Cultivated Days | Essays
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A Singular Pursuit

A man’s passion for purity

Kudzu is a uniquely Japanese ingredient, a highly refined starch used in traditional dishes. Any shortcuts taken in its production will compromise its prized nodogoshi, the silky quality in the mouth and glide down the throat. Kyusuke Takaki uses traditional methods to provide his customers with 100% pure pearly white honkudzu made from domestically wildcrafted roots. Though it can be a lonely pursuit, he remains singularly dedicated.

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The Shoyuya

A young soy brewer earns his title

Yoshinori Joh came of age in Itoshima on Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu. It’s where he was born, and where his father ran the family business making soy. Or so he had always thought. They called themselves shoyuya, soymakers, but in his mid teens Joh was shocked to learn that his father didn’t actually make soy. As he grew older and closer to assuming control of the business, he knew he couldn’t operate under the same pretense. To work as a shoyuya, he would have to make his own soy.

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Suizenji

A delicacy, a decree, and the changing times

In a country full of delicacies, suizenji nori is the most singular one I’ve encountered. The freshwater blue-green algae is a rare plant rendered a most rarified food. Embraced by the slow food movement and recognized by Japan as a national treasure, suizenji nori products are prized. But today’s harvests are a fraction of what they once were and Atsushi Endo faces mounting challenges to preserve both the nori itself and the work that has defined his family for centuries.

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Cha-kaiseki

Ordinary fare, extraordinary care

Kazuko Gotou describes tea ceremony as intelligent play. For all of its formality and prescription, it must be pleasurable. With devout consideration of the season, the mood, and the guest’s experience, a host seeks to dazzle not through embellishment and ornamentation but through an inspired sense of harmony and satisfaction.

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How to Eat an Octopus

An intelligent meal

When it comes to the molluscan cephalopod known as the octopus there are two ongoing conversations. One concerns the intelligence of the invertebrate originating from 130 million neurons residing in its brain and twice that many spread across eight partially autonomous tentacles. The other conversation is focused on how to properly cook one.

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Alkaline King

Preserving the art of pickling plums

When Kuniko moved from her former homestead to a new house on the other side of the same hill, she took her ume trees with her. Two would be sufficient. She would make just enough pickled plums for her husband and herself to enjoy. That was until someone planted 10 more trees.

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The Taste of the Cut

How the best blades are born

Kireaji, literally translates to sharpness but expresses the taste of the cut. Minimizing pressure is fundamental to preserving the integrity, aesthetics, and flavor of any ingredient, and Japan, with a long established history of sword making, naturally improved upon forging techniques and knife designs to accomplish just that.

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The Return

Reintroducing sake to Japan

Komatsu realized that the life of a salary man was a poor fit. He envisioned a path, one in which he held the reins. He remembered his family’s dying sake brewery. “If you want to be a small business owner,” he told himself, “there’s one waiting for you back home.”

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Below the Surface

The freediving traditions of Ama

The legend of ama tells of a small group of women whose life’s work was diving for pearl-bearing oysters while holding their breath. But for nearly 2,000 years, both men and women have been breath-hold diving with minimal equipment in the waters that surround Japan.

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Silver Sushi

Setting the stage

Gin-chan was my introduction to authentic sushi and continues to be the benchmark against which I compare other experiences. He recently allowed me to tag along for a glimpse of what happens in the many hours before 6 to 8 customers are seated at his long cypress counter and the performance begins.

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Where Taste is Concerned

Tofu reimagined

Kawashima is a spritely now 65 years old with buzzed gray hair and a charming smile. As a young man with new ideas and grand plans, he took over his father’s business and overhauled the process of tofu-making. “I came up with my own way of doing things from the start,”he said with characteristic self-assurance.

From the heart of Japan
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