Off-the-Eaten Path Food Experience in Japan. "Meet the People and Places behind your Plates! "

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Visit A Village Of Plant Medicine~Landrace And Rituals~

this is taken in a village surrounded by tea trees.

it seemed to be lost in a world of another time era

Village of Traditional Medicine

Today, we will be in off-the-beaten track in Japan to Kasuga village on the foot of Mt. Ibuki. It is not a tourist place, and even not so known to Japanese people

Although Japan is a mountainous country covered with 67% of forest, about 70% of Japanese population is concentrating in the urban areas, and depopulation and aging in rural areas are always big problems. It is pity that tourists only look at big cities and do not see rural livelihood.

Japanese life-style has been changed a lot in recent years, but still, in the deep mountains, isolated from the rest of the world, you can find traditional livelihood and knowledge to live with nature handed down from generations. So, today, I would like you to touch another world of Japan besides tourist attractions.

shuraku, community of kasuga village

Can you imagine how to collect foods in the deep forest? Wisdom to read the voice of wind or trees, or to know timing of sowing seeds by observing stars or living creatures. This knowledge has been developed from long-term experiences of their ancestors. Mostly, they are over 80s, and it is about to disappear... I would like to pass down this local knowledge, what I call ground mothers knowledge to overseas as well as Japanese young people.

Kasuga was once known as a village of traditional medicine. The origin of offering yakuso in this region dates back to Nara period in the mid 7th century. There is a record to indicate traditional knowlede of plant medicine was transmitted through the descendant of royal family.

and it is said that about 300 species of medicinal herbs, or yakuso薬草, can be harvested in the region. Such abundant bio-diversity cannot be seen in any other areas, which developed its unique tradition. The villagers earned their livelihood on medicinal plants since civil war period around 15th century.

Now, most of the yakuso used in Japan are imported from china, and the industry of yakuso has been desolated. Still, the villagers grow yakuso continuously for their domestic use to maintain their health or to treat illness by themselves.

medicinal herb lunch

Kitchen pharmacy

Rural livelihood was highly dependent on farming. The festivals, belief, food culture are all based on agricultural system in the region.

The farm for a vegetable kitchen garden is called Tadabata, farm in the deep mountain is called miyama, or kyubayashi, and in mutsushi, shifting cultivation was conducted.

They differentiate and classified their types of lands, and called by unique land names.

Their medical herb farms are located in the path of Mt. Ibuki, but also they have their own garden with various yakuso.

Toki, or dong-guil in chinese

toki当帰 (Angelica acutiloba)is largely grown in front of the villagers' house. 

It was originally from china gang-gui in chinese, and its roots are processed to be a traditional medicine.

drying yakuso in front of their houses

In addition, there are varieties of medicinal plants can be found in their garden;

Megi (Berberis, barberry), Kihada ( Phellodendron amurense, Amur cork tree), Genno shoko (Geranium thunbergii) , Shishiudo(Angelica), Utsubogusa(Prunella vulgaris), Amacha (Hydrangea macrophylla var. thunbergii), Natsume.(Ziziphus jujuba)..

These are typical plants used for making crude medicine.

This tool is called oshigiri, chopper used for cutting medicinal herbs. There are at least one of these at each house to make domestic medicine.

Ibuki hyakuso 伊吹百草 is a mixture of hundreds of herbs and the prescription is different in families, and also the components will change in different seasons.

in winter time, it is preserved by dried, salted, or kept in the alcohol liquor.

Ethno-botanical knowledge

Hemp cultivation was banned after the World War, but it had been used for Shito rituals since long long time ago.

when villagers were not afford to wear silk clothes, they weave clothes by hemp, wisteria vine, ramie (Boehmeria nivea), mulberry trees...

hemp clothes was called "Nono".
It is still cultivated in the village of Ibuki anther the special exemption from government for rituals.
麻の糸 thread of hemp

This is Linga (phallic symbol) in the shrine

While I was in Bhutan, I saw similar talisman against evil in the village, but I did not know that there is similar custom in Japan, too.

Linga in Bhutan

Glutenous rice is essential for making "shimenawa"

"hattai mochi" in Shiga, "Asahi mochi" in Kyoto, "Kagura mochi" in Tango peninsula (traditional varieties of glutenous rice) for shinto rituals are inherited for the rituals.

the straw of glutenous rice contains more oil and it is softer and suitable for making a rope.

A shrine was in a deep forest

For further information, you can visit the Kasuga Mori-mori village (in Japanese).

They also offer a learning course of traditional herbal medicine there.