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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on May 30, 2018
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 90] May 30, 2018

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 90]
May 30, 2018
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal food:
Pioneer in Vitaminology: "Mugi (Barley and wheat)"

:: 1. Seasonal food

Here is a Tanka compiled in episode 8 in the second volume of "Wakun
no Shiori (Japanese Dictinary published in 18c)".
"Momijibano Chiruya chiranuni Tanemakite Ugetsu satsukini Karuwa kozokusa"
Interpretation: It is wheat which is seeded when Japanese maple leaves
fall in any moment, and is harvested in April or May.

It is the time of "小満 (Shoman)" which is the eighth period on the
24th divides of the solar year calendar. Shoman was apparently named
from wheat and barley. Wheat and barley are being seeded after rice
was cropped in autumn and Shoman is the time to harvest the rice grown
from those seeds. In the Edo period (17-19c) in Japan, a yield of rice
in each area was indicated with the measurement, "Kokudaka", which also
showed the power of the area's economic leaders. Because of the suitable
climate, rice cultivation was developed in Japanese society. On the
other hand, wheat and barley were already being grown 10,000 years ago
in Mesopotamia and it was an inseparable plant in human history to
progress the rural living for future civilization.

It was barley that was brought into Japan first in the Yayoi period in
the 3rd century, followed by wheat from China via the Korean Peninsula.
There is a scene in "Kojiki (Japan's oldest chronicle compiled in 8c) "
When a God called princess OGETSU was killed by SUSANOO no mikoto,
five grains started growing from her body. One of the plants was barley
(or wheat). It wasn't clearly mentioned weather it was barley or wheat,
however, barley and wheat were distinguished in "Shoku Nihongi (the
second of six classical Japanese history texts, coming directly after
the Nihon Shoki)" which were compiled in roughly the same age of
"Kojiki". They were introduced as famine food along side Soba (buckwheat)
in the book.

Barley was much favoured to be cultivated rather than wheat in the Nara
period (8c), because it was easier to grow and also the crop is stable.
Affected by the late prevalence of the milling method, barley was
popular as it could be cooked as grain. Therefore, barley was chosen
to be cultivated for a long time.

Since people in the ruling class designated rice as a staple diet,
barley and wheat were recognised as subordinate millets among ordinary
people. As a hand mill did not prevail until the Edo period (17-19c)
in farming villages, flour was a luxury item for them. Because of its
glutinous nature, they could make various foods like Udon noodles or
Manju (a bun with Adzuki bean paste filling). It was an ingredient for
the food consumed on the day of ceremonies or festivals for them.

TOKUGAWA Ieyasu regularly consumed rice mixed with barley which was
very unusual among powerful samurai loads. He apparently knew that
barley helped intestinal regulation. In fact barley has 20 times more
fibre than rice on top of plenty of Vitamin B1 which is perfect for
recovery from fatigue. Beriberi used to be a disease among emperors and
nobles. As white rice became people's staple diet instead of brown rice
in the Edo period (17-19c), Beriberi became a disease among ordinary
samurai and townsmen too. However Beriberi went away when people left
Edo and got back to the original diet with millet. This is reason why
Beriberi was called "Edo Syndrome". The fact that Soba (buckwheat),
barley, wheat and adzuki bean work to cure Beriberi was known from their
experience. Barley rice was often served in samurai society especially
in summer when it was likely to happen.

A Japanese naval physician in the Meiji period (19-20c) called TAKAKI
Kanehiro noticed that a great number of ordinary soldiers and prisoners
suffered Beriberi but it was not common among commissioned officers.
He was convinced that Beriberi was caused by their diet. Although it
took a long time to confirm that the lack of Vitamin B1 caused it, the
staple food was changed from rice to bread, as well as the barley rice
being introduced. With his effort, there were much less soldiers with
Beriberi and this is the reason he is called "Baron Barley Rice" or
"Father of Vitamin".

As a result of recent Japanese westernised diet and also the increase
of health-minded people, barley and wheat are often consumed as a
staple food for the meal. They have a long history for the Japanese
diet in fact. Although barley and wheat are distinguished clearly by
the names in English, both are usually called "Mugi" generically in
Japan. Also, not many people can explain the difference between them.
Japanese people are probably not interested in "Mugi" much compared
to rice, are they?!

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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