Thursday, August 30, 2018

Handicrafts Heaven at the Yame Traditional Crafts Museum (Yame City, Fukuoka Prefecture)

If you're the type who likes to take home traditional handicrafts as souvenirs, then you'll have a grand time visiting the Yame Traditional Crafts Museum (Yame Traditional Craftwork Center/Yame Dentou Kougei-kan) located in Motomachi, Yame City. 

There's a giant stone lantern at the yard leading to the entrance. Once inside, a spacious hallway filled with traditional handicraft will greet you. 

The Fukushima Buddhist Altars are particularly eye-catching. Craftsmen began making these Buddhist altars in Yame in 1821, employing time tested techniques in applying lacquer and gold leaf. There are traditional paper lanterns called Chochin for Obon, decorated with flowers, birds and landscapes. Since the Taisho period (1912-1926), these elegantly-crafted lanterns have held a major share of the Obon lanternb market. These techniques are now used to make bags. 

Most artists in Yame use handmade paper. Locally sourced mulberry , which has longer fibers than other plants, yields tough yet elegant handmade paper. Stone Lanterns are also on display here. They're simple and sublime decorative products which use stones that are soft, malleable and resist extreme temperatures and is conducive to moss growth. There are Japanese Tops (turumpo/kasing), Day Dolls, bamboo crafts, wooden tubs, Kurume-gasuri (a special textile of the region), arrows and pottery. 

What I like about the place is that it's completely tout-free. There are no hard sells here. In fact, there's just a single person manning the cashier's booth. You can take your time to roam freely. The downside is that all the product labels are in Japanese characters.  

Buddhist Altars that glow like gold.

Chochin are traditional paper lanterns.

Handmade paper made from mulberry.

Once you see this giant Stone Lantern outside, then you know you're in the right place since there are no english signs anywhere.

Different areas of Yame City

#yamecity   #fukuokaprefecture   #kyushu   #japan

Monday, August 27, 2018

Myoeji Temple's Lush Surroundings (Yame City, Fukuoka Prefecture)

Myoeji Temple was mostly deserted when we visited. It's an idyllic space filled with plants and trees, as well as a red Chinese-style temple at the side, seemingly misplaced in Japan's mostly earth-toned temples. Like the temples featured in our previous post, Moeji is part of the Yame-Fukushima Traditional Architectural Preservation Zone.

Yame City Map in Japanese

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Yame City's Shofukuji and Muryojuin Temples (Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu)

Shofukuji Temple, Yame City

The temples in the central area of Yame City aren't particularly striking but they reek with local color. During our visit, it would intermittently rain so our time to check out the surroundings was limited. It didn't help that these temples were closed. 

Shofukuji Temple has a children's playground at its lawn. It has a more traditional design, with wooden panels fronting the hall. Muryojuin Temple, on the other hand, was machiya style, with off-white walls and a white painted door at the top of the stairs. The pathway leading to it is lined by stone lanterns. There's a suffusion of plants at the garden.  

These temples are part of the Yame-Fukushima Traditional Architecture Preservation Zone that also includes Daitoji Temple, north of Shofukuji, and Hanyain Temple, south east of Muryojuin Temple. Further east of this area, there are two other temples - Myoeji Temple and Saishoji Temple.

Muryojuin Temple, Yame City

#yamecity   #muryojuintemple   #shokufujitemple   #fukuokaprefecture

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Fukushima District's Machiya Houses in Yame City (Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu)

Some of the most beautiful of Japanese countryside I have seen are in the remote corners of Yame City in Kyushu. That's a fact that doesn't need sugarcoating. Thus when I read about Fukushima District's row of "Machiya" (traditional town houses), I knew that's where I wanted to go first. Take me there!

White Clay Walls

There are about 130 documented buildings of varying designs from the Meiji, Taisho and Showa era; houses of merchants and craftsmen. The walls were made of white clay to protect the houses from fire. 

But they have ceased to be residential houses. Very few were turned into cafes. Most have been turned into shops selling tea, paper lanterns, miso shops, altar stores, family confectioneries, seed suppliers, fish paste shops and family grocers. Without a doubt, these made the area vibrant, and the central point of Yame. On paper, the whole she-bang sounded exciting.

In 1587, Fukushima Castle was built here. A town eventually grew and flourished around the castle. But in 1620, about 33 years after the castle was put up, Kurome Domain took control of the area and the castle had to be demolished. I think there was a law that prohibited having more than one castle in a locality. Nowadays, the houses were turned into stores and workshops for handicraft and other products, 

Hakata to Chikugo City

This is where I came to visit. From Fukuoka, I took a JR train from Hakata Station to Hainuzuka Station. The JR staff had to consult a thick book of JR schedules since they weren't very familiar with Yame's train schedule. Running southeast, my train took 40 minutes to get to Hainuzuka, which is located in the small city called Chikugo. I had to be vigilant and attentive because every stop wasn't announced. Even the LED prompter on my train was written in Japanese characters. I didn't want to miss my train stop.

Station Stops

My train had a terminal stop at Omuta, departing the platform at 8:40 AM. From Hakata, it had stops at the following: Akeshita, Sasabaru, Minami-Fukuoka, Onojo, Futsukaichi, Haruda, Kiyama, Tosu, Kurume, Araki, and then Hainuzuka for my stop, arriving at 9:20 AM.

Hainuzuka Station had few commuters. The station was opened in 1891 and is now 127 years old. Knowing that impressed me. If you don't have a car with you, the Horkawa Bus Stop is just 50 meters from the station. The bus can take you all the way to Yame and Kurogi.

Upon reaching Fukushima, it was drizzling. I wasn't sure if cars were allowed to park by the road side. I stepped outside feeling the electricity of excitement run down my spine. Stood on the road where the Machiya house are. And sighed.

The restoration, unfortunately, didn't look impressive. This was how it may have looked back in the days, but there was nothing to crow about. The place looked rundown. Maybe I was in the wrong section of Fukushima? Most shops were closed, unless it is tradition to shut their doors and have tourists knock on them. I didn't think so.

"This is it?" I thought.

Photo of Fukushima District from a museum I visited.

Machiyas had fire-proof white clay walls. Miniatures of Fukushima.

#yamecity   #fukuokaprefecture   #kyushu   #japan   #fukushima

Monday, August 20, 2018

Momiji Manju at Momijido (Itsukushima, Hitsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture)

Miyajima (Itsukushima) is a dream destination; one of the 3 most visited in Japan. But it also has a contribution for regional gastronomy, bridging a bit of history, culture and food consumption. I like food representatives from places because they elevate cooking and food preparation beyond appearances. With this, consumers gain a sensibility for the art of taste. 

Miyajima's favorite take-away gift is called Momiji-manju, a steamed bun shaped like a Japanese maple leaf. It has a red-bean jam filling wrapped in sponge cake. The bun itself is made from buckwheat, flour, egg, sugar and honey. It got its name from one of Japan's most famous maple leaf valley, Momijidani Park, located near the forest of the island. 

Origin of Momiji Manju

Believed to have been created in 1906 when Okami, a ryokan (traditional inn) owner asked a pastry chef to create something that would represent Miyajima. 

Another anecdote involves a visiting samurai statesman of the Meiji Restoration period, Hirobomi Ito (left), who took a fancy to a local girl serving tea. 

When he saw her hands, he quipped, "How tasty it would be if I could eat baked sweets shaped like maple leaves. " This prompted the tea house manager to bake one shaped like the maple leaves scattered on the ground.  

Fried Maple Leaf fr. "Otowa Wedding".
In Minoh City, Osaka, they even fry maple leaves on sweetened tempura batter - for snacks. It would have made sense if maple leaves were incorporated in Momiji Manju's ingredient. But then this is Miyajima, not Osaka.

From the southern hill where temples stood, I found the edge of Miyajima Omotesando Street, the shopping street. Momiji, the bakeshop selling Momiji Manju was at the northern end. It was an engrossing walk along shops selling local products, chestnuts, matcha ice creams, etc. Momiji manju was my last "stop"in Miyajima before heading back to the ferry.

At the very corner of the street, to the right side, is Momijido. I ordered a few pieces with custard, red bean paste and chocolate filling variety. Baking took awhile as you wait. I was served tea. I noticed some people leaving from their Momiji-baking classes. There are 4 sessions a day - 10 AM, 1 PM, 2:15 PM and 3:30 PM. Twenty minutes later, my momiji manju was ready.

I read that there are 20 shops making momiji manju, but the people I asked for directions all pointed to one place - Momijido. It took me awhile to find it because the island barely uses English signs, and when your point of reference is the tip of a pointing finger, you also rely on a lot of guess work and intuition.

If you're in Miyajima, I'd recommend trying Momiji Manju to complete your island experience. You can even try a grilled Momiji, if you're into that.

This photo I captured from the shop, Momijido.

Miyajima Omotesando Shopping Street

FYI: Manju are Chinese-style steamed buns that typically have sweet fillings such as red bean paste.

#momijimanju   #miyajima   #dessert   #snack   #foodporn   #japan


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Okonomiyaki in Reichan (Hiroshima, Japan)

Soba has thinner noodles, and is made of buckwheat and wheat flour.

Years ago, I met a girl traveling through England at an ATM machine in London. She had difficulty using the machine for some reason. I stepped in, and we were acquainted. After that, she left for her onward travel to Nice (France) while I stayed in London. We used to send postcards to each other until we lost contact. 

Years passed.  Two weeks before I was to fly to Japan for a holiday, I received a Linked In request from her. It was such coincidence that my itinerary includes Hiroshima. My friend lives in Matsuyama, a city just a ferry ride from Hiroshima. Wouldn't it be great to catch up?

I was grateful that she took time off work to see me in Hiroshima. I wouldn't have minded seeing Ehime Prefecture and its capital, Matsuyama, but my schedule was tight and my bookings were fixed. Ehime is in northwest Shikoku. Anyway, what better way to chat away with a dear friend over Hiroshima's culinary contribution to the world - Okonomiyaki.

Where do we get Okonomiyaki?  Since we couldn't wander too far from the station (she had a ferry to catch in the early evening), we thought of finding a restaurant that served it. At the 2nd floor of Asse Building which is contiguous to JR Hiroshima Station, we found Reichan, a noodles bar mostly populated by locals. 

The shop was small, cramped, and busy. Turn over was fast so we didn't mind waiting for 15 minutes before we were ushered to our stools. I wasn't sure how to order properly, but Hiroko told me to choose which kind of noodle for my okonomiyaki: udon or soba.

Udon Versus Soba

Udon, commonly referred to as Ramen, is made of wheat. It is thicker than Soba which, on the other hand, is made of buckwheat and wheat flour, and has a higher protein and vitamin content. Soba is the healthier choice. I chose Udon. Hiroko picked Soba. But noodles are just part a layer of Okonomiyaki, also called "Japanese Pancakes".

History from Okonomiyakiworld

"The earliest origins of a basic crepe-like pancake date back to the Edo period (1683-1868) where these were a special desert called Funoyaki, served at Buddhist ceremonies. During Meiji Period (1968-1912), it evolved into a sweeter dish called Sukesoyaki. In the 20's and 30's the dish further evolved with sauces added to it. It was called Yoshokuyaki."

"The name Okonomiyaki (literally meaning "What you like, grilled") started in the late 30's in Osaka. Meanwhile, in Hiroshima, a similar crepe-like food became popular. It was topped with onions, folded over, and served to children as a snack item." 

"Okonomiyaki, in it's different variations, started to become more popular during the war when rice became scarce. The simple wheat pancake fit the bill. People started to add more ingredients such as eggs, pork, and cabbage. A restaurant from Osaka claims to have been the first to add Mayonnaise in 1946."

Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki appears like a grilled pancake with ingredients layered on top. It uses much more cabbage than the Osaka version, where ingredients are mixed with the batter, instead of layered.

When my order came, I didn't know where to start. It was huge, folded over. Hiroko's was "prettier", with layers of cabbage jutting out. I'd rather not have mayonnaise on it, as I wanted to appreciate its full flavor.

I was halfway through when I realized I couldn't eat everything. Japanese servings are sizable.


Udon has thicker noodles, and is made of wheat flour.

Reichan in JR Hiroshima. This photo only from tripadvisor.