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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on June 26, 2020
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 115] June 26, 2020

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 115]
June 26, 2020
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal life:
Indispensable items in midsummer : Icehouse and Icew

:: 1. Seasonal life

Here is a Haiku from the "June" category in "The Seventh Diary" written
in 1815 by KOBAYASHI Issa who was one of the most well-known Haiku poets
in Japan.
"Hachimonde Kanaiga iwau Korikana"
Interpretation: The shaved ice which only cost 96 yen ($0.89) made all
my family members overjoyed.

Even though the rainy season is not yet over in Japan, there are still
sunny days occasionally. The temperature on those days gets high towards
late June just like summer days. Japanese people start feeling like
having cold food such as summery noodles or icy desserts. On June 1 on
the lunar calendar (July 21 this year on the solar calendar), it is
"Kori no Tsuitachi (The first day of the ice)". It was the day that
people took out the snow as well as ice, which had been stored since
winter, from their icehouse to present to the emperor and nobles.

The icehouse has a long history. There is a record of cuneiform writing
on a clay plate excavated which was written in 1780 BC. It indicates
that an icehouse was already being used in an ancient city called Terqa.
Even before 400 BC in Persia, the icehouse was advanced enough to keep
the ice in summer deserts. That was the dome roof icehouse called
Yakhchal which still exists and is usable today.

There is an actual wooden tablet with the details of this icehouse
found from an archaeological site. It shows not only the size of the
icehouse, the size of the ice but also the workers and transporter's
wages. In the "Nihon Shoki" dated from the 7th century, family names
containing Japanese Kanji character of "氷 (ice)" such as "氷連 (Muraji)"
and "氷室 (Himuro)" appear. It is thought that those family names were
used among the family lineage that was in charge of an icehouse. It is
surprising that making ice was an official occupation and had existed
until its abolition in the Meiji era just before the 20th century.

There are still shrines called "Himuro (ice house)" which worship the
ice god, and also towns or villages called "Himuro" in various places
in Japan. They are all remnants of icehouses from the olden days.
Obviously transporting ice was extremely difficult so it was a really
valuable item at that time. However, icehouses commonly existed all
over Japan and ice could be bought in markets in Heijo-kyo (capital
city in the Nara era in 8c). It is believed that ice was not only for
nobles but it was regularly available for common people too.

One of the typical Japanese summer foods is shaved ice. If you live
in a hot country, you may have a similar thing. Japanese shaved ice is
not like juice style slush, but a shaved ice of frozen pure water with
syrup on top. It was already a popular dessert in the Heian era (8c)
and Sei Shonagon (a renowned female essayist) described a shaved ice
with syrup in a new metal bowl as one of "The Classy Things" from a
list of 42 in "The Pillow Book". Japanese people use a glass bowl for
shaved ice nowadays because it makes the appearance even cooler but
as a matter of fact, a metal bowl can transfer the coolness to hands
better. We can easily imagine how people living in the olden days must
have been enjoying the cool feeling fully by holding the very cold
metal bowl.

Here is a Haiku written by KOBAYASHI Issa who was a well known Haiku
poet in 18c.
"Tsutsuga naku Kori osamete Guzune kana"
Icehouses were built in the Capital Edo city in the Edo period (17c)
and common people in Edo were enjoying ice easily according to the
Haiku in the opening paragraph. In contrast, farmers in local areas
were regularly called to transport tributes to the emperor and nobles.
This Issa's Haiku captures the well feeling of a relaxed farmer lying
in after the tiring duty of carrying a heavy ice.

Ice has been an indispensable item to cool us down since ancient times.
Reasonably priced shaved ice being sold by stalls in summer festivals,
luxury shaved ice made of natural water with toppings such as matcha
(powdered green tea), sweet adzuki beans and condensed milk, and so
on, there are variety of shaved ice you can have anywhere in summer
in Japan. If you have a chance to go to Japan, please give it a try
and enjoy Japanese shaved ice!

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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