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How to make Japanese green plum ume syrup (aka 梅シロップ, mashil-jeup, 매실즙)

How to make Japanese green plum ume syrup (aka 梅シロップ, mashil-jeup, 매실즙)

When my wife and I lived in Japan we used to make Japanese green plum wine (umeshu) which I’ve detailed how to do here.  The glass jars sold for making umeshu in Japan always had instructions for making it as well as ume syrup which can be used to make a refreshing ume flavored non-alcoholic drink, top shaved ice, ice cream, make korean BBQ sauce, or numerous other uses.

I never tried ume syrup since we enjoyed umeshu so much.  But I became curious this year, in part because we now live in the U.S. and get most of our Japanese ingredients at a Korean supermarket and Koreans make and use more ume syrup (mashil-jeup 매실즙 in Korean) than the Japanese do.

It’s simple and delicious to make and there are several variations.  The only difficult part is finding ume (梅) aka green Japanese plums (even though they are more closely related to apricots.)  They are available for a VERY SHORT season for about the first 3 weeks of May in the United States (where they are grown in California and found in larger Asian grocery stores across the nation) or in June for most of Japan.  Outside of this you will almost never find them!  As in my umeshu article I’ll list some sources and locations at the end.

Japanese ume

Ingredients:
This recipe can adjusted proportionally to whatever amount you want to make.  You should use a minimum of 250 g. of ume to get usable results.  I have gotten a little under 1 ml. of syrup per 1 g. of ume.

  • Green ume (250 grams or more*)
  • Sugar (granulated or rock**) equal in weight to ume
  • Optional:  Vinegar (rice or apple cider) 1/10 ml per gram of ume (ie. 25ml per 250 g.)
  • Optional:  Shochu or vodka (~50ml. clear, flavorless alcohol for sterilization)
    (My article on umeshu talks about inexpensive Korean shochu that can be found in the U.S.)

* My experience suggests less than 250 grams of ume might inhibit the process from working smoothly
** Rock sugar is popular in Asian recipes and is discussed in my umeshu article.

Removing the stem from umeStep 1:  Prepare ume

  • Remove any ume with brown spots, bruises, or cuts to their skin
  • Gently remove any remainder the stem with a toothpick or bamboo skewer (pictured above).  Be careful not to break the skin.
  • Wash the ume in plenty of clean, cool water

Step 2:  Pack ume in sugar

  • Clean a glass jar with detergent and hot water.  Optionally you might want to wipe the inside with some shochu or vodka to disinfect.
  • Fill the jar with alternating layers of ume and sugar
    • Optional:  You can freeze the ume overnight and pack them in the sugar while frozen hard.  Freezing causes microscopic ice crystals to break the ume’s cell membranes and fibers allowing the juice and flavor to flow out more readily.  This also decreases the likelihood of fermentation in the first week if you want a sweeter syrup as opposed to a more sour fermented variant (read on for more info.)
    • Optional: In a clean bowl swish the ume around in the shochu or vodka then drain out to sterilize their outside to reduce the probability of fermentation if you want a sweeter syrup as opposed to a fermented sweet and sour syrup (see variants section below.)

Step 2:  Allow ume to sit in sugar and gently shake the jar once or twice daily

The concentration of sugar outside of the ume will trigger osmosis and all of the fluid and deliciousness in the ume will sweat out and melt the sugar to form a delicious syrup.

time lapse of ume syrup

Variant 1:  Non-fermented sweetume close-up in syrup with small bubbles

  • Sterilize the jar and ume with shochu or vodka and freeze prior to packing in sugar as suggested above.
  • Remove the ume and refrigerate the syrup after no more than 7 days for a sweet and fresh taste

Variant 2:  Non-fermented sour

  • Pour in the optional rice or apple cider vinegar after layering the ume and sugar to prevent fermentation and produce a sweet and sour syrup which should be refrigerated after no more than 7 days.

Variant 3:  Fermented

  • I’ve seen various (most often Korean), recipes which call for letting it sit for 30-60 days.  After 7 days it begins to ferment and you can see some tiny bubbles forming in in the syrup and around the ume and pressure building up in the jar.  It will smell a little off but then after a few more days it will start to take on a richer more complex fragrance and flavor.  I’m in the process of doing my first batch this way, so I can’t tell you the full results yet.The picture to the right shows some tiny bubbles that I noticed forming when I stirred it up which I assume are from a small amount of fermentation.

shriveled ume after syrup making  After your syrup is ready remove the ume and store the syrup in a clean jar in the refrigerator.  Don’t throw away the ume just yet!  The ones I froze were a tasty treat that I enjoyed eating straight!  Ones that I didn’t freeze were very hard and fiberous.  Some Koreans remove the pits and preserve them with kochujang to eat as a side dish, while others simmer them in sugar water and mash them into jam.

 

Ume truely are a magical, tasty, versitile super-food!

 

Places to find ume in the United States:

  • Hmart – a Korean grocery store chain with locations across the US where I’ve bought ume.  They are GREAT for finding Japanese stuff as well and well worth even a 1-2 hr drive to get to.
  • Lotte Plaza – a Korean grocery store chain with locations in MD, VA, and soon FL.  Like Hmart they carry a wide selection of Asian groceries and Japanese and worth a 1-2 hour drive to get to.
  • Wikipedia list of Asian supermarket chains
  • If you know of any other good Asian grocery chains with multiple locations in the US that sell ume please contact me and I’ll include it here.

-William Milberry

Music Monday: Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’ played on the shamisen

Music Monday: Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’ played on the shamisen

The January 07, 2017 episode of NHK Blends featured Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off played on the Shamisen.  Unlike my earlier post of Madonna’s Like a Prayer which was very recognizable, I like how this performance melds it into a more traditional Japanese sound.  The performance begins after a 50 second introduction.

Free photocopies with ADs printed on them now …

Free photocopies with ADs printed on them now …

The Japanese company オーシャナイズ (Oceanize) has started a new business called タダコピ (Tadacopy – http://www.tadacopy.com/).  They’re putting photocopiers on Japanese college campuses that the students can use to make copies for free.  What’s the catch?  There are ads printed on the back of the copies!

This screen shot from their web site shows their equation of copy + ad = ¥0.  Above the ¥0 it says “you can also target segments”, and the picture at the bottom shows a woman with a smartphone.  The scheme runs deeper than just ads.  They have a smartphone app (shown here), which no doubt invasively tracks users, collects personal info, and requires a login.  This type of tracking information is invaluable to ad based companies and no doubt provides more value to them than just the printed ads.

The sad thing is people everywhere are getting in line to hand over their personal information and privacy for free stuff which is only worth pennies, far less than what they are giving up.

Tadacopy, free photocopies (but with ads)
Tadacopy’s web site, free photocopies, but with ads
How to make Japanese umeshu (梅酒), a delicious green plum infused liqueur

How to make Japanese umeshu (梅酒), a delicious green plum infused liqueur

Japanese umeshu (梅酒, pronounced u-may-shu) is a delicious, aromatic, wonderful alcohol drink from Japan that you have to try.  It’s hands-down my favorite drink from Japan.  Umeshu is often mischaracterized as “Japanese plum wine”, but is closer to a fruit cordial or fruit liqueur.  It’s made from allowing green unripe Japanese ume plums and rock sugar steep in a clear distilled alcohol called shochu (焼酎) for several months.  Shochu itself is an incredibly popular drink in Japan (and South Korea), which the Japanese drink WAY more than the traditional sake (pronounced sa-keh, not sa-ki).

Umeshu is typically 15%-20% alcohol and can be enjoyed straight, on the rocks, or mixed with carbonated water.

It is a common tradition for Japanese people to make their own umeshu during the summer and I did the same.  I was thrilled when I was able to make it this past summer in the United States as well.  I’ll explain how and tell you where to look for ingredients and what substitutes can work.

For those who have never tried it or don’t want to make it, Choya and other brands of umeshu (pictured to the right), can be found at good and larger alcohol retailers in the U.S.  Especially look for alcohol retailers in areas with a high Asian populations.  The picture to the right is a 750ml bottle of Choya that I used to buy at the local grocery store in Japan for 900 yen.  It’s more than double that ($20) here in the U.S.

Japanese ume

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A glimpse into Japan: Saving face with foreigners ahead of the Olympics

A glimpse into Japan: Saving face with foreigners ahead of the Olympics

Individual Japanese are hesitant to share their own opinions or talk about personal issues.  This is part of their group oriented culture.  It doesn’t mean that they don’t have opinions or think about these things however.

In this recurring segment we try to understand the Japanese better by looking at translations of Japanese forum posts.  Behind the anonymity of on-line forums Japanese feel more free and safe to share their true feelings (called 本音 hon-ne) rather than putting up their stoic public face (called 建前 tatemae.)

~~~~~~~

Japanese women-only train car
Japanese women-only train car

This post is from a Japanese person who is worried about how foreigners flooding into Japan for the 2020 Olympics will perceive Japan if they see the women-only train cars that Japan has.

There are 80-some train routes that feature these and they were started based on the idea of giving women a place where they don’t need to worry about misbehaving men groping them, getting too close, or harassing them.

There has been a little controversy over them however with some believing that the perception of the problem of harassment of women has been vastly exaggerated by media and TV shows and that the idea of train cars that exclude any class of people might not technically be legal (and isn’t practical in situations where there isn’t enough room on trains for all of the riders.)

You’ll note that the main concern of the author isn’t the practicality, need, or purpose of the women-only train cars but concern for how Japan will look in the eyes of foreigners and avoiding criticism.  In the west we tend to focus more on the issue, but in Japan perceptions factor very highly into how people address issues.  This is one of the things that can make living and working in Japan challenging for westerners who have trouble fully grasping and working with such a mentality.

Original post from Yahoo! Japan 知恵袋 (Chiebukuro) here. (link opens in new tab)

Yahoo! Chiebukuro Article on women-only train cars

Translation

Title:  We should abolish women-only train cars until the Olympics

We should abolish women-only train cars until the Olympics!

Foreigners view discrimination as a number one problem.  A lot of those foreigners will be coming to Japan from now until the Olympics.  We should create men-only train cars or abolish the women-only cars because the chance of foreigners being critical of it is high, isn’t it?

Doesn’t the Japanese government make this a country that is concerned about saving face?  Don’t the train companies want to avoid criticism?

Wouldn’t it be best to either end the women-only train cars or add men-only cars!?

On top of that women-only train cars don’t exist legally.

In the past if a train employee unjustifiably tried to force a man off of a women-only train car the employee was the one accused of wrongdoing by way of unjust coercion.  Employees have been required to apologize to men a great number of times.

Furthermore the Transportation Minister and courts have said men getting on women-only train cars is an ambiguous gray area!

(The following translation of the the only reply to this post isn’t important to understanding it, but is included for completeness.)
Reply from keitokuroda23-san

Men-only cars would be empty with the exception of morning and evening rush hours so it’s fine not to make them.

If you look at it the only real option is to shut down the women-only cars.  But if that is opposed then it would be OK to make men-only cars.

Either way there is a lack of appreciation from the people who ride the trains.

Japanese robo-toilet manufacturers announce standardized icons

Japanese robo-toilet manufacturers announce standardized icons

One area where Japan has embraced tech is in its toilets.  Japanese washlets (or “robo-toilets” as I like to call them), have all kinds of things such as automated motorized lids, heated seats, self cleaning bidet sprays with adjustable temperature, angle, and strength, warm air dryers, automatic air fresheners, multi-strength flush, and remote controls.  Taking a dump in Japan is a pleasure, as long as your not using a squatter toilet (see below).

Japanese toilet icons

This can be a bit mystifying to foreigners who aren’t used to it, so the Japan Restroom Industry Association (日本レストルーム工業会) has come up with a standardized set of icons for the functions of toilets.  The association consists of major manufacturers such as Toto and Panasonic (yes, Panasonic – they make LOTS of things in Japan.)

… the Japan Restroom Industry Association has come up with a standardized set of icons for the functions of toilets.

The Association Chief Kitamura said “We want to make operation of the equipment easy to understand since it would be regrettable if a foreigner missed a chance to experience the washlet.  Furthermore we want to promote our business around the world.”

Part of the push for this is Japan’s desire to become more friendly to foreign visitors ahead of the 2020 Olympics which are being held in Tokyo.

Below is a photo I took of a washlet that I used a number of times at work and its controls.  The box with a speaker plays a recorded sound of water running when when you wave your hand in front of it so people can’t hear you doing your business.  The controls to the right are for the toilet’s functions.  You can set seat temperature, water temperature, water spray strength, angle, warm air, timer, and the red button on the top-left is stop.  It’s also outfited with an infrared sensor and will flush itself when you move away from it.  (Click for larger version)

Japanese washlet and controls

Japanese squatter toiletIn contrast to the very nice-to-use washlets, traditional Japanese squatter toilets are quite unpleasant to use, especially for full size westerners.  Squatting for more than a minute makes the legs start to ache and keeping balance while you reach for toilet paper and wipe is an acquired skill.  These also don’t keep a large quantity of water in the bottom so the warm smell of anything put into it quickly rises full force to your nose.

Homes and apartments for the most part have western style toilets with many people installing washlets.  Newer stores and restaurants often have western style toilets with older stores, convenience stores, and schools having squatters with a western style toilet or a washlet in the “universal” (family or handicap accessible) restroom.

The photo to the right was taken in a convenience store’s restroom.  I think it might have been a ローソン (Lawson).

A Japanese washlet toilet with control arm
A Japanese washlet toilet with control arm from a cafe I used to frequent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More information:

Little White Cloud Over Aso – William Milberry

Little White Cloud Over Aso – William Milberry

A little white cloud hovers over the volcanic landscape of Mt. Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan.

William Milberry

Landscapes from Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture Japan (熊本県の阿蘇山の風景)

Landscapes from Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture Japan (熊本県の阿蘇山の風景)

Mt. Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, is one of the most beautiful places William Milberry has ever been to.  I’ve been there four times, two of which on scooter, and the landscape awed me each time.  It is one of the largest volcanic caldera in the world.  In ancient times a massive volcano erupted there causing the entire surrounding area to sink.  The land is twisted and rippled with lots of natural countryside.  Only soft-looking, short shrubs and grasses grown on some of the volcanic hills due to the nutrient poor soil which is mostly volcanic ash.  If you ever visit Japan’s Kyushu region, Aso should definitely be put on your list of places to go.

Photographing landscapes is a challenge for me because it’s tough to capture the awe that amazing places inspire and their grand scales in a single image, especially with a DSLR.  Landscapes demand a much larger imaging surface such as medium or large format.  Landscapes also demand a very careful, technical, methodical approach.  I’m very capable of this and engaged in such work a lot in the past, but in recent years I’ve been finding my inspiration in a more Japanese style wabisabi aesthetic which is a very different mindset.

Kome Zuka (lit. ‘Rice Mound’), is a volcanic cone found in the Aso caldera – William MilberryAso, Japan by William Milberry

Mt. Aso, Japan by William Milberry

Centuries of erosion cause deep grooves in the volcanic hillsMt. Aso, Japan by William Milberry

Mt. Aso, Japan by William Milberry

Sparse vegetation on the rocky, volcanic, landscapeMt. Aso, Japan by William Milberry

The sulfurous, boiling, active crater “Nakadake”Mt. Aso Nakadake crater, Kumamoto, Japan by William Milberry

Sunset on Kome ZukaMt. Aso, Japan by William Milberry

忘れられた思い出 (Forgotten Memories)

忘れられた思い出 (Forgotten Memories)

A while ago William Milberry went to a flea market in the Hakozaki district of Fukuoka city.  Like all flea markets the places was full of old and interesting things from the past.  I found an old roll of Fuji 35mm color film in a box of junk.  It wasn’t in a canister and was fully rewound, so it seemed as if it had been used.

I couldn’t resist the curiosity and struck up a conversation with the old man running selling the stuff.
William Milberry:  「この古いフィルムはどんな写真が入っているかな。。。」 (I wonder what kind of photos are on this film?…)
old Japanese man:  「さあ、分からん。」  (I don’t really know.)William Milberry:  「気になるから、百円はどう?」  (I’m curious, how about 100 yen?)
old Japanese man:  「(笑)いいよ。」  ((laughing) Sure. )

I took the film home and decided to develop it as black and white in HC110 – a developer which is pretty decent at cross-processing as well as working on really old or damaged film.  The film itself was out of control curly, it had obviously been wound up inside the 35mm canister for years if not decades.  It came out of the developer almost jet black.  I was able to scan two images off of it …

Forgotten Memories 01 (found film) - by William Milberry
Forgotten Memories 01 (found film) – by William Milberry

Forgotten Memories 02 (found film) - by William Milberry

Forgotten Memories 02 (found film) – by William Milberry

These photos are very intriguing because they offer a little window into a past, forgotten time.  I’m very much a follower of the wabisabi aesthetic and accept and enjoy the deterioration in these photos because it was imparted by time.  It invites me to imagine the film’s history and journey from some Japanese person’s camera, to the flea market, and now around the world to my home in America.