During the autumn months, many houses in Ichinoseki have a curtain of orange hanging from their eaves. These are all persimmons drying in the sun ready to be consumed in December. Historically, dried foods (kanbutsu) were an essential part of welcoming the winter months to make sure that there’s a steady supply of nutrient rich fruit and vegetable to fall back on. There are many benefits of dried foods which include the addition of nutritional value, the reduction of food loss, depth of flavor, saving energy as refrigeration isn’t needed, and having a source of essential vitamins and minerals in times of disaster.

Although there are many types of dried foods around the world, let’s have a look at some that you may find in the mountainous Ichinoseki countryside during the autumn and winter months.

Hoshigaki (dried astringent persimmon): These you can’t miss! The vibrant orange in contrast to the clear, autumn skies is one of my favourite scenes of autumn. I mention astringent persimmon (known as shibugaki in Japanese) as it’s the type of persimmon that is abundant in the Japanese countryside. Unlike sweet persimmons, these are unpalatable due to the bitterness from their high tannin content. By drying them whole without their skins, they transform into a sweet, jellylike snack. The skins can be used to sweeten pickled Chinese horseradish and the slightly unripe ones can be repurposed to make persimmon vinegar. Processing the astringent persimmons into something edible is something I find fascinating.

We went to Oimatsu in Hanaizumi, Ichinoseki, to see how their beautiful dried persimmons are made. On a good year, they will hand make 10,000 dried persimmon. From picking them from the tall trees, peeling each carefully using knife and peeler, hanging them on special rope; it’s a true labour of love. The secret to the beauty of Oimatsu dried persimmon though, is their colour once dried. Usually, they are eaten or sold more of a blackish, brown colour but Oimatsu has a secret up their sleeve to make them a golden orange. Is it food dye? Perhaps they peel the outer layer? Oimatsu in Hanaizumi once had a thriving sulfur industry, and it’s by smoking the persimmons in sulfur that restores them to their original color. Of course the natural process of drying foods is dependent on the cool, dry weather, but we’ve actually had quite a warm autumn. It’s my hope that everyone’s efforts this year will bear fruit.

①Dried astringent persimmon

Dried Shiitake mushrooms:
Before I moved to Japan, I had never heard of people eating fresh shiitake mushroom since I’d only seen the dried ones at the Asian grocery store. It wasn’t long until I realized that fresh and dried shiitake are a staple in Japanese households. Due to the undeniable umami content of dried shiitake which is said to be ten times of that of fresh shiitake, it’s often used when making dashi stock, a foundation of Japanese cuisine.


② Dried Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are an important produce of Iwate Prefecture as it’s the third largest producer of fresh (nama) shiitake in the country. Ichinoseki is famous for dried shiitake, produced in the traditional ‘genboku’ style which are cultivated on logs rather than sawdust blocks known as ‘kinsho’ cultivation. Ichinoseki’s abundant hardwood trees were once used to produce charcoal, but as the use of gas became the norm, the industry needed to change. The trees were then used to make genboku style shiitake. Genboku shiitake can only be harvested in either spring or autumn; if in season, you may see fresh genboku shiitake at the shops but most of the produce is dried to be sold throughout the year. My husband is a kinsho shiitake grower and mainly sells fresh shiitake as production can last the whole year due to the controlled environment. When helping at his farm, I see the amount of shiitake that do not meet the market standards, whether it be that they are too big or small when harvested, not perfectly round or the cap of the mushroom is not the desired shape. For the fresh shiitake that do not meet the cosmetic standards, we either slice or dry them whole, turning what would have been waste into a consumer product.

Shimidofu (frozen-dried tofu) and shimimochi:

Shimidofu has a history of over 150 years in Ichinoseki. Processes include ageing them in refrigerators, hanging them outside with grass rope to be dried by exposing the tofu to cold winds and sunlight. Once completely dry, they have a sponge-like texture and are often used in Japanese hot pot to soak up the umami from meats and vegetables.

And of course, this can’t be an Ichinoseki article without the mention of mochi. Ichinoseki also freezes it’s mochi by first boiling it in hot water and then hung out on a cold night to dry. It is then usually put under the eaves of houses to dry further. The mochi can be restored by soaking it in water and then frying it up.

③ frozen-dried tofu





写真① 干し柿 老松



写真② 菌床椎茸



写真③ 凍み餅