Of all the things to be passionate about, mold that grows on rice may seem a strange one. But without koji, the specific type of mold that is used in the fermentation of miso, soy sauce, sake and shochu, Japanese cooking would be unimaginable. And because of this, Hiroshi Terasaka is absolutely smitten with this humble fungus, and his passion is infectious. While bringing out samples of koji, Terasaka explains the seemingly endless culinary possibilities of this under-celebrated ingredient. It is what gives miso and soy sauce their distinct umami flavour, and yet its powers are not limited to savoury foods. “Most Japanese people have a vague idea of what it is, but I wanted to make a place where you can really experience and taste the wonders of koji. And since Kamakura didn’t have a koji shop or cafe before we opened, this seemed like the perfect place to start,” Terasaka says. Born in Fukui prefecture, Terasaka and his siblings are the fourth generation of a family of koji makers. They are perhaps the only koji manufacturer left in Japan that grows their own rice used for the production of the koji, which lives off the starch in steamed rice. After a stint living in Canada, Terasaka spent two years learning the ins and outs of the family business. Once confident in his knowledge of koji and its production, he decided that he wanted to spread appreciation for koji in another region of Japan. “I was involved in opening a casual Japanese restaurant in Toronto and I really enjoyed it, so I wanted to try my hand at opening my own business,” he says. Sitting at the very end of a narrow footpath in an area that is removed from the crowds around Kamakura station and its famous temples, Sawvih is surrounded on two sides by a bamboo grove, giving it a natural serenity. Terasaka commissioned an architect to design a structure that would accommodate a shop and cafe on the ground floor, and living space for him and his family upstairs. The result is a modern, minimalist home and retail space with clean lines and lots of natural wood and light. Entering through the front door of Sawvih, customers find themselves in a small shop space, where Terasaka sells canvas clothing, selvage denim jeans, and work boots, many of which are his own original creations made by top producers across Japan. “Farmers and koji makers need to wear durable work clothes,” he says. “But I wanted to make work clothes that still look stylish.” Just a few steps through the small garden and outdoor seating area is the door to the cafe space at the back: a simple but welcoming room with a single wooden table surrounded by hexagonal stools. Here, Terasaka serves koji ginger ale and lattes, as well as koji sweets made by his brother in Fukui. These might include soy tiramisu, brownies or frozen yogurt. Terasaka also conducts koji workshops in the space on an … Read More
With a dignified and somewhat restrained demeanour, Keiko Goto can at first appear a little aloof. But get her talking about the fine Kamakurabori lacquerware in her shop and she quickly warms up. Goto is the proprietress of Hakkodo, a more than 700-year-old family business that sits at the corner of the entrance to Kamakura’s magnificent Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. She is 29th in line from the founder and has been acting as the CEO and creative director of the company for over a decade. “I grew up playing in the workshop, and as I was the oldest child in the family, it was natural that I take over after my father,” she says. After graduating from Tokyo University of the Arts with a speciality in lacquer, Goto worked for the nearby Kamakurabori Museum before taking the helm of the family business. The history of Kamakurabori dates back to 1192, when the Kamakura Shogunate was established in the city and craftsmen moved in to supply Buddhist sculptures and other carvings for the many temples and shrines being constructed around the then-capital of Japan. When the market for sculptures was saturated, the artisans began making more mundane items such as bowls, plates and trays. Today, more than 50 workshops continue the tradition of making the beautiful lacquerware. The actual production process hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Hard, rough-cut katsura wood is shaped into bowls, plates and trays, then carved by hand with razor-sharp chisels to create different patterns. Up to ten layers of lacquer from the urushi tree are then applied over a period of several weeks, allowing for each layer to properly dry in between. The result is a deep, beautiful sheen that is one of the characteristics of the craft. At Hakkodo, this work is done by a small team of artisans in a workshop attached to the back of the shop. As one of the oldest Kamakurabori workshops in the city, Goto is aware of the importance of tradition, but also feels that the craft must evolve to be relevant for a more contemporary audience. “About half of our products are traditional patterns and items passed down through the generations, but the other half are new products that I have designed to fit better with a more modern lifestyle,” she says. The shop itself is housed in a 200-year-old building with a beautifully renovated interior that tastefully marries the old and the new. Goto has even launched a line of simple tableware she calls Hakko. The carvings on the plates, cups and bowls are far less ornamental than the more traditional pieces, and the lacquering process has also been simplified to about half that of the traditional Kamakurabori ware. The simple but beautifully crafted items make the perfect accent to any interior. “I wanted to make tableware that I myself wanted to use at home,” Goto explains.
A safe distance from the crowds around Kamakura station, past the daily farmer’s market, Ikuyo Segi serves lovingly prepared set lunches in her cosy Oichiichi restaurant. Iku-chan, as all the regulars call her, started her career in fashion but got tired of the industry’s ever-changing whims and realised that what she really wanted to do was to cook. “My father passed away around that time, and I guess that got me thinking about my future,” she says. Iku-chan serves classics of Japanese home cooking with brown rice, miso soup (made with her own homemade miso), and three to four side dishes. There are always two different main dishes to choose from (fried tuna and cauliflower fritters or oyster gratin, for example) and usually one of these is meat free. Everything is carefully served on beautiful ceramics—some of which Iku-chan has repaired herself using the Japanese art of kintsugi—in an unhurried manner that makes customers feel right at home. For someone running such a small restaurant, Iku-chan is surprisingly not very talkative. “I am actually not very good at communication,” she says. “Maybe that’s another reason I chose to work with food. I don’t need words to see if someone likes my cooking. It shows on their faces!” Through her cooking and her ever-present smile, she creates a warm and unpretentious atmosphere of quiet hospitality at the intimate, ten-seat counter. Most of the fruit and vegetables used at Oichiichi are sourced locally, either from the farmers market or from friends. Meat comes from the small butcher shop just five doors down. “The butcher is such a nice man and the meat is always delicious. He also often introduces me to people who need catering, so how could I get my pork and chicken anywhere else?” Iku-chan laughs. Originally from Mie prefecture, Iku-chan has been cooking for more than 20 years in different restaurants around Tokyo and Kamakura. She opened Oichiichi with her husband Satoru, a Kamakura native, in 2012. “We did most of the interior ourselves, but also got help from a lot of people who would walk by and pop their heads in to see what we were up to,” she says. “One passerby helped us paint some of the walls and another one did all the kitchen tiling for us.” The crooked windows, exposed beams and painted old wooden walls all add to the charm of the restaurant. Besides lunch, Iku-chan also does takeaway bento boxes and private catering, mostly by word of mouth. In the evening, Chun, as Satoru is known by his friends, turns Oichiichi into a favourite local hangout. He takes pride in serving an eclectic selection of sake and shochu, as well as draft beer from the nearby Yorocco brewery. He doesn’t really cook, but Iku-chan always prepares a series of small snacks he can serve the regulars with their cold mugs of beer. “It’s funny, but the lunch customers and evening customers are totally different,” Iku-chan explains. But no doubt, they share a liking … Read More