Selecting tableware is a very important part of the Japanese dining experience. Glassware is also an integral part of regional expressions in Japan. I am a big fan of the Ryukyu glass from Okinawa. Okinawa is a tropical paradise in Japan. Ryukyu is the name of the former independent kingdom, which is now Okinawa. Ryukyu glass is colorful and on the table it is light and refreshing, like being on the islands.
These glasses are perfect for the local drink, awamori, served on the rocks. But I also use it for milk, juice, and iced coffee. The cups are sturdy and easy to wash.
The Okinawa antenna shop, Washita Shop, in Ginza, has a nice selection of Ryukyu glass on the basement level and one of the staff members is a Ryukyu glass specialist. The selection is constantly changing, so if you live in Tokyo, it is easy to stop by every now and then to see what is in stock.
The first floor of the shop is for food and has Tokyo’s largest selection of awamori. The basement floor has tableware, clothes, and music. The local music is melodic and can be high-spirited, but some of it melancholy.
Better yet, take a trip to Okinawa and start your collection there.
We have just returned from a trip to Western Japan and one of my favorite things I brought back as an omiyage for myself is this furikake pen that happens to say yukari on it. Yukari is a furikake made from red shiso leaves that are dried and minced with salt. I love it as a topping over rice, but it also makes for quick pickles when massaged into cucumbers or cabbage. It is also can brighten up a salad dressing or be used as a seasoning for popcorn.
The pen was designed by the president of Mishima, a company that is known for yukari furikake. Mishima is based in Hiroshima. Here is a link to the US site for the furikake:
Do you know about kokutō? Black sugar that is harvested on the islands south of Kagoshima in Okinawa. It is a dark sugar that is rich in minerals and is 100% natural sugar cane. We often keep a jar of kokutō on the counter. It makes a nice little snack. Kokutō can be cooked with water to make a syrup for desserts. This with some kinako, roasted soybean powder, over vanilla ice cream, is a combination of flavors that most people love.
A friend of ours is an editor of a famous food magazine in Tokyo. He is a fountain of information and I never share a meal with him without my notebook and pen. At a recent dinner party we were talking about kokutō and he said that each island produces a different flavor of black sugar. Of course, that totally makes sense, but how different could the flavors be?
Shinji picked up five different kokutō at the Washita Okinawa antenna shop in Ginza. Each from a different island. First of all, they all look very different from each other. Who knew? And, drumroll…….they do all taste very different from each other.
These small packages are 50 grams each and cost about 200 JPY ($2 USD). Our tasting notes counter-clockwise starting at pink:
Ie-shima 伊江島 (pink) *** Our favorite. Light in color, not too sweet and surprisingly salty. Rich in flavor and very natural. Will go back for this.
Yonaguni-jima 与那国島 (yellow) ** Medium in color. Light in flavor, not as rich as Ieshima. A hint of saltiness. Hard texture and cut into squares.
Iheya-jima 伊平屋島 (blue) * Light in color. For both of us it was too sweet, much like sugar.
Tarama-jima 多良間島 (dark orange) * Dark color and very hard texture. Sweet and rich flavor.
Hateruma-jima 波照間島 (light orange) ** Very dark in color. Blocks are very chewy. Rich mineral flavor.
Overall the Ie-shima was our favorite. We loved that it wasn’t too sweet and the saltiness was a surprise at first, but we came to love it. Most people love kokutō when they try it.
Note on the names. Shima means island in Japanese. Sometimes the pronunciation of shima can change to jima depending on what name comes before it.