The Making of Inaka Miso!

11May 2015 Kai

Have you ever woken up thinking, “I’m going to make some miso today…”?  Of course not, and do you know why…? Because in Japan, you can buy miso anywhere, in any variety, and for a very reasonable cost! However, there is a certain sense of great accomplishment if you can make your very own, hand-made, year supply of miso!

I took a journey to the country side of Minami Shimabara to learn from a 79-year-old Japanese Obachan (aunt). Together, we went through this long, yet suprisingly easy process of making miso and I would like to share my experience with you… From barley and soy beans to that delicious salty Japanese condiment that has won the world over, here we go:


Day One


First, we woke up at about 5:30am to start boiling the soy beans (大豆daizu). Yes, 5:30 in the morning! I do not make a habit of waking up that early, especially for boiling beans, but I made an exception for Obachan (to be honest, she had the mouth of a sailor and could probably beat me up, so I didn’t want to make her angry).



The daizu were soaked in water over night until they swell almost double in size! In the morning, we started boiling them.  It took roughly 3 hours and then simmered for another hour until soft. In the end, they should be able to be smooshed easily between two fingers (just two… 3 would be cheating and will result in less tasty miso… maybe; I didn’t argue).


While the daizu were in their hot water bath (I was a little jealous), it was time to prepare the barely for fermentation.  For those who don’t know, barely is simply called mugi (麦) in Japanese. You often see it mixed in rice to make mugi-gohan (麦ごはん) or roasted and used for barley tea (麦茶mugi-cha). I am unsure whether the barley we used was pearl or hulled, but by its hardness, I think it was hulled. (I am barely a barley expert so if I am incorrect, pardon me.)



First, we soaked the mugi in tap water for about two hours. Then, we drained it and put it into pans called mushiki (蒸し器). They have small holes in the bottom to allow steam to pass through. The mushiki were lined with mushi-nuno (蒸し布), similar to cheese cloth. Obachan told me that using the cloth made it easier to dump out the mugi after it steamed. However, she forgot (she told me I forgot, but it was really her) to put cloth in one of the mushiki… and I didn’t really notice any difference when dumping out the mugi. Actually, with the cloth, it was oddly enough less easy. I did not tell her this.



All three pots were stacked onto a firewood stove (薪釜maki-gama) and  began steamming. Obachan said that when steam rose from the top pot, the bottom pot was finished. I was not sure if this was an exact science, so I asked her about how long it would take. Her answer was, “It depends on how well you keep the fire burning.”  Ok…..



Here’s the thing… she was right… You must keep the fire raging, otherwise steam will NOT come out of the top mushiki! For my fire-keeping skills, it took roughly 35-40 minutes… After we removed the bottom pan, the middle and top pots took an additional 10 minutes each. That was decided by Obachan intuition.



When the mugi was finished steaming, we dumped it into big pans and stirred it with shamoji (しゃもじ), a wooden spoon usually used to scoop cooked rice. Ok, Ok.. I used the shamojiObachan used her hands! I tried my hands… but it was like really HOT! When the mugi was cooled enough to touch without causing pain (about 35-40°C), we added the koji-culture (麹菌kouji-kin). If you add the culture when it is still hot, the bacteria will die. You must mix it very well using your hands attempting to coat each and every grain!



In order for the bacteria do it’s magic, we prepared the mugi to rest. And when I say rest, I mean a complete futon set!  First, we set up modern day beer crates as a low table in a small work shed. On top of the crates, we put down an electric carpet set on high heat.



Then we lined 2,000-year-old wood boxes* called koji-buta (麹蓋) with fusuma-gami (ふすま紙), paper used in making Japanese sliding doors. We spread the mugi inside the boxes and put them on top of the beer crates creating a good yin-yang balance. We covered the mugi with fusuma-gami and started layering blankets.. and electric heating blankets… then a silver insulation mat… then a green tarp…. and finally one last silver insulation mat. Once the mugi were all snuggled into bed, we turned on the heating blankets and left them in peace.


*The boxes were not really 2,000 years old… they looked very old… However, while we were putting the mugi in them, Obachan told me that the man who made them had died recently. The immediate word out of my mouth was SUGOI!…  probably not the correct term for the situation, but I didn’t really know what to say…



Back to the daizu… they were easily squashed between two fingers and ready to be pulverized. Little by little, we poured them into a large food processor and flipped the switch. By the looks of the food processor, it had been in the family for generations. I was a little worried about the rust around the edges, but Obachan said it added flavor. We did not grind the daizu into a perfect paste. It was a paste with a rich texture of whole, half and fine-chopped daizu. Technically, we could have used our hands, but that would have taken forever. Then we put the mash into supermarket plastic bags… again I was worried about this… but again, I was told, “added flavor!”



We put all the bags of daizu in the refrigerator, washed all the pans, bowls, and utinsils used and that was the end of day one! Obachan and I celebrated with a 6-pack of beer. She had four and I had two.


Day Two


We started a little later today (11am)… a little extra sleep for me and a little extra time for the mugi to ferment. Obachan woke up around 5am just to show off, I’m sure.

We uncovered the mugi and my first reaction was, “I’m going to eat this?! Gross!” My next reaction was, “Wow, it smells like beer…!”  And Obachan‘s reaction was, “Would you like a beer?” I said it was a little too early for beer and she said, “why?” I told her I didn’t know.. and I enjoyed a mid-moring beer while she washed out the giant mixing bowl.



Ok, back to the mugi and mold! The mugi grains were cocooned in a white mold called koji (麹). This is what gives miso its classic umami (旨味) taste. Umami is a Japanese term that is now used all over the world and roughly means “rich flavor.” Koji plays a very important role in Japanese cuisine.. for more information, do a google search. I asked Obachan about the health benefits of koji and miso. Her response, “I have eaten it everyday and I am not dead.” Fair answer.



At last, we enter the final stage of this process… Mixing! In a large metal pan, we put 10 heaping isshou-masu (一升枡) fulls of the mugi-koji. A masu ( 枡) is a wooden box traditionally used to measure rice or from which to drink Japanese sake (日本酒nihon-shu). Isshou (一升) refers to its size. There are 6 sizes of masu and isshou is the largest holding about 1.8 liters. Drinking Japanese sake from an isshou-masu is not recommended.  With our hands, we broke up all clumps of mugi into individual grains. My hands smelled like beer for the rest of the day.




To the 10 masu of koji, we added one heaping masu of salt. Adding salt keeps the mixture from turning into alcohol. We used regular sea salt, a brand that can be found at any supermarket in Japan. By hand, we mixed the mugi-koji and salt until the salt was evenly dispersed. We then dumped in one plastic bag of daizu mash and started hand churning. This was not easy. In fact, it was quite a workout! When Obachan makes miso alone, she mixes only 5 masu at a time. I beat her at sometime! Yes! Finally I felt worthy (except I had muscle pain in my arms, neck, back, and chest for a few days)!



After the mugi-koji and daizu were completely and perfectly incorporated into each other, we scooped the mixture into a big bucket (樽taru) lined with a large, clear plastic bag. Each time we put in a layer, we pressed it down to get rid of air pockets.



When the taru was full, we folded the plastic bag over the top of the miso and set a wooden lid (押し蓋oshi-buta) on top. We put some very heavy weights (重石omoshi) on it that help keep the fermentation process balance throughout the taru. One was a nice white one.. and the other looked like it had been some device from a world war. I had reservations about touching it, but Obachan told me to hurry up. Without thinking, I picked up the 20kg hunk of metal and placed it on top.



That was the end of the two-day process. Obachan told me the miso would be ready in about 10 days. We cleaned all the pans and utensils, said Otsukaresama (a term meaning “good work today”) and she went inside to take a nap. Despite waking up at about 10:30am, I also took a nap.


Koyo High School Sushi Contest in Omura!

31Oct 2014 Kai

  On Thursday, October 30, at Koyo High School, the annual Sushi Contest was held. Though it is only the fourth time for this event, it has accumulated great reputation within the Japan culinary world. Renowned chefs from various areas of Japan come to judge the students’ sushi-making ability. There are ten groups of 3 or 4 young cooks from Koyo High School’s second-grade class that compete for the ultimate status of itamae (a term used for a sushi master).




*It takes many years of learning and apprenticeship to become a true itamae.



  In the first round, each group creates a morizushi for 5 people. A morizushi is simply a platter of sushi for any given amount of people. The young chefs have only 30 minutes to create a highly elaborate display of different styles of sushi. These works of art are comprised of nigirizushi (raw fish on top of a small elongated ball of rice), saikumaki (specially designed rolled sushi), makizushi (rolled sushi), gari (pickled ginger), and baran (leaves cut into decorations, baran kazari-giri). After the alotted time, the groups bring their sushi-oke (the dish in which the sushi is served) to the front and a group of judges rank each creation on execution and final appearance.





  During the second round, each group opens for business as a demise (food stand). The groups have prepared all the necessities to serve exceptional sushi: shari (vinegared rice), neta (fish or other toppings), namida (wasabi) and yakumi (other sushi condiments such as chopped ginger, green onions, and grated daikon). To receive high marks during the evaluation, they must show their ablity in handling the ingredients, knife and other utensil skills, kitchen agility, customer service and, of course, taste.





  In the end, all teams performed outstandingly… and I was extremely full!




A Knowledge-Sharing Classroom

19Sep 2014 Kai


A New Adventure


A classroom conducted in the English language for the purpose of learning about our world, cultures and ideas of life!


This classroom is a place for world citizens to learn together using English as the common language. Every month there will be a new topic. Through activities and discussion, it is our goal to build understanding of these topics from a global perspective.


Children’s classes focus on inspiring young minds by learning basic English and working together in doing various activities.


Everyone is welcome!


Upcoming Class Dates:

・ Sunday, September 28

・ Sunday, October 26

・ Sunday, November 23

Omura City Community Center (Location changes; please ask when registering)

Cost: Free

Please call to register for each session.


10:00~10:45        Elementary grade 1 – 3  15 Students

11:00~11:50        Elementary grade 4 – 6  15 Students

13:00~15:00        16 and Up                  20 Participants

15:30~16:30        Junior/Senior high     15 Students

※ Senior high students can choose which class depending on their level of English.


Please call to register:

大村未来づくり株式会社 (Omura MiraiZukuri KabushikiGaisha)

International Relations Support Desk in Omura City Hall

〒856-8686 Omura-shi Kushima 1-25

Phone:0957-53-4111 ext. 215 FAX:0957-54-0300

International culture day at the Nagasaki university by NUFSA, Nagasaki university foreign students association

30Nov 2012 yombodan

On November 23d 2012, in the Bunkyo campus, the main campus of Nagasaki university, was held the Nagasaki university festival, 23 and 24th, at the same day of friday 23, The NUFSA organized his 10th International culture day.

At this evet event many people, japanese, nagasaki citizen and foreign people living in Nagasaki, gathered to taste the special menu offered by international students: Korean food, Indonesian menu, Bangladesh menu, Tacos taste from Mexican master with El latin american students. Kenyan donut and Benin-Nigerian Gombo menu.

People could breath to the rythm of Japanese traditional dance, Chinese mask dance performance, Korean student dance withGangnam style, Indonesian and Bangladesh song, the Belly dancers , Street dance performance and african dance.

Tthanks to all could attend to this event and great acknowledgement to the Dejima network for the promotion of this culture day, where we could meet the nice and warm Yamaguchi san.

Next time never miss the NUFSA activities and programmes, you will have great opportunity to meet various peole and culture while enjoying your stay in Nagasaki.

Just feel Good

Chinese mask performance

Japanese traditional dance performed by international students of NU

street dance performance

Okunchi Festival in Naru

19Nov 2012 jagwar.jim

Naru is a tiny island off the coast of Japan which has a festival where the local men throw mochi from boats to the women and children of the village. Mochi is a special kind of food from Japan. Its festival happens every year in October, and this year I was lucky enough to be able to follow the men all day covering the event.


Flags decorate the boats for the festival



Naru is located amoungst a cluster of islands off the coast of Nagasaki called Goto. It has a low population, and I get the impression the town on the island is a fishing town. There are few shops, but Naru has a great karaoke bar, and a great Okunchi festival.


The Festival

The festival starts at a shrine near one of the ports, and the men, dressed in white traditional clothing carry a miniature shrine from the main building of a shrine, to a boat waiting for them at the port, chanting as they go. They load the shrine and drums onto the boat, and then they, along with a bunch of other boats sail to a cave about 25 minutes away, to pray and throw mochi. Sometimes they make the mochi with coins inside, to increase the offering to the God. From what I understood, the belief is that the God resides in the cave, and the men go to pray and offer the mochi to it, but my Japanese can be a bit wobbly when talking to older men from an island in Japan. They then sail to the main port, where the women and children (and some men) are waiting for them, and they proceed to throw bags of mochi at the crowd. Once this is complete, they unload the boat, and carry the miniature shrine around the town, stopping at local shops where they are offered beer, sake, and snacks! The local shopkeepers also have a chance to pray to the shrine. The shrine is returned to the main shrine at the end of the festival.

Below are the photos from the festival, along with captions to explain what is happening. I had a great day, I hope you enjoy the photos and have found this informative! Please, leave a comment below!


The shrine where the festival started and finished


A quick cigarette before the hard work begins


Final preparations for the shrine



The men walk carrying the shrine. Everyone is in close quarters



The shrine is carried on the men’s shoulders


Everyone arrives at the boat, ready to load it


Ready to load the shrine onto the boat


The men load the boat


Pushing the shrine up onto the boat


Waiting for the boat to sail, preparations complete


          Setting sail


Boats go in convoy to the cave


The boats line up in front of the cave before the men pray to the God.


Heading to the main port of Naru to throw Mochi at the women


          A boy prepares the mochi


The mochi is ready. Waiting to arrive at the port.


Children try to get as much mochi as they can from the boat


Crowds of people receive mochi from the men on the boats


When all the mochi is gone, the men unload the boat.


Beer, sake, snacks are offered to all the men of the festival.


After a quick beer, the men prepare to take the shrine around the town


Setting off around town


Making their way to the first shop


Taking a quick rest at one of the shops in town.


More beer.


And the men are about to go again


At each shop the shrine stops at, the men lift the heavy shrine many times over. It looked dangerous.


The leader waits in front of the shrine


The shrine being carried through the streets


Men of the festival.


Occasionally some of the men are forced to down some beers while the others cheer them on!


Getting tired…


Pushing the shrine


Another rest.


A taiko drummer keeps all the chants in time


Enjoying more beer!


 By PAUL COATES PHOTO ( www.PaulCoatesPhoto.com/blog )