Paper Gods’ Shrine and Paper Adventure.

In Echizan, Japan, they honor the paper gods as it is a revered paper making village. Unfortunately, many of the talented papermakers are aging out of the business without young apprentices to teach the art. The Japanese government is funding stipends to encourage young artisans to move to the rural areas where the crafts are situated. They are also funding cross cultural programs with other countries to bring artisans to these areas. This is a U.S./Japan cultural exchange, for example.

The horse represents the area. clan and helps protect the shrine.

The horse plays an important role in Japanese culture and history, and hence also the history of papermaking.

We had a papermaking experience of our own in the papyrus papermaking studio in Echizan. We each made 4 postcards using tubs of prepared mulberry pulp and decorative natural elements.

Natural elements for inclusion in paper
The prepared paper pulp, with a color station in the background.

We could also “dye” the paper with watercolor paints. The lid fell off one if the colors I used, so it got more dye than I intended, but it still created a nice effect.

We also went to a great museum and papermaking studio where masters of the papermaking craft still work.

Making the large thin sheets of paper the area is known for.
Super fine, thin paper being manipulated
Paper sculptures by local artisans
A collect the stamp program to encourage young people’s interest in paper

Clean Clothes Adventure

We pack light so were thrilled to see that our hotel had laundry facilities for guests. One of the most interesting aspects was that the machines automatically add soap so you don’t need to bring it. Obviously, there aren’t a lot of adjustments one can make to the machines, other than emptying the dryer filters.

It gets pretty steamy in the laundry room so there are several signs telling guests that propping open the door is prohibited.

A Beer Lover’s Japan

A guest blog by Ray Shortridge.

Several world class beer labels call Japan home, including Sapporo and Kirin.

The image below is the headquarters of a third, Asahi.

The tall gold building represents a glass of beer with its (blue?) foaming head The shorter one to its right purports to be a mug of beer topped by a Flame d’Or, symbolizing the burning heart of Asahi beer. Some jaded Tokyoites refer to it in more earthy terms.

Anonymous draft beer is also served, and local craft beer, such as offered by this pub in Matsumoto. One brand in Kyoto prints labels with the face of a famous historical figure.

Some spots offered draft beer from Brooklyn Brewery.

And a bed & breakfast stocked its private vending machine with canned Asahi brews. Public vending machines don’t stock beer.

In Matsumoto, we lucked on to a beer fest on the park around the Black Crow Castle. The Friday of the long weekend was a national holiday for honoring elders. Most fitting.

However, convenience stores such as 7-11 and Family Mart, do, although the buyer must punch an “I am an adult” button on a touch screen at the cashier’s station.

Kyoto lies in a valley surrounded by mountains, which resulted in sultry days this time of year. Ice cold Japanese beer hit the spot.

Wasabi and Faux Wasabi: what’s on your sushi?

Guest blog by Ray Shortridge

The Daio wasabi farm followed the business template pioneered by Knott’s Berry Farm — supplement a viable farm operation with a high steady cash flow destination for tourists. Add outdoor cafes, gift shops, and a wide array of wasabi based or flavored products for sale.
Wasabi flavored ice cream, croquettes, etc. for immediate consumption (the wasabi ice cream was a bit bland, but the Fuji apple ice cream was sweeter) and wasabi paste, slivers, leaves, etc. for taking home to mix into dishes.
Wasabi flourishes in a bed of gravel that is flushed by a flowing stream of fresh cool (10-15 degrees Celsius) spring water. Farmers scrape the gravel into a grid of ridges that resembles a waffle iron. Wasabi sets are planted on the ridges.

The plant emits toxins to protect it from pests, but if the toxins are not flushed, then the accumulation can destroy it.
The wasabi tuber resembles a potato. However, while the potato tuber grows down, the wasabi grows up. At harvest, the entire plant is plucked. In processing, the leaves are trimmed from their stalks, and then the stalks cut from the tuber.
The leaves and stalks are processed to create a wasabi green food coloring. The tuber is sliced and processed into a paste.
In the Matsumoto region and gourmet Tokyo restaurants, some sushi chefs garnish their sushi dishes with the 100% wasabi paste.
Elsewhere, the “wasabi” on your sushi is a blend horseradish, spices, additives, food coloring, and maybe, just maybe, dash of wasabi paste.

Tatami Mat Manufacture and Care

At our ryokan, we have beautiful tatami mats on the main floor, and in the dining areas. A wood or tile step before you enter the tatami room reminds guests to remove their slippers.

The tatami mat in dining room

While beautiful, tatami mats are expensive (one price quote was close to $1000 USD) and somewhat fragile, as well as hard to wash, although they are easy to vaccum or sweep. An errant pair of heels or careless movement of furniture can cause irreparable damage.

Tatami mat in bedroom with futons on top

The cost and care required is easier to understand once one has viewed the process used to create these classic Japanese floor coverings. Tatami mat manufacture video.

They give a warm, restful glow to any room they grace, but are a bit firm under a futon.

Wrestling with Sumo

Sumo is a fun sport to watch but often a bit bewildering for non Japanese. Basically, whoever gets shoved out of the circle first or made to touch the ground with any body part except for the soles of their feet loses. There’s a tremendous amount of religious ceremony due to the sport’s Edo period beginning and its ties to Shinto religion. Here is one of the best explanations I found for neophyte attendees. Sumo basics

We went to one of the really big tournaments and the audience was really excited. The actual matches last only seconds, but the preparation and ritual before the match takes much longer.

It was a large crowd in a large stadium. Finding our seat was difficult as the ticket didn’t have a translation and the apparent entry gate wasn’t the right one. Fortunately, the stadium staff members were very helpful and spoke excellent English

The sumo wrestlers are huge! Yet, they move with surprising grace and agility. The extra weight they carry subtracts about 10 years from their life expectancy and leads to illnesses such as diabetes.