Echigo-Miso

越後味噌

Echigo-Miso-jyozou

Reviendrai is an exclusive agency of Echigo-Miso-Jyozou. Established in 1771, Echigo-Miso-Jyozou is the only miso ferment house in the central district of Niigata prefecture. Echigo is an ancient name for Niigata prefecture.  “Jyozou” means fermentation. Aiming for a fusion of the agriculture and the traditional fermentation technique in Japan, they collaborate with various “artisans” including farmers and develop new products. In addition, they set up various events regularly (Miso making, Koji grooming, Soy sauce paddling etc.) to hand on the wonder of Japanese fermentation culture to as many people as possible.

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What all the employees here are proud of above all are wooden buckets with history over 100 years which were originally used for sake fermentation, then Shôyu and Miso.

The largest bucket allows them to make about 5 tons of Miso. An tree of 200-300 years old is required to make a bucket of this size. Today, it is difficult to find not only the wood but also craftsmen. It takes decades of training to become a craftsman who can make buckets with such solidarity.

Good bacteria live comfortably in the world of 1/1000mm of these buckets. These bacteria themselves are as important as wooden buckets.

Sodé huré-au mo,,,

Although I live in Tokyo, I had a chance to stay in Tsubame city for three weeks to take driver’s license. In Japan, there is a unique system called “Menkyo-Gassyuku”. “Menkyo” means driver’s license and “Gassyuku” means a training camp. In this system, everybody stays in a hotel /hostel to take lessons almost every day. This is the best way to get the license in a limited time, especially not-young persons like me. The school takes good care of pupils until they get the license. As I stayed there much longer than others (because of my incompetence), I could visit quite charming tourist sites:

– Shinto shrine called “Yahiko”
– museum that exhibits calligraphy of Ryôkan, a monk of Zen Buddhism (1758-1831)
– Echigo-Miso-jôzô

The CEO of Echigo-Miso-jyozou showed me around the ferment house explaining its history. That gave me a strong impression and at the end of the visit, I bought a few products, including the “Sodé-huri Miso”.
“Sodé huré-au mo ta-shô no en ,,,”
Thus I touched the sleeves of Sodé-huri Miso. It was the beginning of my new career: a Miso- saleswoman.

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Yahiko shrine
Yahiko shrine

Ryôkan

Japanese people like to choose three magnificent things. For example,

– Three highest mountains: Fuji, Kita, Hodaka
– Three longest rivers: Shinano, Tone, Ishikari
– Three biggest lakes: Biwa, Kasumiga-ura, Saroma
– Three deepest lakes: Tazawa, Sikotsu, Towada

Mt.Fuji
Mt.Fuji
Hanabusa Itchô "Drunken Ikkyu" owned by itabashi art museum
Hanabusa Itchô “Drunken Ikkyu” owned by itabashi art museum

Ryôkan is a monk of Zen Buddhism during the Edo period (1758-1831). He is considered as one of the three most popular monks, who were all very erudite, but always stood against power:

– Ikkyu (1394-1481) who is known for his attic wit
– Takuwan(1573-1646) who is considered as an inventor of pickles called Takuwan
– Ryôkan.

Unlike height or length, there are no objective standards regarding beauty or popularity. So I have to confess that the above three monks are chosen based on my preference (I think the founders of sects such as Kukai (774-835), Honen (1133-1212), Shinran (1173-1263) are too great to attract the sympathy of the common people).

 

Ryôkan was born in Izumosaki (also located in Niigata) as the eldest son of the richest family in the region. Yet he became bonze at the age of 18 and went to Tamashima (located in Okayama). After severe apprenticeship for 12 years, he obtained Inka, a certificate to become a monk of high rank. Yet he did not stay there. It is said that he wandered all over Japan until the age of 48 when he returned to his homeland and lived in a humble hut called “Go-gou an” in Tsubame.

ryokannsama
Go-gou an
Go-gou an

– “Go” means five
– “Gou” is the unit to count the amount of rice.
– “An” means the cabin or hut

“Go-gou an” was built for another bonze who was given five-gou rice every day by villagers.

But Ryôkan did not receive this kind of regular contribution. He was always a mendicant priest. When he won nothing, he ate nothing. When he gained too much, he gave the excess to the poor. Although he possessed nothing, he was rich. 

He spent his time doing zazen (silent mediation), waka (Japanese poem), shodo (calligraphy) and temari (a game of bouncing a Japanese ball). Ryôkan was very good at “temari” playing and did it with neighborhood children until sunset.

temari
temari