Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • This is one of the oldest businesses in Japan.

  • And "Aburi-mochi" is the only food on the menu.

  • For over 1,000 years, the restaurant has served worshippers who visit the Shinto shrine next door to pray for good health.

  • Many believe eating the roasted rice cakes will protect them from diseases, too.

  • The shop has survived fires, civil and world wars, and even smallpox epidemics.

  • Through it all, 25 generations of one family kept it going, blending food and faith.

  • But COVID-19 has threatened the business more than anything else.

  • We visited "Ichimonjiya Wasuke" in Kyoto to see how it is still standing.

  • [Still standing.]

  • It all starts with the skewers.

  • Owner, Naomi Hasegawa, cuts them from a special bamboo grown for ritual purposes around the shrine.

  • That's why they're considered sacred and treated with as much care as any ingredient.

  • The important job of sterilizing them is only for the "okami," the owner and manager.

  • [The skewers were handed down from the god,]

  • [so we take good care and try to reuse them again and again.]

  • Next, she makes the sweet miso dipping sauce.

  • Naomi knows the recipe by heart.

  • She measures ingredients by eye and feels the mixture for consistency.

  • She learned it all from her aunt, the former "okami."

  • She combines today's batch with yesterday's leftovers for a richer flavor.

  • "Ichiwa" uses a machine to make the mochi dough instead of the traditional method of steaming and pounding with a mallet.

  • [Our ancestors would probably get angry]

  • [if they happened to know we're using the pounding machine.]

  • [But we still don't mass produce our mochi.]

  • [Instead, we make the dough ourselves one by one.]

  • [So while me mechanized the process,]

  • [the original spirit hasn't changed at all.]

  • [This is "Kōjin-sama," the god of fire.]

  • Every day, she makes the first mochi as an offering for the gods and her ancestors.

  • Then it's time to put it all together.

  • Naomi and her employees work on a woven mat covered in roasted soybean powder.

  • They cover the mochi in it, then measure thumb-sized pieces to stick on a skewer.

  • [The skewers are bifurcated because a mochi puffs up when roasted,]

  • [and it can slip off if the skewer is a straight stick.]

  • [But with a forked skewer, it's neatly fixed.]

  • To roast the mochi, she shuffles them until they reach a consistent dark color.

  • It only takes about one minute, but it requires close attention since the mochi could easily overcook, or even worse, the bamboo could burn.

  • She's even particular about the charcoal she uses.

  • This is "binchotan," a high-quality oak charcoal that's much harder than regular coals.

  • [It is solid, durable, and has a good scent.]

  • "Aburu" means to roast.

  • So this is what makes the snack "Aburi-mochi."

  • [Only those who practice this for around 10 years can toast the mochi properly.]

  • She dips the "Aburi-mochi" into the miso sauce while they're still warm.

  • Eleven skewers and a cup of green tea cost 500 yen, or just under $5.

  • Naomi and her predecessor have kept that price steady for over 30 years, but have had to bring the number of skewers down from 15.

  • [My older brother, the current head of our family, says,]

  • [we don't have to earn too much. Our shop originated from a service,]

  • [So our business should just be to never get bored, nothing more.]

  • The "Imamiya" Shrine that "Ichiwa" serves was founded in 994 as Kyoto was suffering from epidemics like smallpox.

  • Locals worshipped Shinto deities who were believed to cure diseases and grant long life.

  • Naomi says "Ichiwa's" original founders served the chief priest and then started the shop to serve worshippers as well.

  • They used to give "Aburi-mochi" away for free and only sometimes received a small gratuity from pilgrims.

  • From the beginning, it's been traditional for women in the family to run the business.

  • [Men go elsewhere to work and earn their families' living costs,]

  • [while women work here to protect our family and this "Aburi-mochi" "Ichinomiya."]

  • [I am the daughter, and together with my brothers' wives we take care of this place.]

  • Naomi is the 25th "okami" to run "Ichiwa," taking over for her aunt 13 years ago.

  • And she has made a few improvements to bring the business into the modern age, like providing insurance to its employees and installing a time-card system.

  • But she draws the line at using delivery apps.

  • [We've politely declined the offers because our mochi shouldn't be brought for delivery.]

  • [We are making "Aburi-mochi" for the visitors of the shrine,]

  • [not for the people who wouldn't come here and join their hands in prayer for the god.]

  • Although "Ichiwa" was born from a time of plague, nothing could have prepared the staff for the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The shop was forced to close for nearly two months in 2020, and it took on debt to ensure employees were still getting paid, even while it was shut.

  • Even the government's national tourism incentive program wasn't enough to bring many customers back.

  • [January 1 and the New Year holidays are really important for us,]

  • [as people visit shrines during these days.]

  • [But this year, the turnout was fewer than half of last year's due to the coronavirus.]

  • Naomi's hopes for the future lie in the next generation of her family.

  • She believes her children or nieces and nephews will take over for her, but there's no set succession plan.

  • And that's intentional.

  • She says she'd enjoy retirement, but until that day, there are faithful visitors to feed.

  • [So as long as "Imamiya" Shrine is there, we won't quit.]

  • [Someday, if "Imamiya" Shine is ruined, then we would retire,]

  • [but we'll never shut down until then.]

  • [I think my ancestors have thought the same.]

This is one of the oldest businesses in Japan.

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 US mochi naomi shrine roasted smallpox shinto

How One Of Japan's Oldest Businesses Has Served Roasted Mochi For Over 1,000 Years | Still Standing

  • 336 17
    Elise Chuang posted on 2021/07/13
Video vocabulary