On the 28th August 2020 The Sasaki family in Kikugawa near Kiwanosato welcomed an addition member to their family. The delivery was arranged in a local midwife’s house and all family members gathered together to celebrate the moment.
The baby’s mother, Hisae, was born and raised near Tokyo and later moved to central Tokyo for work. However, when she visited Kikugawa where her mother was originally from, she was very attracted to county life.
When Hisae got married and had her first child, she felt Tokyo was not really an ideal place to bring up her children as she wanted them to understand the importance of living with nature and how to self-support themselves. In parallel, she encountered a macrobiotic food concept that encourages consuming seasonal food grown locally – you are what you eat. She and her husband had been discussing the possibility of moving to the countryside for some time, and finally, they made it happen in 2018, after their third baby was born.
Her interest in healthy, tasty and safe food made her set up a vegetarian restaurant called Prassar (meaning circulation), where she serves creative and seasonal vegetarian meals. It is a challenge as vegetarianism is rare in Japan, especially in the Kikugawa area, but her ambition was not hindered by that. Promoting her restaurant as a good food hub, she utilises the fields to host a cooking school, for testing vegan junk food and for get togethers, mother care, developing organic school lunch and more.
Hisae thinks Kikugawa is an ideal place for her family to live, however, she wonders if local people appreciate the value of resources that they have. She feels there is not enough opportunity for expressing and exchanging skills between people in the community and would like to see more opportunities to engage through events – something she believes would enrich everybody’s life. She believes people should simply enjoy what they like to do and have a little bit of courage to try new ideas.
箕（mi, pronunciation as ‘me’ in English) is one of the tools used for extracting rice from its husk. In Japan, it was traditionally made from bamboo.
Bamboo is considered by many to be a magic tree, growing 80cm – 100cm a day while remaining hollow inside. It even once appeared as the birth spot of a space child to the planet in the legendary Japanese tale, Princess Kaguya.
On a windy day in harvest season, a farmer fills his Mi with the mix of rice and husk. A farmer lifts it up into the wind and sheaves it with a special twisting motion from a certain height. As the light husk is blown off by the wind, the heavy rice drops straight down. The technique later became more controlled when fans were developed in the early 20th century.
It was once common for farmers to make their own harvesting tools by hand, but there are now very few people remaining who can demonstrate these traditional techniques today.
During many of our Kiwanosato schools we have been lucky to learn some of these disappearing traditional techniques directly from experienced local people: bamboo weaving, Japanese style gardening, mud wall building and traditional preservation cooking.
In Kiwanosato’s ageing community, it has become a challenge to keep all of the village’s land productive, with many rice paddies remaining unused.
Mr. Kaneko was born and brought up in Kiwanosato. He has lived in various areas of Japan during his working life but returned to the village in 2008 to look after his father at home. After his retirement in 2014, he took up many hobbies to fill his time including Japanese beekeeping, cooking and growing many varieties of plants throughout the year.
Last year, he planted sunflowers as a part of the village’s rice paddy land reuse project which he actively supports. The land he used (pictured above) had been left disused for many years since the family who owned it left the village, and it is anticipated that more land will follow a simialar fate as the landowners age and the younger generations have no interest in taking over. Mr. Keneko explains:
“Unfortunately, none of my children are interested in working in the field… It is a difficult issue to tackle. We can not leave the fields as they are but I think the land can be useful in some way, like companies’ recreations, for example.”
Enjoying life back in his home village, Mr. Keneko gets up early and works in the field at his own pace growing a variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the year and consuming them seasonally. Last summer he treated the attendees of Grizedale Arts’ Architecture School to his super sweet watermelons, Japanese bee honey and ice candies and has since closely monitored the progress of the bee house and garden’s construction.
Over autumn, he will plant rape blossoms after he harvests his sunflowers – its none stop planting for Mr. Keneko.
During our architecture school last summer when we constructed the bee house in Kiwanosato village, Mr. Fukuda, a trained plasterer, ran a series of workshops to demonstrate the traditional Japanese building technique called Hanchiku (rammed earth). Constructing the foundations and structure of the building from locally sourced bamboo, the plaster applied to the walls was made from a mix of clay and rice straw combined by the feet of the attendees.
Mr. Fukuda was part of the technical team that built Anyooji 安養寺 (Kengo Kuma and Associates) in Toyora, Shimonoseki City, Japan and made many of the building’s 60cm x 30cm sized mud bricks in his home workhouse. When allowed to air dry, these bricks provide the structure with a natural aeration, protecting the 12th century wooden seated statue of Amida Buddha without the need of air conditioners. When laid into the structure, the gaps between the bricks, as designed by the architect Mr. Kengo Kuma, introduce natural light into the building.
During a recent conversation, Mr. Fukuda mentioned how busy he has been over the past few months as the Hanchiku technique has become more popular. He has a number of building sites he is now working on and he has been asked to demonstrate the method to local architects and architectural students since our school last year.
“Is everything positive around you, then? ”, I asked.
“Oh yes, I am back on the truck!”, he said.
Practicing the Hanchiku technique during the 2019 Kiwanosato Architecture School.
Mr. Yoshimura, the chairperson of Kiwanosato’s village committee is a keen advocate of fungus and enzyme based organic growing. He introduced me to the homemade organic fertiliser, Ehime-Ai which was originally invented by Mr.Sogame in Ehime Prefecture.
Mr. Sogame felt it was important to share his method of making this organic fertiliser with as many people as possible to encourage people to use less chemical fertilisers to protect the environment. For that reason, he never submitted the ingredients to apply for a patent and instead encourages people to mix for their own use.
Ehime-Ai can be used not only for growing healthier and tastier plants, it can also be used for cleaning your household, washing dishes, adding to your bath and deodorising household smells. The liquid contains beneficial bacterias that clean the land and the sea with its enzyme power.
Below are instructions on how to create your own batch of Ehime-Ai:
Quantities below make a 500ml batch of Ehime-Ai:
Natto*: 1 bean (use only the slimy substance, not the bean itself）
Dry yeast: 2 – 3 grammes
Yogurt: 25 grammes
Sugar: 25 grammes (any sugar is fine but brown sugar is better)
Water: 450ml (35℃)
A 500ml size empty plastic bottle (recycled if possible)
* Natto – fermented soybeans, you can buy a pack of frozen one in oriental shops for around £2.00)
How to make it:
1 Mix the sugar and yeast in a bowl.
2 Add yogurt to the sugar and yeast and mix everything together.
3 Put 1 natto bean in a colander and set the colander over the mixture.
4 Pour 450ml warm water (35℃) over the bean and let the natto water drain in the bowl below containing the sugar, yeast and yogurt mix.
5 Remove the colander and gently mix everything together in the bowl. Pour the mixture into the 500ml plastic bottle.
6 Loosely put the cap on the bottle and keep in a warm place. Ideally the temperature should be kept between 30℃- 40℃ if possible for a few days. As I didn’t have any equipment to keep the temperature at this level, I instead wrapped the bottle and left it in a warm corner in the Kitchen.
7 When it is ready, keep the cloudy liquid and the cream paste separately to use them for different purposes (see below).
How to tell if its ready:
If you are able to check the ph balance of the mixture (you can buy a kit at your local chemist), it should be between 3ph to 4ph. If you cannot check the ph balance with a kit, it should smell ‘sweet and tart’ when it’s ready. Mine was ready to use in just two days.
*If you wish to make this mix so it is ready to use within 24 hours, use a half of the warm water (200ml) when you pour over the natto bean in step 4. After 24 hours, add the rest of the water (35℃/250ml) and gently mix.
How to use the fertiliser:
You can spray this cloudy liquid on your plants but also use for washing up, or to deodorise your rooms or in your bath by diluting the final mixture 100 to 500 times – but there is no harm in using it in its original strength too.
The thick creamy paste can be used for mixing with the soil for plants and in house cleaning.
Mr. Yoshimura’s advice:
“If you put one cup of Ehime-Ai in the bathtub you can use the same water for a few times as the water will be cleaned by the bacteria. After draining you need not scrub the bathtub.”
“Spray over odd smell (e.g. bins, or rooms), it will disappear.”
“To protect from odd smells when you dry your washing indoors, put one cup into the washing machine.”
History can tell us many interesting things. During the Edo period between 1639 and 1854, Japan had a national isolation policy that stopped contact with most of the wider world (except to China, Korea and Holland), and which ultimately provided an opportunity for a unique Japanese culture to develop and flourish.
Edo scholar, Shoko Taguchi, in her book Edo people and Kabuki explains that Japan’s people-centered high quality culture was created as the result of there being no wars fought for 260 years, both before and during the lockdown: “It is unusual in world history” Taguchi explains.
This period began following a devastating and tragic fire which tore through the capital city Edo. In an attempt to rebuild, motivated wealthy civilians made a huge effort to recover their lifestyle and utilised this long period of peace and freedom to explore their interests and ideas, improving civilian life and enriching the entire community. Throughout this period, the Edo government ruled strictly, but the cultural movement that developed was supervised quite loosely. Interestingly this double standard, or grey zone, greatly helped this new culture movements growth, including the Yoshiwara red district and Kabuki (theatre performance).
In the Yoshiwara district a visitors social status did not apply and instead there was a clear hierarchy among the women working there. At the top of the pyramid were the high class prostitutes, or ‘Oiran’, who were highly trained in academic and artistic fields. One former scholar refers to the red district as having held the role of a cultural salon at the time.
Alongside this, the Kabuki became a popular art form with all generations and genders. It appeared as comical, dramatic, fashionable, poetic, philosophical and more for the ordinary people.
As this new cultural movement grew during this long period of isolation, it added a vital energy to the pre-Edo culture. It must have been an exciting time with many citizens discussing their trendy and fascinating experiences. The Ukiyoe painters and craftsmen busied themselves capturing the moment of popular performance and the beauty of Oiran and writers and musicians developed new plots and melodies.
Exploring freedom of thought and the analysis of traditional culture allowed people to have a variation of understanding of their life. Ultimately it created a form of art that still influences the modern culture it is connected to today.
Blog Image: Ukiyoe woodblock prints use a technique developed during the Edo period.Ukiyoe means “floating world picture”: the floating world is the world we live in temporarily and which keeps changing, like a leaf floating on the surface of the river being pushed away along the stream.
Mr. Yoshimura (78 years old) is a passionate grower. His house and workspace are full of equipment to cultivate seeds and once he starts talking about fungus, you can’t stop him – his knowledge is extensive and fascinating. However, his main passion focuses on the effect fungus has on the soil.
Recently, he started to supply organic fertilisers to local shops selling one bag for 400Yen. One of his special fertilisers is a mix of yeast, natto (fermented soybeans) and sugar. Since the pandemic occurred, yeast was out of stock in local shops so his daughter in Tokyo ordered it online for him and then forwarded it in the mail. He was very excited to be able to mix his special homemade fertiliser recipe again.
His wife, Mrs. Yoshimura, explains: “My husband’s brain is totally occupied by fungus. When he cannot sleep at night he gets up and starts reading a book about fungus. It could be 2am in the morning!”
Mr. Yoshimura’s keen interest in farming has developed after his retirement from engineering. His special fertiliser mixes deliver outstanding products seasonally – massive tasty sweet potatoes, rich flavoured fresh ginger, high quality rice and much more.
Some of the ingredients for meals served during the Dream of Kiwanosato’s programmes are supplied by Mr. Youshimura as well as many other local ‘dream growers’ who all have their own special fertilisers and tricks to grow the most tasty crops.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste commonly used in Japanese cooking. Umami (the fifth taste) that Miso contains will help make your cooking special. It can be used as a hidden spice for a variety of meals as well as for Miso soup and is one of the traditional food items that has supported a healthy diet in Japanese food for centuries.
Someone once said to me that when you make your own Miso you will have a special intimacy with that Miso. When I tasted the Miso I made in February, despite it still being very young, I could taste the Umami, but I’m looking forward to the taste changing as it continues to ferment until December when it will finally be ready.
I always thought Miso making would be very difficult as the recipes seem to require various delicate processes. But the method introduced here is designed to be as easy as possible and keeps its quality better than the ready-made version you can buy in the shops. The recipe is a combination of experienced people’s advice and my own research, and although I have never tried this method before, I think it will work. I will update you with the results in November, but if you cannot not wait until then, please go ahead and have fun!
The best time of making Miso is between January and March. The reason for this is bacteria and temperature. It is easy to work in a less bacterial season and also ideal to ferment slowly at the beginning (during winter), with a faster few months (over summer), before slowing down (during autumn). However it depends on where you are, and if you are considering this cycle of seasons in someway, you can try anytime.
It may be a good idea to cook stocks while you are stuck at home.
Ingredients (makes about 1kg of miso)
Dried soybean 200g | Rice Koji 500g (can be purchased online) | Salt 130g (about 11.5% = a little sweet Miso)
*Simply multiply if you wish to make a larger batch.
You will also need
A large mixing bowl | A big pot (for boiling beans with a lot of water) | A drainer | A container to keep your Miso in for many months | A lid that is smaller than the container (to put inside it to seal) | A weigh (stone or anything similar)
*All cooking tools need to be sterilised before use.
Method(total work time is a few hours but the whole process takes two to three days)
The First Day (Afternoon):
Wash dried soybeans and soak in plenty of water overnight, for at least 12 hours or more (I did 18 hours). Use a large container as the beans will expand to about 3 times the size they were when dried. If you can, change the water a few times during the soaking process.
The Second Day (Morning)
Boil the soaked soybeans for about 5 hours. At first a lot of bubbles will appear, but scoop them out and keep adding a little bit of water while boiling and eventually the bubbles will disappear. After 5 hours, check if the beans are soft enough to crush easily with your finger tips, if not, boil until they are. Once soft enough, remove from the heat and wrap the pot with a thick material or blanket and leave it overnight in the kitchen.
The Third Day (Morning)
Re-heat the beans until they start to boil.
While heating beans, put all of the Koji Kin in a large sterilised container and then mix in the salt a little at a time and mix well.
Drain the beans well and put into a blender or mash with a masher until the texture becomes a thick paste.
When the beans are mashed, add the salted Koji a little at a time while mixing. Do not mix in the Koji if the beans are still very hot, the ideal temperature for mixing is around 20C – 25C but I do not check the temperature accurately when I mix.
Take a handful of miso mix and push into a sterilised container so no air stays in the miso mix. To help set the miso in the container, lift up the container and drop a few times, it is important for the process that no air gaps are left in the miso.
Spread salt over the surface to avoid any mould growth (on my Miso I did not do this step and instead tried a new method – see the next stage). Cover with cling film and then cover with cooking paper. This helps to seal the surface and keep air tight.
Put a weigh on top to seal everything. Additionally, you can put a flat tray on top of your weight onto which you can spread Wasabi which is said will prevent the Miso from growing mould with no need for the salt in the previous step.
Loosely seal the lid of the container for fermentation.
Leave in a dark and cool place in the house for about 10 months to 1 year.
If mould appears, you can remove those parts and still use the miso. Some recipes recommend checking your Miso during its fermentation, but I am not going to do this as opening the seal increases the chance of bacteria getting in.
When I visited one of my Japanese friends, she treated me to her special ‘feet-made’ Udon noodles. All of the kneading was done by my friend with her feet while she was making me tea and by her two young children who also came to help. It was very well wrapped and super clean, just in case you were worrying about hygiene!
The history behind feet-made Udon in Japan comes from the country’s Sanuki area (now the Kagawa prefecture, part of Shikoku) which is famous for its Udon noodles. Kneading the dough was one of the hardest but most important parts of the process for Udon factory workers who began to develop ways of making the process easier by using their feet – a method which has been further developed over centuries.
Fairland Collective – of which I am a member – once introduced the method of feet-made Udon during a series of workshops that were part of a residency in Cornwall. The local community were invited to knead their own Udon with their feet accompanied by a song called ‘The marching for 365 steps’ which was a big hit song in 1968 in Japan.
How to make your own feet-made Udon:
Ingredients (serves 4-5 people)
Plain flour 200g | Strong flour 200g (mix together to make 400g medium strong flour or alternatively use 400g plain flour) | Water 200ml | Salt (preferably sea salt) 2tsp | A large strong plastic bag (or a few smaller ones to divide for kneading)
Mix the water and salt in advance.
Put the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the salted water into the well and mix until it forms a dough.
Put the dough in the bag(s) and express any excess air. Put on the floor and step on it several times until the dough becomes flat (you can also do it with your hands if preferred).
Open the bag and fold the dough twice and repeat the stepping process. Repeat this about 10 times.
Leave the dough for 30 minutes. If you have time you can even leave it overnight (this will create a more chewy textured noodle, which is also tasty).
Stretch the dough out and roll flat until it is 2-3mm. Fold it and dust with flour. Cut into strips around 5mm in width and mix with flour to avoid it being sticky (see image below).
To cook, place the Udon in boiling water for about 5-7 minutes (may be longer depending on how thick you cut it so test before removing). After boiling, rinse with cold water immediately – this makes the noodles nice and chewy.
Drain well and set aside. Serve it hot or cold with soup.