A natural miso and soy factory that is always full of beans

by Nancy Singleton Hachisu posted on The Japan Times on April 29, 2014
Soy boy: Kazuhiko Morita stirs a giant vat of moromi at Yamaki Jozo, a plant in Saitama that produces soy sauce, tofu, miso and more using natural methods. | KENJI MIURA

Although rice is certainly the king of Japanese food, soybeans are the queen. Small makers of miso, soy sauce and tofu dot the landscape of Japan, but blink once and you will notice that the local shops are closing up as supermarket culture takes over daily life.

Up in the hills above our northern Saitama town lies Yamaki Jozo, an organic miso/soy sauce/tofu/natto/pickle company surrounded by prolific vegetable fields and thoughtfully designed Japanese gardens. It is the ultimate wabi-sabi experience. But it is not just for the elegance of this so-called “soy sauce plant” that I take all visitors there (foreign and Japanese alike). What Yamaki offers is myriad, and only depends on time and the emptiness of your stomach.

When we have advance notice, I book seats at its weekend tofu restaurant, Shisuian. The kaiseki multi-course lunch is a steal at ¥3,024, and the bentō (boxed lunches) only ¥1,543. Otherwise we just hop in the car willy-nilly and cruise up the winding road to the Kamikawa-machi hills, about 15 minutes from our farmhouse. After sampling the various tofus (silk, cotton, yuzu, sesame, yuba), misos (inaka, brown rice, barley, soy bean) and pickles (too many to list!), we climb the stairs from the retail shop and peer through the glass at the monstrous cedar barrels of soy sauce left to ferment over the course of two years. If we are lucky, product-planning manager Kazuhiko Morita will be around to dole out a taste of the deeply primal soy-sauce mash (moromi). According to Morita, it’s not for sale, since “it would be like selling our soul.”

Upstairs is where Yamaki holds workshops and demonstrations in making miso and tofu and pressing soy sauce, as well as tastings. (I occasionally take my little English-immersion preschool students there for a tour, conveniently conducted in English.)

Yamaki Jozo is all about transparency, and the current plant was built with the visitors who would cross through its halls, all wanting to see exactly how the soy sauce, miso and tofu are produced, firmly in mind. But more than that, Yamaki built the plant thinking of the restful feeling we would get as we wind our way along the path leading toward the whitewashed buildings, or when we turn a corner and come across ikebana moments upstairs. Here is Japan at its best: delicious wares, responsibly grown organic ingredients and a pristine setting.

I sometimes sneak away for a ¥957 curry lunch or udon set prepared by the excellent cooks who tend the Yamaki shop (and I’m not usually a fan of curry or udon). There are three veteran ladies who are in charge of the shop, and I often ask for their sage advice in pickling or using kōji (mold spores). They are the smiling (and knowledgeable) faces of the shop.

And I never leave empty handed. Yamaki products are my favorite presents to take when I go overseas; the packaging has that elegant aesthetic sense one often associates with Japan (but is sometimes hard to find), and what is inside is absolutely top quality.

Although Yamaki is several generations old, it was the current president, Tomio Kitani, who, inspired by veteran natural farmer Kazuo Suka, committed to using 100 percent organic soybeans about 40 years ago. Historically the miso and soy sauce fermenting was done in Honjo, a neighboring city; and the tofu-making operation was located in Kamiizumi-mura, the neighboring mountain village that was recently merged with our town, Kamikawa-machi. Tofu (and soy sauce) rely on the best water available, so being near the mountains from which the clear spring water is trucked was essential. Yamaki built the current plant on the site of the tofu operation in 2002 and moved all of the soybean-related activities up to the Kamiizumi-mura hills.

Kitani views organic farming as normal — the natural way to grow food. Consequently, he feels an innate responsibility to make traditional Japanese products the way they have been made for generations and to shun modern shortcuts. And that sense of history is exactly why Kitani is aligned with the venerable House of Shijo in support of the ancient food traditions of Japan. Tsukasake Shijo, the 41st-generation Shijo head of this very old Kyoto family, comes out to Yamaki Jozo twice a year for the ceremonial rice planting and harvesting, and invites Kitani each year for an audience with the Emperor to present him with soy sauce.

The vast majority of Japanese people consume soy sauce produced from defatted soy grits rather than whole soybeans and do not even know the difference. Kitani puts the current food culture into perspective with these apt words: “It has taken only 70 years to destroy a 1,000-year-old food tradition.”

Put like that, people might want to think twice before reaching for mass-produced soy sauce over artisanal, family-made soy sauce — especially now that washoku (Japanese cuisine) has been designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by Unesco. Perhaps we should actually live up to the honor.


Original Article: The Japan Times

The Beauty Benefits of Pineapple

Last Updated: Mar 12, 2014 | By LaMont Jones, Jr.


Pineapple’s nutrients promote healthy skin and nails. Photo Credit Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/ Getty Images

With its distinctive prickly skin, sprouty green leaves and sweet yellow flesh, the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality as well as a tasty treat. Like many fruits and vegetables, it can be just as nourishing on the body as in the body. Eating mineral-rich pineapple pulp, drinking the juice, and applying both to the body have multiple beauty benefits.

Clearer Complexion

The high vitamin C and bromelain content of pineapple juice make it an effective acne treatment. Bromelain is an enzyme that softens skin and has been used for hundreds of years in South and Central America to fight inflammation and swelling. Drinking pineapple juice helps the body synthesize collagen, which helps skin stay firm and flexible, while vitamin C and amino acids aid in cell and tissue repair. For a double dose of skin nourishment, cut a pineapple in half and refrigerate one half. Scoop the fruit out of the other half, juice it, drink the juice and gently rub the inside of the pineapple skin on your face, avoiding the eye area. After a few minutes, rinse your face thoroughly with tepid water. Repeat two or three days later with the other pineapple half.

Body and Feet Benefits

The same nutrients that make pineapple good for the face also make it beneficial to the rest of your skin. For a gently exfoliating body polish, peel a fresh pineapple and cut the flesh into four wedges. As you shower, rub the wedges all over your body, followed by a cleansing soap and a thorough rinse. A pineapple foot treatment can help slough away flaky and calloused skin, leaving feet smoother and brighter. Start with one-half cup of chopped pineapple, then chop and mix in one-half peeled lemon, one-half unpeeled apple, one-quarter peeled grapefruit, one teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of anise extract. Rub the mixture all over your feet, giving extra attention to heels, as the skin there tends to harden easily. Wrap your feet in plastic or tie plastic bags over them. After 20 or 30 minutes, remove and rinse. The salt and fruit enzymes help exfoliate and soften skin while the anise — a licorice extract — soothes, fights swelling and contains natural healing agents.

Healthy Nails

Brittle and dry nails may signal a vitamin A deficiency, while cracked and split nails may suggest your body’s deficiency in B vitamins. Pineapple fruit and juice are good sources of both, another reason to consume them and apply them topically. Hands dry out easily because they are used so much, making nail cuticles more prone to dehydration. Dry cuticles cause unsightly nail beds that are also more susceptible to cracking and infection-causing bacteria and fungi. A natural softening treatment for your cuticles is a blend of two tablespoons of pineapple juice and an egg yolk, which counters the drying effect of the enzyme bromelain in pineapple. Apply the mixture to your cuticles and allow it to sit for about five minutes. Use a cotton swab to push your softened cuticles back to their nail beds, then rinse your fingers off with warm water and follow with hand cream. This treatment is just as beneficial to toenails as fingernails.

Tips and Cautions

Generally, fruits and vegetables that nourish skin also indirectly promote nail and hair health, and pineapple is no exception. When using pineapple in a mask or other face product, avoid eye contact because irritation can occur. Pregnant women with gestational diabetes should restrict their intake of pineapple and its juice. Drinking juice from an unripened pineapple can cause diarrhea. Rather than commercial pineapple juice, choose freshly extracted juice because it retains more of the fruit’s nutrients, and heat used in commercial processing can destroy the bromelain. For more of pineapple’s valuable fiber content, eat the fruit rather than just drinking the juice.

Original Article: LIVESTRONG.COM