For this month Japan Subscription box, we are taking you to the town of Joge. Nested in the heart of the Chugoku region of Japan, halfway on the hilly road between Matsue and Hiroshima, Joge is a quaint town with a glorious past that deserves to be better known. During the feudal period, Joge benefited from its central location on the silver road that connected the Iwami Ginzan mine to Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo. The town thrived when given the right to collect tax from silver commerce on behalf of the Bakufu – the central government of the time.
Time has passed since the last samurai surrendered and the prominence of Joge faded away with them. Nevertheless, when traveling through the elegant white walls of the town center we could see the remnants of the heydays. We could feel the town’s inhabitants’ strong pride in their cultural heritage.
What will you found in this Japan Subscription box about Joge town?
We started our day in Joge early in the morning by visiting Ms Miyoko who makes the Tsuchinoko manju at Fugetsudo. We wanted to catch the making process of the local delicacy. Fugetsudo added a western twist to the traditional manju recipe. A buttery baked pie crust replaces the usual rice bun and a white bean paste surrounding a chestnut fills the bun where you’d usually find sweet Azuki red beans. We highly recommend a cup of dark roasted tea to pair with the manju.
Kimono fabric basket
Sayaka and her mother run the local Kimono shop. They give a new life to colorful pieces of kimonos fabric to craft useful objects. One of those items is a bamboo basket. You can use it for storing keys or other precious items. It takes them 30 minutes to make one piece.
Ask anyone what you should try when you come to Joge and they’ll surely tell you in unison the Yoshu cake. We had to include it in this Japan Subscription box about Joge. So we visited the cake factory: Kunihiroya. They got inspired by a French baked confectionery called “Savarin” using as a base one of Japan’s most famous sweets called castella: a soft sponge cake with a nice brown crust on top and at the bottom. They then soak it in syrup made from a secret recipe including brandy and rum.
Walking down the main street of Joge town made us feel like we were traveling back in time. When we reached the town center we found an establishment that perfectly encapsulates this mood: an antique shop called Joge Garo (上下画廊). There, Ms Shigemori greeted us. She is a charming lady born and raised in Shinjuku (Tokyo). But she decided to move to Joge after she married a local. She proudly showed us her collection of dolls coming from the entire country and the antiques she sells. From her shop, we chose items from two piles of antiques. First, we got small plates called “Torizara” in Japanese which are used for side dishes. We then settled on the cute “Ochoko” cups used to enjoy japanese sake.
We heard that, within 20 minutes drive from Joge, there is a shop that offers experiences where we can make our own Nioi Bukuro: scented bag. We got intrigued and made our way to Mr Takahashi’s Butsudan shop in Fuchu city. A butsudan is a wooden cabinet. It is often found in Japanese homes. Families use butsudan to pay respects to the Buddha, as well as to their ancestors. Butsudan are often made of fragrant cedar that last for a long time but locals add a Nioi Bukuro when the natural scent fades away. Mr Takahashi is a soft-spoken gentleman. He took his time to explain the intricacies of his trade and offered us to create our very own sachets. We got to learn about the different spices that go in the bags and their properties. You’ll be enjoying our own blend of sweet aroma.
Ofuda lucky charm
Mr Sato is the Bingo Yano station master, just two stops away from Joge main station. There are only 12 regular trains a day passing through which gives Mr Sato plenty of time to try new ventures. With his wife they opened a tiny restaurant within the station building itself which quickly grew in popularity. We sat and ordered each a dish of udon noodles for lunch while Mr Sato offered us his Ofuda: a little lucky charm that you can hang on your keys, your bag or simply hang as a decoration.
Good fortune senbei
Senbei are Japanese crackers that come either sweet or savory. You can enjoy senbei with a cup of tea, coffee or even a beer. The ones included in the box are savory and garnished with roasted soy beans. Mr Stato, station master at Bingo Yano, recommended them to us. He specifically asked a senbei manufacturer in the region to create these senbei for him to sell in his station.
In this Japan Subscription box about Joge you will find a daruma bookmark. Darumas are a symbol of luck and perseverance. Two things we all need. Unfortunately, we were unable to film a documentary about its maker, but it seemed interesting to include the object as the technique used seemed to us very novel and modern compared to what we had seen so far in Joge. This small company specializes in laser engraving on wood. The desired design is sent into a computer software which then sends the instructions to the laser machine which will come and cut the wood. In addition, the wood used is the famous Hinoki, the Japanese cypress.
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