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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on July 20, 2014
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 28] July 20, 2014

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 28]
July 20, 2014
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Taste:
Surprising connection with "Tanabata" : Japanese vermicelli,
2. News from JTCO: New articles Released!

:: 1. Seasonal Taste

Surprising connection with "Tanabata" : Japanese vermicelli, "Somen"

"Somen" is a thin noodle made from wheat, which is one of the
Japanese major cuisine in summer. Served in ice water with chilled
dipping soup, the cold smooth texture of "Somen" stimulates our
appetite even in hot summer. "Somen" is known as a Japanese staple
food in summer, however, it is said that its origin was a Chinese
sweets called "Sakubei"(索餅).

The Chinese character for "Sakubei"(索餅) means twisted(索) wheat
products(餅). "Sakubei"(索餅) was a fried cake made from flour and
sticky rice. Two thin strips of dough were twisted together like a
rope, and then deep-fried. "Sakubei"(索餅) may have been a twisted
donut or a cruller in those days.

Ancient Chinese people believed eating "Sakubei" on July 7th would
prevent them from contracting a disease like a malaria fever that
was afraid as "ague". This belief influenced Japanese people in Heian
period(8th-12th century) and the custom of eating "Sakubei" was
adopted in the event "Kikoden"(乞巧奠), which was conducted on July
7th known as the day of "Tanabata" festival.

In Japan, "Muginawa" was what was called "Sakubei" in China, made
from rice flour and wheat flour. Two long strips of dough were
twisted together and dried in the sun. Ancient Japanese people ate
boiled or steamed "Muginawa" with dipping sauce.

A literature written in the Song period (1000-1300) in China shows a
manufacturing method of noodle called "Somen". According to the
literature, oil was used for stretching dough, which is now used in
the Japanese manufacturing method. The hand-pulling method of "Somen"
is said to have been introduced in the period of the northern and
southern dynasties in Japan (1336-1392), the Yuan dynasty in China.
Three different kanji for "Somen", "索餅","索麺","素麺" were found in
the literature of Japanese northern and southern dynasties. But later,
"素麺" became commonly used to indicate "Somen".

The current way of eating "Somen" was formed in Muromachi period (14th
-16th century). In those days, people eat hot "Somen" that was
steamed boiled noodles, which doesn't seem like a cold summer food
we have now.
However, the connection between "Somen" and "Tanabata"(Star Festival)
was never changed since ancient time. We can see it in the writing of
Muromachi period saying, "Somen served on a mulberry leaf is a special
quaint arrangement for "Tanabata".

Many years later, in Edo period(17th-19th century), women offered
"Somen" to gods likening it as thread and made wishes for improving
their sewing skills on Tanabata festival day. Here the event of
making a wish for improving artistic skill and "Somen" eaten on
Tanabata festival were connected.

Now "Somen" has a wide variety of recipes. The commonest recipe, cold
"Somen" with chilled soup sounds good. Or new recipes also would be nice!
Do you have any special summer cuisine in your country ?

Translation: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Naoko Yamashita

:: 2. News from JTCO

New articles released!

The Miniature of Lacquered Deer Leather: Koshu-Inden
"The Chronicles of Japan", the second oldest book of Japanese
history, says that artifacts made with deer skin were brought to
Japan around the end of the 5th century by leather craftsmen from
Goryeo, one of the ancient Three Kingdoms of Korea. Today it is the
oldest leather craft in Japan. It was not until the middle of the Edo
period that Inden came to be made in its modern way by drawing
designs on deer leather using lacquer.

Read the full article:

Translation: Marina Izumi, reviewed by Catherine Newman

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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