May 2023

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[Dried Bonito]

The universal term "umami" is one of the five basic tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami) discovered by Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of the former Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo) in 1908. The three most common types of umami are glutamic acid from kelp, inosinic acid from dried bonito flakes, and guanylic acid from shiitake mushrooms. All of the umami tastes play a role in the deliciousness of food.

There are two types of dried bonito, "ara-bushi" and "kare-bushi," which are representative of umami, and each is produced in a different way. Ara-bushi is dried by roasting for about a month, and most of the dried bonito shavings on the market are made in this way. Most of the shavings on the market are of this type. Ara-bushi is characterized by its strong flavor and the aroma left over from the smoking process. On the other hand, kare-bushi is made from ara-bushi that has been dried with mold, and further aged to become "hon-kare-bushi," which takes more than half a year to produce. This mold (Aspergillus and Eurotium) absorbs and dries the water inside the dried bonito, which could not be removed by roasting, and breaks down the fat in the bonito, resulting in a highly transparent "dashi (soup stock)" with an elegant, clean, and mild aroma.

Dashi differs between the Kanto region's strong flavor and the Kansai region's light flavor. In Kanto, dashi is mostly derived from fish and is sometimes called "tsuyu" or "otsuyu." In Kansai, it is mostly kelp combined with dried sardines and dried bonito flakes, and is called "dashi" or "odashi." The dried bonito flakes used are kare-bushi in the Kanto region and ara-bushi in the Kansai region.

To make dashi, the hardness of the water differs depending on the region and water system in Japan, and there seems to be a subtle difference in taste depending on the location. Kelp dashi is more easily obtained with soft water, while hard water causes the calcium in hard water to combine with the minerals in kelp, resulting in a harsh, fishy smell and a poor umami taste. In the Kanto region, hard water tends to make kelp dashi less tasty, so the bonito dashi culture has taken root.

Another reason for the difference between Kanto and Kansai is that during the Edo period, kelp was more readily available in the Kansai region and fish with a strong flavor could be caught, so light soy sauce was used to flavor the ingredients. On the other hand, fish caught in the Kanto region tended to be lighter in flavor, and it was difficult to transport kelp from Kyoto to Edo (present-day Tokyo).

In addition to the Kanto and Kansai regions, dashi varies from region to region in Japan, such as Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Okinawa, and is influenced by local water and specialties. I would like to taste the local dashi dishes of each region.

Daiya's Bonito Sharpener
https://www.shokunin.com/en/daiya/
Seiryugama's Kobachi L
https://www.shokunin.com/en/seiryu/kobachi.html

References
https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/うま味
https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/出汁
https://www.kobe-np.co.jp/rentoku/omoshiro/202205/0015334081.shtml
https://shop.ninben.co.jp/blog/?p=472
http://www.kezuribushi.or.jp

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[Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum]

Matsumoto City in Nagano Prefecture is a place deeply associated with folk crafts. Walking around the city, you will be surprised to see many cafes, restaurants, and inns that use folk crafts. In 1909, three people born in Matsumoto became involved with Muneyoshi Yanagi, a member of the folk craft movement, and together they developed Matsumoto into a folk craft town. Taro Maruyama of the Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum, Sanshiro Ikeda of Matsumoto Folk Crafts Furniture, and Hisashi Sawamoto III, a stencil dyer. In this issue, we introduce the Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum, which we visited previously while touring folk craft museums in various regions.

The Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum was founded in 1962 by Taro Maruyama, the first owner of the Chikiriya Craft Shop on Nakamachi-dori in Matsumoto and a folk craft artist of prints and mother-of-pearl inlay. In 1983, the land, building, and all of the collections of the Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum were donated to the City of Matsumoto, and the museum is now operated as a branch of the City Museum, continuing Maruyama's wishes. Taro Maruyama wrote in his calligraphy, "Beautiful things are beautiful," and his words well express the spirit of folk art, which sees beauty in everyday objects made by the hands of unknown craftsmen.

The Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum is located in the east of Matsumoto City, next to houses and rice paddies, and has a nostalgic and peaceful atmosphere with its "namako-kabe" warehouse-style building, a garden with large zelkova and beech trees, and artisans' handiworks. In the nine exhibition rooms, over 700 of the 6800 items in the museum's collection, including furniture, wooden boxes, plates, pots, and local household goods collected in Nagano Prefecture and abroad, are on permanent display. The pottery collection features representative pottery from various regions of Nagano Prefecture.

One of the characteristics of the Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum is that the exhibits are named and not explained in detail, as Taro Maruyama, the founder of the museum, wanted visitors to intuitively appreciate the beauty of folk crafts. The museum is located in the suburbs, in a quiet and restful building surrounded by nature, where visitors can see and feel the beauty of the folk art works themselves. Special exhibitions and pottery classes are held from time to time. If you visit Matsumoto, be sure to visit the museum together with the Chikiriya Craft Shop and the Matsumoto Folk Crafts Furniture and Chuo Folk Craft Showroom.

Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum
https://matsu-haku.com/mingei/
Okubo House Wood Craftsman (born and lives in Matsumoto City)
https://www.shokunin.com/en/okubo/hera.html

Reference materials
https://shinshu.fun/museum/mingei
https://visitmatsumoto.com/coverstory/matsumoto-selection/第3話-民芸の町から工芸の町へ/
https://matsumoto.keizai.biz/headline/2308/

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[Bridge Entrances and Exits]

Bridges can be found everywhere in Japan, spanning rivers, straits, bays, waterways, and various other locations. Most bridges are symmetrical, and most people may not have a clear idea that they have entrances and exits. However, bridges in Japan have clearly defined entrances and exits, and if you know these rules, you can tell which entrance or exit is which, even if you are passing by a bridge without thinking about it.

The name of the bridge is written on a board called a bridge name board, which may be written in kanji (Chinese characters) or in hiragana. Many people probably take pictures of these boards when they visit bridges that are famous as tourist attractions. In fact, these bridge name boards are the key to distinguishing between entrances and exits. If the bridge nameplate is written in kanji, that is the entrance to the bridge, and if it is written in hiragana, it is the exit. In other words, there is always a hiragana bridge nameplate on the other side of the kanji bridge nameplate.

The reason why bridges are designated as entrances and exits is that there are rules for where bridge nameplates should be placed. In the Taisho era (1912-1926), the starting point of all national highways was Tokyo (the road marker built on Nihonbashi), and the one closer to Nihonbashi was called the starting point and the one farther away was called the ending point. However, it seems to be common practice nowadays to designate important cities, cities with populations of 100,000 or more, and cities of international tourism importance as the starting point. The rule is that bridge nameplates in kanji should be placed on the left side of the road when viewed from the starting point, and those in hiragana should be placed on the left side of the road when viewed from the ending point. However, this rule is not the same everywhere in Japan, and there are cases where bridge nameplates are installed based on prefectural government buildings. It is fun to look for the entrances and exits of bridges on your travels and imagine the roads and places that lead to the bridges.

Bridges always connect us to new people, things, and places. Wakato Ohashi Bridge, Sanjo Ohashi Bridge, Nihonbashi Bridge, and Asakusa Bridge. There are bridges near our four showrooms that are symbolic of their cities. We invite you to cross the bridges (only cars are allowed on the Wakato Ohashi Bridge) and visit our showrooms.

Showroom Information
https://www.shokunin.com/en/showroom/

References
https://www.mlit.go.jp/road/soudan/soudan_01a_03.html
https://zatsugaku-company.com/bridge-entrance-exit/
https://kk-sasakigumi.com/post-198/