off-the-beaten Kyoto (6) landscape for producing "ubai", carbonized plum fruit

by Chisato

A hidden village of plum, Tsukigase, Nara prefecture

Taking train for an hour from Kyoto city, the hidden valley of Tsukigase village is known as a village of plum trees. However, it is hardly known that the plum tree was originally planted for processing "Ubai", carbonized plum fruit, used as a color fixing mordant. 

"Most residents here were producing ubai, approximately 400 producers."

Said the last producer of ubai, Mr. Nakanishi.
Once, ubai had been a main industry in this area, since Edo samurai period. To make good plum, village people planted Joshuhaku, a variety of plum tree, which is bigger and easier to process.
After the Meiji revolution, ubai producers have been forced to close their business, due to the introduction of chemical dye.
off-the-beaten Kyoto (6) landscape for producing "ubai", carbonized plum fruit

Wisdom of making Japanese traditional "beni" color more brilliant

Benibana (safflower, Carthamus tinctorius) is one of the oldest dye in Japan, and it is found out that benibana was used in 6th century in Nara.

Benibana has two pigment colors; yellow and red. To extract red color, called "beni" in Japanese, people used ash of akaza plant (Chenopodium album var. centrorubrum), and karamushi plant (Boehmeria nivea var. nipononivea).
○mochi bana 
After pounding benibana flowers like mochi, it is dried and solidified, which is called mochi bana.
 off-the-beaten Kyoto (6) landscape for producing "ubai", carbonized plum fruit
Thread from karamushi plant is called "aoso". benibana dye will be more red colored after mixing benibana with karamushi
 off-the-beaten Kyoto (6) landscape for producing "ubai", carbonized plum fruit
The ash of akaza plant is considered to be a good resource of strong alkaline content. It is added with banimochi.

The last component is ubai. It contains high acid content, and mitigate strong alkaline water. After added with banibana dye, the beni color will be more vivid.
 off-the-beaten Kyoto (6) landscape for producing "ubai", carbonized plum fruit

Making ubai

1. First, plum tree is covered with soot, called susu in Japanese. Nakanishi san get susu from neighbors, who are still burning wood for cooking.
 off-the-beaten Kyoto (6) landscape for producing "ubai", carbonized plum fruit
2. fumigate plum fruits for 24 hours
off-the-beaten Kyoto (6) landscape for producing "ubai", carbonized plum fruit 
3. dry under the sun for 1 month
 off-the-beaten Kyoto (6) landscape for producing "ubai", carbonized plum fruit

08 Jul 2017

Licensed Guide

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Contact Chisato

Hello. I am Chisato living in Uda city, south part of Nara.

I completed master degree of organic agriculture in the Netherlands in 2011.
Especially, my specialization is agriculture, anthropology and food culture.
I often travel around rural villages in japan for my research on traditional knowledge, ethnobotany and local cuisine, "kyodo ryori".

My style of guiding is "experience the local communities"; visiting the ingredients where it grows, listening to the stories of local life, where generations have lived.

My town Uda city is famous as a medicinal plant town. In the historical record, it is reported that Empress Suiko visited Uda to hunt medicinal herbs (AD611). Developed as a castle town, the city is designated as one of the Important Preservation Districts. The streets have some facilities associated with medicine and herbs, including Morino Kyuyakuen (medicinal herb garden) and Kusuri-no-Yakata (the museum of medicine). I am learning traditional knowledge of wild herbs from local villagers.

I try my best to organize a trip with unique experience for you in the off-the-beaten rural villages, especially in Kyoto and Nara. Please let me know your special interests, and I will suggest your trip schedule, such as cooking with locals, visit farmers, or stay at a farmhouse.

Example Theme:
- tea tour (harvesting and processing tea, tea house, matcha poder making, tea museum in Kyoto)
- traditional handicrafts (visit workshops, pottery making experience, kiln in hidden valley)
- culinary experience (food processing workshop such as tofu, soba, yuba, somen noodle, traditional knowledge of food preservation)
- fermented food products (learning how to make sake, shoyu, miso, amazake, pickle, nattou, umeboshi by yourself)
- plant and ethno-ecology (sansai wild plant harvesting and cooking)
- learning rural livelihood (charcoal making, weaving trees, paper making from mulberry plant, silk worm, visit to temple of plant medicine)
- temple stay (meditation, shojin ryori at mount koya)

Please inquire at least 1 month before the tour departure date, when it is totally customized tour.
Please note that spring (March-April) and autumn (Septenmer-October) are peak travelling season in Japan, and it may not possible to offer special interest tours.
I recommend to reserve accommodations at least 2 months before your travel (half year before during peak travelling season).

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