It is said that Lord Satake of Akita Clan has brought chestnut seeds from Tanba (Kyoto) and Mino (Gifu), and promoted the cultivation in Kitaura Area, which is now known as Semboku City.
A champion of the Annual Samiyoji-guri All Japan Competition has brought a huge one that was about 5.7 x 4.7 cm/ 2.2 x 1.9 in and 66g / 2.23 oz!
Such delicious dishes are being offered at restaurants around Semboku City during the harvesting season.
Regular chestnuts are harvested by shaking the trees, making the spiny cupules fall, from which the brown hard nuts were collected; however, Saimyoji-guri is so large and dense that is waited until they fall from the trees on the natural gravity!
That is why, to prevent the pests from damaging the fully ripe nuts, the farmers mown and take care of the orchard field very carefully.
It is because today there exit no more than a few orchards, and barely maintained by the veteran farmers. Cultivating each Saimyoji-guri tree and maintaining its quality cost enormous amount of care and efforts, so that the new farmers have been steered away. That is what makes the species so rare!
While the trees there bares the delicious nuts in autumn, the fields are covered with beautiful vibrant purple flowers in spring – Katakuri, Dogtooth Violet, is the name of flowers.
The orchards are mown and maintained so that the soil is very fertile. The chestnut trees also provide the perfect sunlight condition for the Katakuri flowers to spread. Thanks to such efforts by the farmers, we could enjoy both the delicious chestnut and the beautiful flowers.
The orchards are open to the public for harvesting experiences.
Tsukimi (月見) or Otsukimi, literally moon-viewing, refers to Japanese festivals honoring the autumn moon. The celebration of the full moon typically takes place on the 15th day of the eighth month of the traditional Japanese lunisolar calendar; the waxing moon is celebrated on the 13th day of the ninth month. These days normally fall in September and October of the modern solar calendar.
The tradition dates to the Heian era, and is now so popular in Japan that some people repeat the activities for several evenings following the appearance of the full moon during the eighth lunisolar month.
Tsukimi traditions include displaying decorations made from Japanese pampas grass (susuki) and eating rice dumplings called Tsukimi dango in order to celebrate the beauty of the moon. Seasonal produce are also displayed as offerings to the moon. Sweet potatoes are offered to the full moon, while beans or chestnuts are offered to the waxing moon the following month. The alternate names of the celebrations, Imomeigetsu (literally “potato harvest moon”) and Mamemeigetsu (“bean harvest moon”) or Kurimeigetsu (“chestnut harvest moon”) are derived from these offerings.
Tsukimi refers to the Japanese tradition of holding parties to view the harvest moon. The custom is thought to have originated with Japanese aristocrats during the Heian period, who would gather to recite poetry under the full moon of the eighth month of the lunisolar calendar, known as the “Mid-Autumn Moon.” Since ancient times, Japanese people have described the eighth lunisolar month (corresponding to September on the contemporary Gregorian calendar) as the best time for looking at the moon, since the relative positions of the earth, sun, and moon cause the moon to appear especially bright. On the evening of the full moon, it is traditional to gather in a place where the moon can be seen clearly, decorate the scene with Japanese pampas grass, and to serve white rice dumplings (known as Tsukimi dango), taro, edamame, chestnuts and other seasonal foods, plus sake as offerings to the moon in order to pray for an abundant harvest. These dishes are known collectively as Tsukimi dishes (月見料理 tsukimi ryōri?). Due to the ubiquity of sweet potato or taro among these dishes, the tradition is known as Imomeigetsu (芋名月?) or “Potato harvest moon” in some parts of Japan.
From 862 until 1683, the Japanese calendar was arranged so that the full moon fell on the 13th day of each month. In 1684, however, the calendar was altered so that the new moon fell on the first day of each month, moving the full moon two weeks later, to the 15th day of the month. While some people in Edo (present-day Tokyo) shifted their Tsukimi activities to the 15th day of the month, others continued to observe the festival on the 13th day. Furthermore, there were various regional observances in some parts of Japan on the 17th day of the month, as well as Buddhist observances on the 23rd or the 26th day, all of which were used as pretexts for often late-night parties during the autumn throughout the Edo period. This custom was brought to a swift end during the Meiji period.
Festivals dedicated to the moon have a long history in Japan. During the Heian period elements of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival were introduced to Japan. Members of the aristocratic class would hold moon-viewing events aboard boats in order to view the moon’s reflection on the surface of the water. The writing of tanka poetry was also an element of such mid-autumn moon viewing festivities.
There are specific terms in Japanese to refer to occasions when the moon is not visible on the traditional mid-autumn evening, including Mugetsu (無月 literally: no-moon) and Ugetsu (雨月 rain-moon). Even when the moon is not visible, however, Tsukimi parties are held.
5. Grill sanma (saury/mackerel pike) over an open flame BBQ
Saury, or sanma, is one of the most prominent seasonal foods representing autumn in Japanese cuisine. It is most commonly served salted and grilled (broiled) whole, garnished with daikon oroshi (grated daikon) and served alongside a bowl of rice and a bowl of miso soup. Other condiments may include soy sauce, orlime, lemon, or other citrus juices. The intestines are bitter, but many people choose not to gut the fish, as many say its bitterness, balanced by the condiments, is part of the enjoyment. Salt-grilled saury is also served in Korea, where it is known as kongchi gui (꽁치구이).
Sanma sashimi is becoming increasingly available but is not common. It is rarely used for sushi; howeversanma-zushi is a regional delicacy along parts of the Kii Peninsula, especially along the coast of southernMie Prefecture. It is prepared by pickling the sanma in salt and vinegar (depending on the region, bitterorange or citron vinegar may be used), and then placing it on top of vinegared rice to create the finished sushi.
The fish can also be pan-fried or canned kabayaki. It is also used for fish meal and pet food in some Western countries, while in Alaska, pollock is more often used for this purpose.
6. Visit Kyoto to enjoy the changing autumn leaves. Or, see “Kouyou” in Tokyo and Nagoya
In autumn, the leaves on most deciduous Japanese trees change their color to red, yellow or orange. The mountains, which I love to look at during this time of the year, are transformed by the beautiful colors of the leaves. The leaves are called, “kouyou” or “momiji”. The Japanese admire “kouyou” just as they admire cherry blossoms in spring. Their beauty has been expressed in poems and songs throughout Japanese history. The Japanese also enjoy, “momiji-gari (autumn leaf viewing)”, which is regarded as a seasonal event as important as, “hanami (cherry blossom viewing)”.
7. Spend a little extra on the ever-popular matsutake mushrooms.
Matsutake (Japanese: 松茸, pine mushroom, is the common name for a highly sought-after mycorrhizal mushroom that grows in Asia, Europe, and North America. It is prized by the Japanese and Chinese for its distinct spicy-aromatic odor.
Though simple to harvest, Matsutake are hard to find, causing the price to be very high. Domestic production of matsutake in Japan has been sharply reduced over the last 50 years due to a pinenematode Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, and it has influenced the price a great deal. The annual harvest of matsutake in Japan is now less than 1,000 tons, and the Japanese mushroom supply is largely made up by imports from China, Korea, the North American Pacific Northwest (Northern California, Oregon,Washington, and British Columbia), and Northern Europe (Sweden and Finland).The price for matsutake in the Japanese market is highly dependent on quality, availability, and origin. The Japanese matsutake at the beginning of the season, which is the highest grade, can go up to $2,000 per kilogram. In contrast, the average value for imported matsutake is about $90 per kilogram.
8. Head back to the countryside and help out with the rice harvest
In Japan the harvest festival is the rice harvest. None of the rice is to be eaten until a special event has happened. There are dances and a procession and a huge feast.
Koshogatsu means literally “Small New Year” and starts with the first full moon of the year usually around January 15th. The main events of Koshogatsu are rites and practices praying for an ample harvest.
In the autumn harvest festivals are held, and the first fruits of the paddy field are offered to the gods.
In rural villages the entire community celebrates this autumn festival, and in many places floats carrying symbolic gods are paraded through the streets. At the Imperial Palace the Emperor fulfills the role of presenting offerings of new grain and produce to the gods.
The Shinto rites at New Year’s were originally festivals at which people prayed for a bountiful harvest in the coming year, and the rice-planting and other paddy-field festivals that are still celebrated throughout Japan also involve prayers for a good harvest. Kimono-clad girls, their sleeves tied back with red sashes, plant the rice, while musicians perform nearby with drums, flutes, and bells. The dance traditionally associated with such festivals gradually evolved as a part of the noh theater.
Yagan Orimi is a traditional harvest festival in Aguni, an island near mainland Okinawa. In recent years, have been visiting the island to see the festival, where islanders offer prayers not only for a good harvest, but, also for the safe delivery of their infants.
In Japan long ago, the new autumn rice harvest could not be eaten until after a festival in honor of the rice spirit. There was dancing, singing and waving of fans. Everyone joined in a great feast. Now that day is a national holiday and it takes place on November 23. The name of the festival has also been changed it is now called Labor Thanksgiving Day. At midnight the Japanese emperor offers the first fruits of autumn at a special altar.
In Japan there is a custom of tsukimi or also known as Moon-viewing which is observed on September 15 at the time of the full moon. Everyone sets up a table facing the horizon so as to see the moon rising, and place offerings on these tables to the spirit of the moon. These offerings include a vase holding the seven grasses of autumn, cooked vegetables and tsukimi dango or moon-viewing dumplings made out of rice flour.
9. Pack tents for one last camping trip before winter comes.
Unlike most European countries, the weather in autumn in Japan (unless you go farther north towards Hokkaido) tends to be rather mild and nice. The sun is out quite a bit and temperatures usually range between 10 and sometimes even up to 25 degrees. Perfect for camping!
10. Go to a conbini and get a nice warm sweet potato