This year’s Winter Solstice is December 22nd. The Winter Solstice is the day which has the shortest day and longest night of the year. From this day forward each day slowly lengthens and the power of the sun will resurge. Thus, Winter Solstice is also called “ichi-yo-rai-fuku” or “The sun comes back again”.

On the day of Winter Solstice, bustling crowds flock to Anahachimangu Shrine in Waseda, Tokyo, where a Winter Solstice festival is held. Those who visit the shrine on this day can receive an ichi-yo-rai-fuku amulet which is said to bring good fortune for finance and business. Kinkan (literally, gold citrus fruit) or, a kumquat and a ginnan (literally silver apricot) gingko nut come inside the amulet, so it is believed that having this lucky charm helps prevent suffering from any lack of money, and furthermore it actually brings in money.

Although the mighty sun will make its return, harsh cold days are still ahead of us. In Mashike, Hokkaido, Kunimareshuzo Brewery is producing sake that takes advantage of being the northern-most brewery in Japan. Head Brewer Hiroki Higashiya told us that he wants to produce sake that has tangible umami within a dry taste.

The brewery was founded in 1882, and there are a lot of long-time fans of the sake produced here. Just hearing “sake produced in the northern-most part of Japan” makes us want to have a taste. It would be a fine idea to enjoy the sake while enjoying a vista of snow-covered scenery, but apparently the area “snows a lot, but strong wind from the ocean takes most of the snow away so it doesn’t have thick snow.” “Kunimare”, the sake that is nurtured with great care in this harsh climate, has been aptly named for the day of welcoming a new year. Why don’t we savor it while wrapping ourselves up in a kotatsu?

Photo: Kosuke Mae   Text: Michiko Watanabe   Translation: Isaku Goto (SOZO)

On New Year’s Eve, the shop-fronts of popular long-established soba restaurants see long queues of people. It goes to show how many people feel that they can’t ready themselves for a new year without it. This is no surprise, as toshikoshi-soba is a dish that is supposed to bring good fortune. The long and thin noodles are meant to bring “longevity and good health” as well as a “long-lasting family line”.

According to a survey by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as usual Hokkaido again topped the crop yields of buckwheat in Japan in 2016. Horokanai City was by far the biggest producer. In Hokkaido, the climate is cool from July to August, there is a large temperature gap between day and night, and crops are blessed with a fine morning mist, combining to create the high-quality buckwheat for which the area is known.

Why don’t you try buckwheat noodles from Horokanai for your toshikoshi-soba this year?

Fujiwaraseimen Horokanai buckwheat noodles: ¥270
Marui Imai Sapporo Main Store Kita Kitchen Aurora Town

The history of dairy farming in Hokkaido began in 1871 when Kiyotaka Kuroda, the Vice Chairman of the Hokkaido Development Office at the time, traveled to the states to invite United States Commissioner of Agriculture Horace Capron to Japan as a special advisor. Capron brought on Edwin Dun in 1873, and he arrived in Japan along with 20 cows and 100 sheep. Dun worked on building the “Makoma Cow Farm”, and the production of butter and cheese soon began.

Shiranuka Rakukeisha Cheese factory stands on the foundations built by these pioneers. Here, high quality milk is turned into Italian cheese. Eating their cheese by itself is great, but it is also highly versatile for cooking with as well. There are 20 kinds of fresh cheese available, all of which possess both gentleness and strong presence.

Shiranuka Rakukeisha cheese (clockwise, starting from above left)
Ricotta: ¥308 / Mozzarella: ¥603 / Scamorza: ¥405 / Toma Shiranuka: ¥457
Marui Imai Sapporo Main Store Kita Kitchen Aurora Town

As the name suggests, Matsumae-zuke or Matsumae pickles, have their origins in the local cuisine of the former Matsumae Fiefdom. As a preserved food in the snowbound region, local people have been making it for long time. The dish may be the crystallization of their forefathers’ wisdom.

According to Tatunoya, a prominent producer of Matsumae-zuke, the original ingredients for the pickles were just kelp and dried shredded squid pickled in soy sauce. Herring roe was added to the recipe in the 1960s. The Matsumae-zuke of Tatunoya use kelp and dried shredded squid pickled in soy sauce as the main flavor source, to which herring roe, daikon radish and carrot are added to create their modern take on traditional Matsumae-zuke.

Their “premium” version uses only soy-sauce-pickled kelp and dried shredded squid; herring roe or sugar are not added to this one. As it is made only from the essential ingredients, everything comes down to the quality of the ingredients and careful fermentation. This food is simple, but has such a historical depth it is something that we should pass on to the next generation.

Tatunoya Matsumae-zuke: ¥1,350
Marui Imai Sapporo Main Store Kita Kitchen Aurora Town

This item can be purchased from the online store.

Drawn by images from the words “the northern-most sake brewery”, we visited Kunimare Brewery in Mashike, Hokkaido. From October till April, 20 sake makers working under the Head Brewer toil on a sake-making process called “kanzukuri” or “cold brewing”. Some of the workers were local fruit farmers, and some came from Iwate prefecture through their connections with the Nanbu-toji (a group of sake brewers based in Iwate). This gathering of workers seemed to illustrate the unique dynamics of the seasonal activities in the area.

The brewery has 135 years of history since its foundation. Brewery Founder Taizo Honda originally moved from Sado, Niigata to Otaru, Hokkaido to manage a kimono business. He then moved to Mashike, where he ran a kimono business as well as a fishery. The brewery is one of the other businesses he founded alongside these two enterprises.

We were guided by Head Brewer Hiroki Higashiya. With his vast store of accumulated experience and knowledge of sake making in Hokkaido, he has been working as the head brewer of Kunimare Brewery for 5 years. His aim is to produce sake that makes the most of the ingredients used.

The very soft water used in the making of his sake comes from a subterranean river flowing from Mount Shokanbetsu. Higashiya commented that with this water, “the yeast becomes gentle, creating a mild sake”. The delicious, gentle taste of the sake is an experience you never tire of, aptly reflecting the character of its maker.

*Sake from Kunimare Brewery is available at Marui Imai Sapporo Main Store.
Information / Marui Imai Sapporo Main Store TEL: 011-205-1151 (main switchboard)

*All prices include sales tax