our lunch. Chiyofuku is an elegant restaurant housed in an Edo-era building, which serves modern Japanese cuisine. This restaurant is run by a local revitalization group of volunteers, "Burekimera", that tries to reproduce Japanese history and culture through Japanese cuisine.

The highly original cuisine shows a deep respect for Japanese tradition while infusing novelty into the "washoku" or Japanese cuisine. Surrounded by many historical buildings that still remain along the street, putting a foot into this restaurant makes you feel as if you are brought into the Edo era. In this restaurant, which is reproduced to resemble an Edo-era mansion, diners will be able to enjoy their meal in an environment which brings newness and at the same time, nostalgic memories.


Diners will get to enjoy new Japanese cuisine on stylish and modern seats.


Great Japanese hospitality awaiting everyone who has the chance to dine here.


And the Chiba Kun Ambassadors were lucky to have a rare opportunity to try out the food in Chiyofuku (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).


Main, consisting of from top left in clockwise - sashimi, assorted vegetable tenpura, miso soup, rice topped with flavour anchovies, pickles, soy sauce (for sashimi), boiled vegetables (pumpkin, aubergines, carrots, bamboo shoots), sweet corn, eda-mame beans, smoked salmon, tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette).


Last but not least, mochi with red bean paste.

What I like about the red bean paste, or Azuki bean paste is the fact that the flavours are light and not overly sweet. Taking the slightly cold red bean paste with the soft and chewy mochi (Japanese rice cake) creates a nice contrast in textures. This sweet treat was certainly the perfect way to wrap up a wonderful meal.

This restaurant which can accommodate up to 70 people at one time, is especially popular among tourists. It is certainly a perfect place for family and friends, or evening date with your special ones, so make it a point to drop by this restaurant if you happened to be in Sawara.

 
※ INFORMATION ※
Sawara Chiyofuku (佐原千よ福)
Address: 1720-1 Sawara-i, Katori City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan (千葉県香取市佐原イ1720-1)
Opening Hours: 11:30 - 15:00 (last order 14:00); 17:00 - 22:00 (last order 21:00)
Closed: Monday (following day if Monday is a national holiday)

Cruising Time: Approximately 50 minutes.
Reservation: Available
Website: http://tabelog.com/chiba/A1204/A120404/12000796/ (Japanese only)
Tel: 0478-52-1611
Parking: Available
Access: From JR Sawara Station on JR Narita Line (about 90  minutes from JR Tokyo Station), walk for 12 minutes; Car: 30 minutes from Higashi-Kanto Expressway Interchange