Reflections and Hopes

thank-you-for-2016December is time for traditions, celebrations and expressing gratitude. It is also time for reflections, hopes and positive thoughts.

We have had a busy year, thanks to every single one of you. Additionally, your suggestions, reviews and survey responses have guided us through our growth. We are grateful and hope that you continue to support and guide us.

Year of Challenges and Growth

The challenges we faced in 2016 were not new. Since our humble beginning is 2010 we have steadily been growing, and this year has been no exception. We doubled our office size, launched six new products and deployed a new server in the US to better serve our North American customers.

Our rapid growth has in large part been due to the word-of-mouth of esteemed customers such as yourself, who kindly recommend us to friends and family. We get many inquiries from wholesalers and distributers, which we respectfully turn down in order to control our growth and maintain our quality and service standards.

The supply base for genuine Japanese traditional products is limited, and demand can easily outstrip our supplies. We produce our products in small batches using labor-intensive Japanese traditional setups, which are not scalable as in factory-made products.

The skilled craft-makers who produce our products are few in number. Many are also mature in age. Their work is a labor of experience, patience and love. It is not easy to transfer their hard-earned skills to the younger generation.

From comb maker to washcloth weaver, camellia oil presser, rice bran powderer, herbal tea farmer, pearl grinder and incense maker, we owe every single one a huge debt of gratitude. We support and encourage them in any which way we can, in light of the fact that many of their crafts are threatened by imitation mass-producers.

The Road Ahead

In 2017, we will introduce a few new offerings, but very carefully and selectively.

Our guiding principles will remain to be our Japanese traditions. We will stay true to products which are time-tested and natural as well as additive and cruelty-free.

We wish to help you use fewer products. This statement might sound counterintuitive coming from a business. We plan to grow and make a profit. This is a fact, of course. Nevertheless, for growth to be responsible and sustainable, it has to have ethical bounds.

We do not advocate mindless consumerism. Our growth will continue to come from attracting thoughtful customers — who are tired of marketing gimmicks and want to use few but genuine products, be it for their beauty, health or for both.

We believe that true beauty and health is never a project, but a fulfilling lifestyle. Along with products, we will continue to provide you with cultural perspectives, how-to pages and blogs, based on practical Japanese traditions.

The real soul of Japan lies within its ordinary life. This is the information we wish to convey in our publications. We do not aim to entice you with commercialized clichés of heavily made-up performers and geishas. Our goal is to enable you to make informed product choices suited to your own needs and lifestyle.

From all of us, and on behalf of our suppliers, thank you for letting us be of service. We hope to remain worthy of your expectations in 2017.

arigato

 

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How to Take a Japanese Style Bath at Home

you can incorporate the essential elements of the Japanese bath ritual into your routineIf you live outside Japan, chances are your home is not equipped with a Japanese style bath. Even so, you can still incorporate the essential elements of the Japanese bath ritual into your routine.

Cleanse, Bathe, Power Down

The Japanese traditional bathing is an tranquil ritual perfected through centuries. It is typically taken in the evening to scrub and cleanse — and just as importantly, to relax and let the day’s troubles melt away.

There are three basic activities in the Japanese bath ritual:

  • First, you scrub and wash yourself thoroughly.
  • Then, you soak in a tub of hot, clean water and relax.
  • Last, after you get out, you make yourself comfortable and continue to deepen your relaxation.

Tips for Proper Bathing

If you have a separate shower, fill up your tub ahead of time. This way, you can step right into your tub when you are done cleansing yourself.

If your shower is inside your tub, clean your tub after taking shower and then fill it up with hot water for your soak.

Drop in an herbal bath pack if you wish. Otherwise, hot clear water is fine.

The water temperature should be comfortable to the skin. Most prefer a temperature between 38 and 40° C (100 to 104 °F).

feel the water envelope your skin and relax. Slowly splash some on your neck and shoulders. Listen to the sounds and feel the tiny streams run their way down.Step slowly in your tub, feel the water envelope your skin and relax. Slowly splash some on your neck and shoulders. Listen to the sounds and feel the tiny streams run their way down.

If taking an herbal bath, breathe in the aroma calmly and deeply. Unwind and let your mind go of everything except the moment.

Typical soak time is 10 to 15 minutes.

After Taking a Bath

Japanese bathing ritual does not end in the tub. You continue to deepen your relaxation after your soak. Japanese call this yu-agari Japanese bathing ritual does not end in the tub. You continue to deepen your relaxation after your soak. Japanese call this yu-agari (湯上がり, after bathing).

Put on your favorite comfortable clothes, set your worries aside and relax in any which way you please. Have savories, take a nap, curl up with a book, listen to music, sip tea, play, groom yourself, or… do nothing at all.

This is your personal time. Let the world wait.

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Flower From Another World

Autumn has arrived in Japan and like in every year around this time, mysterious, other-worldly Higanbana flowers (Red Spider Lily) are in bloom

Autumn has arrived in Japan and like in every year around this time, the mystical, other-worldly Higanbana flowers (Red Spider Lily) are in bloom. And like in every year, it’s time for people to visit the family cemetery to clean it and pay respect to their ancestors.

Japanese visit the family cemetery during Higan to clean it and pay respect to their ancestors.Higanbana flowers are symbols of the solemn tradition of Higan, a seven-day period centered around September 22, the Autumn Equinox. Night and day are equal, and Japanese believe that the world of the living and world of departed are at their closest around this time.

For me, Higanbana flowers (especially the red ones) bring back my childhood memories. When I was a child, they grew wild mostly in cemeteries, but also around rice paddies and along common passages. These days, they are also planted in beautiful parks and gardens.

Higanbana flowers (especially the red ones) bring back my childhood memories.Back then, I was scared of touching them. Elders used to warn children not to touch them lest they get sick. But children are curious, and once in a while we would pick them by breaking their stems… Oh, my! They smelled so pungent. I thought they smelled like something dead.

Japanese believe that the world of the living and the world of the departed are separated by the mythical Sanzu river. The Kanji for Higan (彼岸)means the “other shore”.

Higan is not the world of the “dead”. Rather, it is where our departed ancestors “live” albeit in a different form. We, mortals, live in Shigan (此岸), the “near shore”.

The word Higanbana (彼岸花) means the “flower from the other shore”. Higanbana flowers are believed to be temporary embodiments of our ancestors who come for a brief visit when our two worlds are at their closest during the autumn equinox (we also observe a seven-day Higan period during the spring equinox).

I’m not scared of Higanbana flowers anymore. Now, I respect them and adore their beauty.

I hope one day, if I come back as one, others feel the same.

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Pearl Powder for Skin Care: Facts, Benefits and How to Use

Safe, Therapeutic, Cosmetic: To use a good, pure pearl powder for skincare is to get a rare gift of nature which can boast all three benefits at the same time.

Pearl powders from Japanese Akoya oysters are among the finest anywhere, renowned for their quality, nutrition content and iridescent hues (also called orient)It’s common knowledge that royal ladies were using pearl powder to keep their skin looking young and beautiful as far back as 2,000 years ago.

Although this is a historical fact, modern pearl powders come in a wide range of variety, quality and performance — which these ladies never knew.

The powder from nacre of Akoya pearl oysters is among the finest anywhere, renowned for its quality, nutrition content and iridescent hues (also called orient). Akoya oysters are rare and exceedingly sensitive to pollution. The Japanese variety accounts for less than 2% of the market.

Benefits

Pearl powder promotes bouncier skin, reduces pore size, lightens skin’s tone and improves texture. It can also be used as a subtle, yet sophisticated mineral makeup.

Pearl powder’s powerful benefits mainly come from its abundance of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron plus a complex protein called conchiolin. 

Conchiolin lightens skin. It has been scientifically proven to reduce skin’s pigmentation by inhibiting an enzyme (called Tyrosinase) which is responsible for melanin production.

It also hydrates skin, helps rebuild its natural collagen and increases skin’s barrier action for retaining moisture.

How to Use

Pearl powder is versatile. It mixes well with almost all powders, oils and other common cosmetics.

You can use it in many different ways by mixing it with your cleanser, moisturizer, liquid or other powders.

You can also use it to prepare a facial mask, or as a subtle highlighter or even as mineral translucent setting / finish powder.

How to Mix Pearl Powder with Cleanser, Moisturizer, Sunscreen and Cosmetics

  1. Take 0.1 grams of pearl powder. Place onto your palm. Add your favorite cosmetic. Mix well and apply to face, neck, hands or body as you wishTake 0.1 grams of pearl powder
  2. Place onto your palm
  3. Add your favorite cosmetic to the powder
  4. Mix well and apply to face, neck, hands or body as you wish

If using with soap or cleanser, wash and rinse as normal.

How to Make a Nutrient-rich Pearl Powder Mask

You can mix pearl powder into your own favorite recipe or use the sample recipe below.

  1. Take 2 g pearl powder. Add 2 tsp of wheat powder. Add 3 tsp of water. Add ingredients such as honey or a moisturizing oil as you prefer. Mix well. Apply to face for 10 min. Rinse.Take 2 grams of pearl powder
  2. Add 2 tsp of wheat powder (or Shiro Nuka Rice Bran if you like gluten-free)
  3. Add 2 to 3 tsp of water, milk or soy milk
  4. Add other ingredients such as honey or a good moisturizing oil as you prefer
  5. Mix well. Apply to face for 10 minutes
  6. Rinse with lukewarm water

How to Apply Pearl Powder as Mineral Highlighter

Pearl powder, though it looks white, is not just white-colored powder. Its crystalline structure imparts unique iridescence and hues which shift subtly from direct to side views.

You can enhance your favorite features by applying a small amount of powder with a highlighter brush or a Q-tip. Go slow and keep layering till you get the effect you like.

How to Apply Pearl Powder as Translucent Setting/Finish Powder

The fine size of Akoya pearl powder (2.3 microns) gives you the ability to apply it translucent to match the tint of your makeup.

Brush on a small amount over foundation as setting powder, or over makeup as a finish powder to subtly blur fine lines and control oil and shine.

Pearl Facts

Nacre is the inner layer of the shell (called mother-of-pearl) and the outer coating of the pearl itselfWhen you look at a pearl, the shiny beautiful object you see is called nacre (pronounced neikər).

Nacre is the inner layer of the shell (called mother-of-pearl) and the outer coating of the pearl itself. It is made of layers of calcium carbonate crystals and minerals plus a protein called conchiolin.

Inside of pearls is a non-nacre core (sometimes called a seed). This core is typically an implant and has no nutritional benefits.

Nacre’s conchiolin is a complex protein of 17 types of amino acids. It heals blemishes, repairs skin and promotes new cell generation. The net result is a bouncier, smoother and lighter skin with better tone and texture.

Akoya's nacre produces a finer quality pearl powder with sophisticated deep luster and hues (a quality called orient).Freshwater and saltwater nacre crystals look different under a microscope. Akoya nacre crystals have a much flatter and more organized microstructure.

It is a well-known fact to gemologists and jewelers that nacre of Japanese Akoya has deeper luster and iridescence compared to other kinds (for jewelers’ perspective, see Japanese Akoya Pearls Luster)

It Matters Where Your Pearl Powder Comes From

You want to make sure the powder you choose is sourced from clean waters. Oysters and mussels do not move around and are highly dependent on the purity of water they live in. When they are bred in polluted waters, heavy metals and pollutants seep into their nacre, and end up in the powder.

Saltwater oysters in general, and Akoyas in particular, are exceedingly sensitive to water quality. They need to be bred and cared for in pristine waters and do not survive in polluted environments.

In contrast, freshwater mussels are hardy and easier to breed than Akoyas (that’s one reason why they are more abundant). Powders from freshwater cultured pearls are mainly from China, which dominates an estimated 90% of the world pearl market.

The UN has published an informative paper on the environmental problems faced by the Chinese pearl industry entitled China’s Pearl Industry: an Indicator of Ecological Stress.

Not Hydrolyzed or Chemically Treated

A top quality pearl powder such as from Akoya’s nacre is not treated with chemicals at all.

The so-called “pearl” you find on the label of many cosmetics is a processed ingredient. You will see it next to words such as activated, hydrolyzed or hydrolyzed conchiolin, often times next to preservatives such as Phenoxyethanol (warned by FDA as toxic).

Hydrolyzed pearl powders are typically processed by using Hydrochloric acid (HCl) to make them water-soluble and ingestible.

Nano-particle Risks

It is important that the particles in your pearl powder have the optimal size for your skin. Of course you don’t want you powder to be coarse. Perhaps even more importantly, you don’t want them to be too small.

2 to 3 micron powders are as fine as some of the highest quality cosmetic powders you can get. This is an optimal size for a refined look and skin’s pore texture.

Many pearl powders today are processed into extremely small nano-size particles, ostensibly for faster absorption into the body. One nano is about 1/80,000 of the thickness of human hair.

Numerous studies have shown that nano-sizing even safe ingredients can cause DNA damage and a range of serious health consequences. You can read more on the topic in the informative paper published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014 called Tiny particles may pose big risk.

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Traditional Japanese Beauty Tips

Traditional Japanese women's tips on beauty, skin, body and hair care

Below are summaries of informative posts and how-to’s on our site about Japanese women and their traditional beauty routines.

Beauty Tips of Japanese Women

Japanese beauty tipsIf there is no beauty gene, then why are Japanese women regarded as so beautiful by so many around the world? Read about skincare, body and hair care, diet, poise and femininity… Go to post →

How to Use Seaweed For Hair Care

Japanese seaweed for cleansing hairLearn how to use as hair cleanser and conditioner and as deep treatment pack. Information on how seaweed cleanses hair, how to go shampoo-free and importance or regular grooming (preening) hair… Go to post →

How to Use Japanese Camellia Oil

Japanese camellia oil for body and hair careCamellia oil is best when obtained by cold pressing wild-harvested seeds of the Camellia japonica flower (called Tsubaki). Learn how to use for hair, body and skin care, its benefits how it’s made…

» Read more...

Go to post →

How to Use Japanese Rice Bran to Tone, Brighten and Hydrate skin

how to use Japanese rice bran for skincareShiro Nuka rice bran brightens and evens skin’s tone. It also buffs skin and helps diminish blemishes, wrinkles and fine lines. How to apply the traditional way, facial mask or use as face wash… Go to post →

Nightingale Droppings Facial: Myths, Facts and How to Use

Nightingale dropping for facial careGeishas and Kabuki actors have used Uguisu-no-Fun since mid-Edo period (1603-1868) to brighten and lighten their skin and to remove make up, and for maintaining their much admired pale, porcelain complexion… Go to post →

Soothe Skin and Puffy Eyes with Used Tea Bags

After enjoying your cup sooth-skin-with-tea-bagof tea, there are many things you can do before throwing the little bag of goodness away. Keep it for healing minor burns and cuts, soothing itchy and tired eyes and reducing puffiness… Go to post → 

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Green Tea Over Rice (Ochazuke) Recipe Ideas

Green Tea Over Rice (Ochazuke) Recipe Ideas

Ochazuke is a quick-to-prepare traditional Japanese dish made by pouring green tea over cooked rice and topping it with a sprinkle of savories. It has been been around in one form or another since at least the 8th century Heian era.

The toppings and green tea instantly transform a humble bowl of rice into a culinary delight.

Nori seaweed, umeboshi and arareTraditional toppings include savories such as nori (dried seasoned seaweed), arare (crushed rice crackers), umeboshi (pickled plums), katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes) and iri-goma (toasted sesame seeds).

Below is a typical recipe with nori, arare and umeboshi.

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Ingredients

  • One bowl of cooked rice. White rice is fine, though I prefer brown.
  • One cup green tea
  • One sheet of nori (about 5×5 cm). Cut into strips
  • Japanese rice crackers (any kind). The small, bite-sized ones are called arare
  • One or two umeboshi pickled plums

Hint: You can choose any green tea you like. I like konacha because it is fast to prepare and economical (it’s what most sushi bars serve). Sencha is great, but it’s such a high-end tea that I prefer to have it by itself. Teas like hojicha will add a distinct raosty flavor to your dish.

Directions

  1. Brew your green tea (you can read about how-to-brew how-to-brew)
  2. Put the rice crackers in a small plastic bag and crush (a roll pin will help)
  3. Cut the nori in thin strips and dice the umeboshi plums
  4. Sprinkle the crushed rice crackers, nori strips and umeboshi (whole or minced) on top of the rice
  5. Pour green tea over the rice.

Be Creative

There are no hard-and-fast rules for how to make Ochazuke. All you need is cooked rice (even leftovers from takeouts), some green tea and toppings you like.

Be bold and experiment! If you are in a hurry, you don’t even need to warm the rice up.

Pre-made toppings

You can buy Ochazuke pre-made topping mixes from a Japanese grocer. They come in small sealed packs and are relatively inexpensive. Just make sure the product label does not include ingredients you don’t like (such as excessive salt or MSG).

Western-style toppings

You can also make your own topping with western ingredients you like. Smoked salmon, bacon bits, chopped green onions, dried tomatoes, diced pickles, anchovies or similar savories will work just fine.

Typical Japanese Toppings for Ochazuke

 

Arare is small Japanese rice crackers, typically flavored with soy sauce.Arare: Small rice crackers, typically flavored with soy sauce. Crush before mixing.

Umeboshi Japanese pickled plums

Umeboshi: Pickled plums

Japane dried seaweed sheets (nori)

Nori: Dried seaweed sheets

Katsuo-bushi is Japanese dried bonito flakes

Katsuo-bushi: Dried bonito flakes. Add a few drops of soy sauce.

Irigoma is roasted Japanese sesame seeds. Use whole or ground.

Irigoma: Roasted sesame seeds. Use whole or ground.

Shiokara is Japanese fermented squid and innards. This is an acquired taste!

Shiokara: Fermented squid and innards. This is an acquired taste!

Mentaiko is marinated Japanese cod roe

Mentaiko: Marinated cod roe. This is also an acquired taste!

Tsukemono is Japanese pickled vegetables

Tsukemono: Japanese pickled vegetables

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Japanese Green and Herbal Teas

Japanese traditional green and herbal teas

Below are links to various posts on our site on

  • How to brew popular Japanese green teas such as sencha, matcha, hojicha and genmaicha
  • Tips on how to choose green teas, aromas, flavor and caffeine content
  • Guides on benefits of Japanese herbal teas such as loquat leaves tea (biwa cha) and artemisia princeps (yomogi cha)
  • Other tips such as why you should use good water and a non-reactive kettle
  • and more

Japanese Green Tea Selection Guide

Comprehensive post on flavors, caffeine content and how-to-brew tips for popular teas such as Sencha, Hojicha, Genmaicha and more.Comprehensive post on flavor, aroma, caffeine content and how-to-brew tips for popular Japanese teas such as Sencha, Hojicha and Genmaicha… Go to post →


Health Benefits of Green Tea

the way green teas are produced makes them have superior health benefits compared to other types of teasThe unfermented way green teas are produced compared to other teas helps preserve tea’s remarkable health benefits… Go to post →


How to Brew Japanese Herbal Teas: Traditional Senjiru Method

» Read more...


Senjiru is a time-tested, easy Japanese technique for brewing herbal teasTime-tested, easy Japanese technique which yields maximum goodness locked deep in leaves and delivers the optimum aroma, flavor and color… Go to post →


How to Brew a Perfect Cup of Sencha

Sencha-50pxSencha is undoubtedly the most popular tea in Japan, and is considered to be one of the most aromatic and delicious of all green teas… Go to post →


Kamairicha: A Subtle, Sophisticated Green Tea

kamairi-cha-50Rare even in Japan, and more so in the west. If you are looking to intrigue your palate and expand your tea experience, this tea is for you… Go to post →


How to Brew Hojicha, Genmaicha, Bancha and Konacha

Hojicha, Genmaicha, Bancha and Konacha are among the easiest to prepare and delicious Japanese green teas.Among the easiest to prepare Japanese green teas. They yield their best flavor when brewed for a couple of minutes with near boiling temperature water… Go to post →


How to Make Loquat Leaves Tea (Biwa Cha)

Biwa Cha is a Japanese herbal tea from leaves of Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) native to south JapanMild and pleasant traditional tea, with numerous health benefits. It is quick and easy to prepare at home and you can serve it hot or cold… Go to post →


Traditional Japanese Cold Remedy

Japanese make a syrupy, sweet beverage called "kuzuyu" for prevention and treatment of common colds.Japanese make a sweet beverage from roots of Kuzu (Kudzu), the Arrowroot plant, to help relieve sore throats and for prevention of common colds… Go to post →

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Yomogi, Irises and Tale of a Queen


The love affair with irises and yomogi runs deep in the Japanese psyche, weaving a fascinating tale going back to the 6th century, when Japan was ruled by Empress Suiko, the powerful first female monarch of Japan.

It’s late April. The Japanese countryside is blanketed with some of the most beloved symbols of Japanese spring: irises and Artemisia princeps (yomogi).

The love affair with irises and yomogi runs deep in the national psyche, weaving a fascinating tale going back to the 7th century, when Japan was ruled by empress Suiko, the first female monarch of Japan.

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Tale of Power and Grace

Empress Suiko (Suiko-tennō), was a gentle woman who prized humility and shunned greed. In 593, she reluctantly had to be convinced to become empress when Japan faced the prospect of civil war.Empress Suiko (Suiko-tennō), was a gentle woman who prized humility and shunned greed.

In 593, she reluctantly had to be convinced to become empress when Japan faced the prospect of civil war.

A devout Buddhist, she enacted Japan’s first constitution. This remarkable 17-article document codified statements such as

  • “The path of a Minister is to turn away from that which is private, and to set face toward that which is public.”
  • “Decisions on important matters should not be made by one person alone.”

Almost 1,500 years on, Empress Suiko is remembered fondly and celebrated in parades to this day as a beautiful and graceful monarch. She ruled for 35 years and is credited for transforming Japan into a land of harmony and culture as it’s classically known today.

Almost 1,400 years on, she is still remembered fondly and celebrated in annual parades as a beautiful and graceful monarch.

The Tradition of “Medicine Hunt”

The deeply-hued, passionate ayame irises are an unmistakable sign of spring and early summer. Their vivid color and bold beauty have inspired poets, artists and kimono makers for generations.Empress Suiko was an avid fan of nature and its gifts.

According to the official Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki, 720 AD), Empress Suiko decreed the 5th day of the 5th month of every year to be the public day for collecting wild irises and yomogi leaves.

On this day, a royal expedition was held and the public was encouraged to make time to visit the countryside.

gathering-yomogi-kusurigariThe day is known as Medicine Hunt (kusuri-gari).

The tradition is still in practice today, and in early May Japanese display decorations made from iris and yomogi leaves (kusudama, medicine potpourri).

Iris and yomogi leaves are bunched together hung at entrances and under the eaves of homes to drive away evil spirits. The practice is called noki-shōbu.

[caption id="attachment_7743" align="aligncenter" width="400"]in early May Japanese display decorations made from iris and yomogi leaves (kusudama, medicine potpourri). Kusudama (medicine potpourri) wall decoration[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_7750" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Iris and yomogi leaves are bunched together hung at entrances and under the eaves of homes to drive away evil spirits. The practice is called noki-shōbu. Noki-shōbu hung under the eaves[/caption]

Yomogi

Yomogi, the Japanese mugwort, is a member of the chrysanthemum family of plants. It’ scientifically classified as Artemisia princeps.

Yomogi (Artemisia princeps, the Japanese mugwort) is a member of the chrysanthemum family of plants.

A sumptuous Japanese tradition on May 5th (officially celebrated at present as the Children’s Day) is to prepare a special treat called kashiwa-mochi, made from yomogi flavored rice cakes with sweet azuki beans wrapped in oak leaves.

Yomogi, with its immense health benefits, is known as the “Japanese wonder herb”. Besides culinary uses, it is also used to make a soothing herbal tea (yomogi cha), in herbal bath preparations (yomogi yu) and for making soap (yomogi sekken). Yomogi leaves extract is widely used in skincare cosmetics and age-spot treatments.

Irises

Japanese irises come in three distinct species:

Ayame – Long, erect, narrow leaves and bearing purple, blue, red and occasionally white flowers.

Ayame iris - Long, erect, narrow leaves and bearing purple, blue, red and occasionally white flowers.

The deeply-hued, passionate ayame irises are an unmistakable sign of spring and early summer.

Kakitsubata – Erect, sword-shaped leaves and rich purple flowers.

kakitsubata Japanese iris, erect, sword-shaped leaves and rich purple flowers.

Their vivid color and bold beauty have inspired poets, artists and kimono makers for generations.

Hanashōbu – Widely cultivated as an ornamental plant. Native to Japanese wetlands. Also known as Japanese water iris.

hanashobu iris: Long, aromatic, sword-shaped leaves and fragrant roots.

Shōbu  Though it is commonly referred to as an iris, it actually belongs to a family of plants called Acoraceae. Fragrant roots and leaves. Also known as sweet flag.

Japanese shōbu iris. Fragrant roots and leaves. Also known as hashōbu, or sweet flag. Though it is commonly referred to as an iris, it actually belongs to a different family of plants called Acoraceae.

To this day, on 5th of May Japanese prepare a bath with shōbu leaves (shōbu-yu) for children to promote good health and to ward-off evil.

On 5th of May Japanese prepare a bath with iris leaves (called Shoubu-yu) for children to promote good health and to ward-off evil.

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The Legend of Satsue Mito In Memoriam

Satsue Mito in Kojma, MiyazakiApril 7th will mark the 102nd birthday of Satsue Mito.

Mito-sensei, as everybody lovingly called her, was a gentle woman. And like Dian Fossey, she is one of the greatest primatologists the world has ever known.

Early Life

Mito-sensei was born in Hiroshima in 1914. She married in 1934 and moved to Korea where they had three daughters.

Her husband died of a sudden illness in 1940. World War II was raging at time, and life was not easy. At 26 years of age, she took her daughters and went to Dalian, China where she found work as a school teacher.

The war ended in 1945 and Dalian was occupied by the Russians. Barely surviving and longing for home, Mito-sensei took her daughters and moved back to Hiroshima in 1947.

And then things went from bad to worse.

Story of Survival

I had the good fortune on meeting Mito-sensei in 2007, when I took a group visiting Miyazaki to her house, walking distance away from Kōjima island in southern Miyazaki.

Mito sensei in her house

She gave us a tour of the island and her amazing workshop, chock-full of books and a station where she administered urgent care to monkeys in need of medical attention.

It was there that she told us about her amazing life story.

1947 Hirsohima was nothing like she had ever known. The city had been obliterated by nuclear bombing and there was wide-spread misery.

People told her to move as far south as she could. Mito-sensei packed her meager belongings, took hare daughters and left for the relative safety of south Kyushu where she got a little place next to the tiny Kōjima island.

Kōjima Primates

Mito sensei in 1948 feeding kojima Nihonzaru monkeyKōjima, since the time anybody could remember, had been populated by a species of monkeys called Nihon-zaru (Japanese macaque).

The island was declared protected by the government in 1934. However, during the war most of the monkey population was wiped out by people hunting for food.

The few remaining ones looked miserable. They were all in poor health and in imminent danger of extinction.

The sight of the desperate monkeys was too much for Mito-sensei to bear. She began to care for them, shared what little food she had and nursed the sick ones back to health in her humble adobe.

Little by little, things got better, and the monkey population bounced back.

By 2007, she told me there were about 400 monkeys on the island, the maximum the island’s ecology would naturally sustain.

And she know every single one of them by name!

Academic Life

Mito-sensei dedicated her life to her (as she called them) monkeys. Her research and publications have made enormous contributions to the science of primatology.

She has published several books and closely cooperated with the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University. Her work is heavily cited by the researchers in the field (see a few references below).

We miss Mito-sensei; so do the grateful primates of Kōjima, I’m sure.

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Kumquat Preserve with Kudzu Syrup

Kinkan kumquat preserve with kudzu syrup

Here is a recipe for making a delightful preserve using whole Kumquats and a delicious Kudzu syrup.

As an added benefit, they both are used in traditional medicine to soothe coughs, sore throats and common colds.

About Kumquats

Kumquats are a member of the citrus family. Their scientific name is Citrus japonica. In Japan they are called kinkan (金柑, literally “golden citrus”).

They are a favorite in winter and early spring when they are considered to be in shun (you can read more about shun and importance of seasonality in the Japanese diet here).

Kumquats are small (the size of a big olive), fleshy, delicious, sweet and yet tangy.

What makes them unique is that you eat them along with their thin rind (skin), which is packed with essential oils and anti-oxidants.

Ingredients :

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Kumquats: 2kg (4 1/2 LB)
Cane sugar: 800g (1 3/4 LB)
Water: 1 cup
Lemon juice: 1 tablespoon
Kudzu powder: 2 tablespoon

How to Prepare:

  1. poke holes in kinkanWash Kumquats. Remove stem-ends and poke a few holes with a toothpick.
  2. Soak Kumquats in a large pan. Heat to just before boiling over medium heat. Drain.
  3. Mix water and cane sugar in a pan.
  4. Add Kumquats and lemon juice into the pan and cook over medium-low heat for about 20-30 minutes. Add Kudzu (dissolved with 2tbs water) and mix VERY gently just before you turn off the heat. DO NOT boil!
  5. Let the pan cool down.
  6. Sterilize your favorite jars and lids
  7. Gently scoop out Kumquats and syrup into sterilized jars. Keep one jar for just the syrup.

Tips:

Do not use high heat. If you heat Kumquats rapidly, their inside will expand and break (more like explode!) the skin.

After you transfer Kumquats and syrup into jars, close the lids and boil the jars in a big pan so that air will escape from the jars and you can keep the jars for a longer period.

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