Jan 29

2014 Sakura Season Kicks Off

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a JET from 2008-2013 in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of Revenge of the Akuma Clan

IMG_0952_1 Down in Okinawa the weather has been rather warm this year. This means that along the way we’ve had some great opportunities to view this year’s cherry blossoms as they begin to bloom from southern Okinawa and work their way north. On Kume Island, there are two great spots to see sakura throughout January. During the season’s peak we get lots of bees and mejiro coming to visit the sakura, not to mention tourists.

One of the biggest events surrounding the sakura  is the Sakura Festival. Though there are many throughout Japan, Kumejima’s is one of the first in Japan. Visit morethingsjapanese.com for more pictures from the Sakura Festival and for more cherry blossoms!

Sep 25

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a JET from 2008-2013 in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

IMG_0710Yes. This past week on Kume Island, children were sent screaming as a single wild lion went rampaging through a peaceful neighborhood. Well, it was mostly peaceful. Since it was the full moon and August 15th of the Kyureki calendar, there were also a bunch of people around banging gongs and playing music. There were also some creepy Hacaburo running around egging the lion on. Warned in advance that something might be going on, I showed up with some local friends just after sunset with my camera ready. What I saw shocked me, and soon my former students were running for cover… behind me.

By the end of the night no less than 5 children had been bitten. When asked, parents responded that they were overjoyed. One parent, while holding a screaming infant, smiled widely and talked about how smart he would be while neglecting to stop the lion from continuing its rampage.

For more on this story, visit MoreThingsJapanese.com for pictures and video.

Sep 11

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a JET from 2008-2013 in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

IMG_8043The Ha-ri- races are a yearly event on Kume Island. This year they took place on June 12 at three locations around the island.  This year I stuck to the Maja area where locals and students gathered together for a day of races and fun in the water.

While the races are the primary attraction, there is also generally a ball-toss game for the nursery school children and a tug-of-war.  There are numerous races from both locals and school participants.  At the Maja area, students from the local Nakazato Junior High, Misaki and Nakazato elementary schools, and students from Kumeshima High School all joined together in mixed and separate races.


IMG_8525This year I broke out my gopro to give you a closer look at participating in the Ha-ri- races.  Thanks to a few friends and students who wore the camera along the way.  Of course with plenty of water a few bucket wars broke out among the high school students, and not all of the boats made it back without a little extra water.  Check out the video and pictures below, then come join us next year for this great event.

For more photos and video from this special event visit MoreThingsJapanese.com

Aug 15

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a JET from 2008-2013 in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

IMG_6904Since the end of the rainy season early this year, the weather on Kume Island has been full of clear sunny days.  While it makes for great sight-seeing and beach-going, it has been a hard year for farmers, with little or no rain to sustain critical crops.  For the first time in 15 years, the island locals returned to their roots, asking for the help of the Chinbei, the name of the high priestess from the old Ryukyu Kingdom to come and pray for rain.

This rare ceremony began early on August 11th.  The Chinbei and other priestesses (noro) met at Chinbei Dunchi on Kume Island.  There, a sacred rock was encircled by rope to signify the presence of a kami.  After offerings of rice, fruit, and sake, the noro poured water onto the rock while the Chinbei and other local representatives prayed.  The Chinbei poured sake from a small cup, repeating the process until she felt the kami was satisfied.


IMG_6708Afterward, all the attendees were asked to participate in a tug-o-war competition outside the grounds.  In addition to the physical offerings of sake, rice, and fruit, the offering of effort and strength signified by the competition was in offering to local kami. While competing, locals were sprayed and doused with water, and afterward danced in the simulated rain.

IMG_6780From Chinbei Dunchi, the priestesses and local leaders made offerings at two other shrines in the area.  These shrines date back hundreds of years.  One was a natural rock formation where a kami is thought to reside.  The other was hidden away near the airport grounds where a concrete structure enclosed the sacred home of another kami.  At both sites, offerings of rice, sake, fruit and prayers were put forth.


IMG_6874Immediately after the prayers ended, it began to rain.  A tornado was even spotted, though it did not touch down.  The farmers and local representatives happily returned to Chinebei-dun, the parched ground sated with the first short downpour in a very long time.

For more photos from this special event visit MoreThingsJapanese.com

Jul 26

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a JET from 2008-2013 in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

Fu ChanpuruAfter nearly five years living in Okinawa, my favorite food is still Fu Chanpuru.  While it might sound like part of a martial art, Fu is actually wheat gluten (so steer clear gluten intolerant people… sorry! you’re missing out).  In Okinawa, you can buy Fu in packages, either in long roles, or in more compact forms.  Fu is baked and dry, so you will have to hydrate it before use.


  • 72g Fu- gluten
  • 1 carrot cut into thin slices
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 packet mushrooms
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 small cabbage
  • 170g meat (sausage, pork, etc)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3tbsn soy sauce
  • 1tbsn garlic powder +extra
  • 1tsp salt
  • 2 packets dashi
  • 3 small chingensai plants, cleaned and chopped (optional)
  • water
  • 2tbsn Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Visit MoreThingsJapanese.com for the full recipe.

Jun 19

World’s Only 50kw OTEC Plant in Okinawa

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET on Kume Island in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

IMG_8812_1June 16th marked the beginning of power generation at Kume Island‘s Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Power Plant with a ceremony and visiting dignitaries from around Japan and the world.  The newly completed OTEC power plant will be able to generate up to 50kWs of electricity from a turbine driven by the difference in warm surface sea water and cold deep sea water.

IMG_9149This station is the only power generating OTEC facility of its kind in the world.   While OTEC is not a new idea and different countries are now studying its possibilities, this is the first step towards creating an effective market for the future.  In addition to power, the mineral rich deep-sea waters used by the plant can be used in a variety of industries, making the entire process more efficient and beneficial.  The station is part of the Okinawa Prefecture Deep Sea Water Research Institute, and as the goal of the institute is to research the deep-sea water, the power plant’s primary role will be as a research and educational tool. Its construction has been part of a continuing dialog on clean energy between Kume Island, Okinawa, and the National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority and their OTEC project, but was designed and built under advisement from Saga University’s Institute of Ocean Energy.


The ceremony marked the official start of power generation after initial testing and the first power generated in March of this year.  Starting at ten in the morning, visitors were invited to the Research Institute Grounds to view the OTEC plant, sample some of the many products made with deep-sea water, and enjoy entertainment by artists from local to abroad.  The open fair was followed by a half-hour ceremony with speeches and messages that ended with the pushing of the ‘start’ button. Special guests included:

  • Aiko Shimajiri – Parliamentary Secretary of Cabinet Office and Ministry of Reconstruction from the House of Councilors
  • Akikazu Shimoji – Okinawa Commerce and Labor Department Industrial Development Supervising Officer
  • Yoshihisa Kawakami – The Okinawan Vice-Governor
  • Alfred Mageleby – Consul General form the American Consulate General Naha
  • Nonaka Tomoyo – Director of the Gaia Initiative 
  • Mark McGuffie – Managing Director of Enterprise Honolulu
  • Gregory Barbour – Executive Director of NELHA

IMG_9707These guests were all involved in different aspects of promoting the OTEC project on Kume Island in communicating with the Hawaii OTEC program.  This historic achievement will have an important role in the local economy and development of Kume Island and will be a key test of this clean energy technology for institutions around the world.

IMG_9463The official events ended with a reception before the nearby visitor’s center where more performances took place and several speakers were invited to share their thoughts on the OTEC start and future of the program. Keynote speaker Nonaka Tomoyo surprised Kume Island Mayor Taira with a proposal for creating free WiFi on the island, which the mayor was just able to avoid commenting on.  Though it was a positive proposal, the Mayor is limited in the ways he can promote growth on the small island.  Luckily, organizations like Gaia Initiative and the sister-city partnership with Hawaii County are providing knowledge and political support to help Kume Island grow technologically and economically.

The celebration will continue Monday with talks by people involved with OTEC.  The continued dialog between interested parties promotes new ideas and the sharing of vital information.

For the future, project supporters hope that the power plant will justify the creation of a new deep water pipeline and expanded capacity generators which will allow for more industries and power.  Both Hawaii and Kume Island will continue to communicate and share information that will help the different projects create new opportunities for efficient use of the deep-sea water and OTEC power.

Visit MoreThingsJapanese.com for more pictures from the event and more on OTEC power.

Jun 6

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET on Kume Island in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

It’s no secret that Japanese food is popular outside of Japan.  Not only is the food in-country highly rated, but there are Japanese restaurants all over the world.  A lot of people wonder, why is Japanese food so good?  It’s a complex answer.  Many will tell you it’s umami, others the care and thought put into food, and yet more that it’s the simplicity of the dishes that highlights natural flavors.

I’m not a food expert, but I think it’s a bit of all the above.

When I lived in the States, I never ate fish.  Maybe it was because I lived in the desert and all we got were frozen or river fish.  Whatever the reason, I’ve had an aversion to most fish since I was young.  Then, 5 years ago, I got dropped on a little island in the Pacific, their second industry being fishing.  Their food was fresh, delicious, and amazing.

A week ago I had a shrimp that was still moving a bit.  And IT WAS SO GOOD.  My family will tell you what large strides my palate has taken over the last five years.  So why was that prawn tail I had so much better than any other shrimp I’ve ever had?  How did a bit of still moving shrimp overcome 23 years of stubborn dislike?

Simplicity.  The shrimp was peeled, and served with a bit of soy sauce.   There were no other flavors to get in the way, no cross-contamination from sauce pans, pasta, or other fish.

Umami. The briny flavor combined with the bite of soy and the sweetness of the meat meant create that unique sixth taste that everyone raves about.  It’s a balance easily lost when the simplicity is left out.

Quality.  Kume Island is known for miso cookies, sugar cane, and white sand beaches, but it’s also home to many kuruma prawn farms.  Kuruma Prawns are similar to tiger shrimp, but a slightly different species.  They’re the kind of shrimp Jiro’s restaurant used in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.


So what makes Kume Island’s shrimp so good?  Checkout the video below then head over to Kumeguide.com to learn more about Kume Island Prawns.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOWypVlKW34&w=300&h=169]

**Please note: At least 3 shrimp were harmed in the filming of the video and writing of this post.  They were delicious.**

May 29

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET on Kume Island in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

Kinjo Town PathKinjo Town surrounds the Shuri Castle area in Okinawa.  While Shuri is impressive in its own right, there is much to see outside the Castle grounds.   During this past Golden Week, I took a trip to the Okinawan Mainland, and a friend was kind enough to show me a few out-of-the-way spots.  Through Kinjo Town runs the ‘Ishidatami’ or Rock Road,  a walkway paved in history and adorned with interesting and beautiful flowers along the way.  Follow along for a taste of Kinjo Town.

On the way to to our start, we passed one of Shuri Castle’s side gates.  The area is full of steep roads and interesting places.

We also stopped at a nearby soba shop for lunch before beginning our walk.  This Shisa is a traditional statue on Okinawan homes used to protect against evil spirits and bad luck.

The place we ate was very busy so we sat outside in an almost garden-like area where I found this purple flower.

For Lunch, I had soki soba, or noodles in broth topped with rib meat.  It is another traditional Okinawan food.

Right at the start of our walk, we found these Hanging Heliconias.  Conveniently there was a nearby sign that labeled the flowers along the route in English and Japanese.

This is the first of two springs we saw along the route.  These were used for drinking and washing by the people of Kinjo Town.  Spots like these were marked by small tiles with maps of the area.

These white and pink flowers were labeled as Sokei-Nozen, and hung above a wall.

Here is an old style gate with clay tiles of the same kind of construction seen at the Udun Palace.







The second spring was below the road level and had a pool in which crabs lived.  In the second photo you can see where the water flows out at times.

About half-way along the path, right before a rather steep slope (or just after if you go the other way) there is a small rest house with tatami mats where you can take a load off.

Here’s a map of the area in Japanese with the various sites around Shuri marked.  Check out part 2 for the walk north through the grounds along the rock road to the pond above Shuri. This article was originally posted on More Things Japanese.

May 17

Let’s Walking

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET on Kume Island in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

Sanpo is Japanese for a ‘walk,’ and it’s a popular pastime here.  From the bureaucratic samurai of the Tokugawa period who would wander among the cherry trees and write poetry, to modern office workers trying to keep fit, walking is still a much appreciated activity in Japan.

Japan is also a land with a rising elderly population.  It has one of the longest life expectancies in the world.  As communities and towns have ever older populations it is also becoming ever more important to promote fitness in populations that will strain public health services ever more if not kept healthy.  One way municipalities can do this is by hosting events such at the one Kumejima Town hosts every January.

The 久米島のんびりウオーク or Kumejima’s Leisure Walk is a two-day yearly event, part of the larger Okinawa Marching league.  Participants come from all over Japan.  As a resident of Kume Island I attended this event first  in 2011.

The first day offered 32km, 16km, and 5km courses and the second day offered 20km, 10km, and 5km courses.  One participant was a 86-year-old who planned on completing the full 32km course!

Both days featured different courses through the island.  Participants entered with a nominal fee, and were provided maps and completion certificates.  Along the way stickers were awarded at checkpoints, and food stations were set up where walkers could rest and eat.

I did the 16km walk on the first day of the event.  Walkers stretched together  and announcements were made.  As with many events there was an MC tapped for the event who extolled everyone to do a good job.  The 32km group did the same about half an hour before, so everyone in the 16km group set off together.

Each group set off to the sound of a taiko drum performance.  All along the way were supportive Japanese Flags with messages urging the participants on.  These helped guide the walkers through the more remote areas.  There were also tea and water stations along the way, with great views and interesting conversations.

One lady I talked to came all the way from Yokohama to participate.  She said it was a great way to see more of Japan, while keeping in shape.  She talked to me because her children live in the states and wanted to know why I was there. ^_^  All in all, it was a great morning/afternoon spent among Kumejima’s beautiful walkways.  Do you want to visit new places and keep in shape?  Let’s Walking!

This post originally appeared on MoreThingsJapanese.com. To learn more about Kumejima visit KumeGuide.com.

May 8

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET on Kume Island in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the award-winning YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

Your first question is probably a lot like mine when I got my placement in Kitadaito. Where?

A lot of us on the JET programme end up in interesting locations that we’ve never heard of before. My first JET posting was on a small island, 320km east of the Okinawan mainland with a population of 550 people. I spent three years on Kitadaito and loved every(well pretty much) minute. A lot of what I learned there inspired my first two books Samurai Awakening and Revenge of the Akuma Clan. During my time on the island, I made a video for an event on the mainland.

The video was my first ever and I used school equipment which, combined with my limited experience produced a so-so video. I went back with a bit more practice and re-did the video, upgrading the quality where I could and adding new material from a visit last year. I hope you enjoy this digital look at Kitadaito Island.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B12HKZceGMs&w=300&h=169]

Apr 11

Advanced Chahan Recipe

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET on Kume Island in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

ChahanBy far my most popular post on More Things Japanese is my easy recipe for Chahan.  This time around, I wanted to share a slightly more time-consuming, but even tastier recipe for those of you who love Chahan.  As with my advanced recipe for miso soup, it is all made from scratch, including the dashi. This take on Fried Rice is a mix of the local flavors I’ve learned on small Okinawan islands, and a bit of flair from me as well. I hope you enjoy.


  •  5 cups water
  • 1 piece conbu
  • 1 cup packed bonito flakes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion
  • 170g sausage
  • 1 pack mushrooms
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 package nirai
  • 1 cob fresh corn
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped nira (a scallion-like leaf)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1tbsp sake
  • 6 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 2tbsp mustard
  • 2tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp pepper


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0vPQeMAVMg&w=300&h=169]

For detailed directions visit MoreThingsJapanese.com

Mar 6

2013 Nakasato Exchange (Kumejima and Tokamachi)

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET on Kume Island in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

Japan is _____________.

Japanese people eat ____________.

In Japan, everyone wears ___________.

When you hear “Japan” what do you think of?  What images come to your mind?  Before I began studying Japan, I thought of swords, anime, rice and green mountains.  Like many people, I thought of Japan through the stereotypes I picked up from television and books.  Anyone who doesn’t specialize is bound to think of another country by the most easily recognizable differences from their home culture.

Yet Japan is diverse.  Most of Japan’s long history, during which all its unique culture developed, happened before cars and easy transportation.  That fact, plus its island geography has created many opportunities for difference that NHK (Japan’s national television and radio broadcaster), trains, and the internet have yet to make fully disappear. NHK has had a huge impact on language, dress, and some social customs, yet one thing is still beyond its reach.

The weather.

Nakasato Exchange

Japan’s geography has created some vastly different climates given the relatively short distances between most places in Japan.  This great difference is at the core of an exchange program between two towns in Japan.  Every year, Kumejima-cho and Tokamachi City trade students so that they can experience the vast difference in climate and the changes in culture it imposes on local life.  As with every exchange program, its goal is to create more aware youth and stronger ties between the local people and wider world.


Since Tokamachi is located in Niigata Prefecture on the western side of Japan, it gets a lot of rain, and in the winter, a lot of snowfall.  The high mountains and rough weather have led to small towns, yet the heavy snowfall also means rich farmland and other local resources.  The heavy snowfall leads to mineral rich soil when the snow melts.  The soil then lets farmers produce some superior crops.

One of the crops is carrot. I know.  A carrot is a carrot is a carrot.  Then you go to Niigata and eat something that looks like a carrot, smells like one, has the firm texture of one, but tastes far sweeter and has more flavor than any carrot you’ve ever tasted before. Seriously.

Then there’s the rice.  Rice is a staple in Japanese cuisine.  And in a country where rice can be as diverse as coffee, the region has become famous for its delicious rice.  Rice is a heavy water consuming plant, which also means its easier to farm there where water is plentiful.  Not only is rice exported considered delicious, but locals will tell you it is even better eaten locally due to the quality of the local water when boiling the rice.

IMG_6750Rice and the quality of water are also the two most important ingredients in a traditional drink so well-known that much of the world knows the Japanese word for sake.  In Niigata’s case, Nihonshu or rice wine is produced by several companies in the region and is highly regarded.

Despite those claims to fame, the snow beats out the rest by sheer popularity, if not by the locals who have to shovel it, then by the thousands of tourists who trek to the region to snowboard, ski, and sled.  Japan’s train system and many domestic airlines makes it surprisingly easy to travel, which means Tokyoites can pop over for a weekend of skiing at any number of resorts throughout the long winter season.


The huge quantities of snow have also led to the Tokamachi Snow Festival.

IMG_5421Unfortunately, not all the snow can be turned into art.  There is so much each year that pipes run through most streets and parking lots.  These pipes shoot out warm salt water to melt snow and keep the roads clear through the night.  This was perhaps the biggest surprise to me as someone who grew up in a desert.  The ‘waste’ of water is so huge that it boggles my mind, though I’m sure they deal with it in an effective manner.

The huge quantity of water and large elevation changes even mean that hydroelectric generators can produce much of the area’s power needs in a relatively environmentall


All of these Tokamachi features has led to students who speak the same language as other Japanese students, still play in much the same way and wear some of the same clothes, but whose lives in the winter are far different from those far to the south.


Checkout the second part of this articleon www.morethingsjapanese.com, with more pictures, video, and things Japanese.


Feb 5

2013 Sakura Festival in Kumejima

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET on Kume Island in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

IMG_2073January 26th marked the beginning of the 2013 Kumejima Sakura Festival.  Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) are an important symbol marking the change of seasons in Japan.  As the weather begins to warm, cherry trees sprout beautiful flowers in a range of colors from white to red.   Since Okinawa is so far south, cherry blossoms begin to arrive in January.  They work their way north through April.  During this time, people flock to areas with cherry trees to picnic, drive, and see the beautiful flowers and wildlife.You might have noticed the new header, a compilation of 3 shots taken of a Mejiro (Japanese white-eye) in cherry trees I caught the Friday before the festival along the Ara Forest path.

The Festival


As part of the sakura season, many locals often have festivals to support tourism, create entertainment for locals, and to simply celebrate the beautiful surroundings.  This year the Kumejima Sakura Festival took place on January 26th, a day of sun and generally great weather (I got sunburned in January.  It was also a little windy.)

IMG_1869On Kume Island, the festival takes place at Daruma Mountain Park in the western/central part of the island.  The festival was set up in a clearing surrounded by cherry trees.  After an opening ceremony, new cherry trees were planted for the future.  Arrayed around the clearing were many tents with local restaurants serving specialty foods.  This year, the restaurants competed in a competition to see which one had brought the most popular item.

There were several live performances from local groups including Nankuru Sanshin and the “Super Bridal Band,” as well as karate demonstrations and other entertainment.  The band I play with (Super Bridal Band started up a few years ago to play at my boss’s wedding, I joined a bit after moving here) just after the opening ceremony.   There’s a compilation video below of our set.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TKk6ANZoSs&w=350&h=197]

IMG_1903After we finished our set, I quickly jumped over to the 89.7 FM Kumejima radio booth to do my weekly Haisai English! show live from the event.  It was a lot of fun despite a few technical snafus from going on location.

For more on Sakura and this year’s Festival, visit MoreThingsJapanese.com

Jan 31

How Miso is Made – A Visit to a Local Factory

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET on Kume Island in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

MisoBeans Ever wonder what miso is?  If you’ve been to Japan or eaten at a Japanese restaurant, you’ve likely had or at least seen miso.  I remember my first time having miso soup.  I was in college trying out a little Japanese restaurant that had popped up just outside the UofA.  I was pretty green as far as Japanese food went so I ordered teriyaki chicken (I’m sure the chef was thinking all kinds of bad things about me).  Before the meal, a bowl of soup appeared.  It was a clear broth with some kind of brown particles floating in it.  I tried the soup, but the flavor was so different from anything I had eaten before.  I didn’t really enjoy it, but then it quickly grew on me.  Now, I look forward to miso, be it in my soup, as a glaze for fish, or in the middle of a rice ball.

I’ve studied Japan for a long time, and I’ve always translated miso as ‘fermented soy bean paste.’  Just like soy sauce, miso is made from soy, but it is only part of the story.  A few weeks ago, my island had its sangyo matsuri where I was able to meet one of the people who make miso here (Kumejima‘s miso is quite popular).  I was interested in the process so I wrangled a visit to the factory.

One of the first things I found out is that they don’t make miso all the time.  Traditionally, miso was something made at home.  Each family would make their own miso for their own use.  As with so many things, the miso making skills are fading with the convenience of store-bought foods.  Still, there are a few places that still do local miso.  Since it is a fermented product, the temperature is an important factor, thus miso can only be made in moderate seasons.  If it gets too cold, or too hot, the fermentation wont go on as well.

The process also takes more than three months.  At the small local factories, they make large batches two or three times a year as needed.  The rest of the time, they focus on other projects or on creating new items.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-2DSpd7FkU&w=450&h=253]

For more about how miso is made, including pictures, a walk-through of the process, and great miso based recipes, visit MoreThingsJapanese.com

Jan 7

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the YA fantasy novel Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

Mochi on Getto

It’s the New Year, and in Japan that means its time for mochi!   Mochi is a Japanese treat made from pounded rice.  While mochi is now eaten throughout the year, it’s a favorite tradition during  the New Year’s season.  It’s generally served as a stuffed dumpling with fillings varying by region, taste, and tradition.  On the left is a sweet bean filled mochi served on a getto leaf in Okinawa.

More on Mochi

In Japan, a lot of events have their origins in times when most villager’s diets consisted of very simple food.  A long time ago, when rice was used as a currency, most Japanese only got to eat rice on special occasions.  A condensed rice treat then, would have more calories, and be even more special.  Eating mochi on new years “to ensure health in the new year” was almost literal.  It was like a version of ancient Japanese powerbar.  One Japanese story, Momotaro, tells of the young peach boy offering rice based treats to ensure help in a quest.  Such legends show the how the traditions came to be.  Today mochi is still an import part of New Year’s celebrations.  It forms the centerpiece for the offering at many shrines.

Mochi Bowl

Mochi takes time, energy, and to really do it right, community.  All of these things tie into most Japanese celebrations.  The act of creating and eating mochi brings people together for a shared experience, while also acting as an offering for the town’s, family’s, or individual’s ancestors.

Unfortunately, mochi has a dark side as well.  Every year, several people are hospitalized due to their consumption of the sticky treat and often a few die.  Be careful!

To learn about how mochi is made visit MoreThingsJapanese.com

As a special thank you to all my readers, followers, and friends I have released the first of the Jitsugen Samurai Diaries as a free ebook. Checkout The Tanner’s Daughter on Smashwords.

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