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Let's Start Learning Japanese Cuisine on "Hatsu-uma" Day!

Updated: Apr 26


What is the Connection Between a Very Famous Tourist Spot and Inari Sushi? Here's some good news for those of you who want to learn about Japanese cuisine and culture in Japan! There is a "perfect day to start learning" in early February in Japan. In the Edo period (1603-1868), the Japanese believed that you would improve if you started your studies or lessons on this day. The following is an introduction to the reasons why the "Hatsu-Uma, first horse" day is considered to be the best day to start learning, as well as the " Inari Sushi, "an event food for the " Hatsu-Uma " day. Why don't you use Hatsu-Uma as an opportunity to take the first step towards your dream of learning Japanese cuisine in Japan? Table of Contents 1. What is "Hatsu-uma"? When is 2022? 2. The origin is a tourist attraction! Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto 3. The deep connection between foxes and Inari Sushi 4. Local foods eaten on Hatsu-uma 5. Summary


1. What is "Hatsu-uma"? When is 2022?

↑ Chinese stamps featuring the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. In the center is "Horse(馬=午)" in black on a red background. "Hatsu-uma" means "the first horse day of February." The word "Hatsu-uma" came to represent the festivals and customs held at Inari shrines all over Japan on the first horse day. The "Uma=horse" in Hatsu-uma refers to the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. The twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac (zodiac signs) refer to animals, using the numbers 1 to 12 instead of numbers. 1=子(mouse), 2=丑 (ox), 3=寅 (tiger), 4=卯(rabbit), 5=辰 (dragon), 6=巳 (snake), 7=午 (horse), 8= 未 (sheep), 9=申 (monkey), 10=酉 (rooster), 11=戌 (dog),12=亥(boar). The date is represented by repeating the cycle of these 12 types. The date of the first horse day changes from year to year: February 10 in 2022, February 5 in 2023, February 12 in 2024, and February 6 in 2025.


2. The origin is a tourist attraction! Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

↑ Senbon Torii, a tunnel of brilliant vermilion. Now, let's unfold the origin of Hatsu-uma. You may have been familiar with the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, which is one of the most popular places to visit in Japan among tourists from overseas. The torii gates that line the approach to the shrine, creating a tunnel of vermilion, are vivid and have an eye-catching impact. In fact, the origin of Hatsu-uma is in this Fushimi Inari Shrine. Fushimi Inari Shrine is the principal shrine of the Inari Shinto Shrines, which are about 3,000 throughout Japan. The origin of the Fushimi Inari Shrine dates back 1,300 years to the Nara Period (710-794) when the god of grain descended on Mount Inari on the first horse day of the first month of the year. The word "Inari" in Inari Shrine has the meaning of "inanari," or rice growing, and is affectionately called " Oinari-san" by the Japanese. On Hatsu-uma day, Inari shrines all over the country also hold "Hatsu-uma Festival" to pray for the harvest before starting the spring farming season.

Therefore, the Hatsu-uma Festival attracts many people who pray for a good harvest and various other benefits. During the Edo period (1603-1868), as the trend to encourage learning increased, the Inari deity's role as a guardian of learning and performing arts was emphasized, and people believed that attending a terakoya (a school for children) from the first horse day would improve one's reading and writing skills. For this reason, Hatsu-uma was established as the best day to start learning and practicing. Therefore, Hatsu-uma became the best day to start learning and practicing.




3. The deep connection between foxes and Inari Sushi

↑ The ema(wish tablets) at Fushimi Inari Shrine is a white fox! Whenever you visit a shrine with the name "Inari," not just Fushimi Inari, you will see stone statues of foxes. There are "komainu" (guardian dogs) sitting on the ground in ordinary shrines. We are sure that many of you are wondering why? There are various explanations, but in ancient Japan, people thought that foxes were guardian gods who descended to the villages from early spring, when farming began, to the harvest season in autumn, and returned to the mountains at the end of the harvest. From this view came the belief in the white fox, an invisible spirit animal that was the messenger of Inari, the god of good crops. Within the precincts of the shrine, you can see a statue of white foxes holding a bundle of rice that symbolizes a good harvest, a scroll that represents learning and art, and a jewel that represents wealth. This shows that the Inari Shrine is believed to bring fertility, academic and artistic progress, and business prosperity.

↑ Triangular-shaped Inari Sushi eaten in western Japan Japanese eat Inari Sushi on Hatsu-uma day because of a deep connection with foxes. Deep-fried tofu skin, abura-age, is considered the fox's favorite food, the guardian deity of the Inari deity. It is said that the rice brought by the Inari deity, the god of fertility, was stuffed into fried tofu, the fox's favorite food, and made into an offering, which is the original form of Inari Sushi. As this custom spread, fried tofu simmered with soy sauce and sugar and stuffed with sushi rice came to be called "Inari Sushi" or "Oinari-san," which is the same as the nickname of Inari Shrine. Inari Sushi, a traditional food for Hatsu-uma, is shaped differently in the east and west of Japan. It is shaped like a bale of rice in the east, while in the west, it is shaped like a triangle, named after a fox's ear. Inari Sushi is also popular for lunch boxes and light meals and can be arranged in various ways by adding ingredients to the rice. Gomoku Inari Sushi, which is eaten at the home of Kasama Inari Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture, is colorful and gorgeous. The mouth of the fried tofu is not closed so that you can see the gomoku(five ingredients) rice with added ingredients such as carrots, burdock root, shiitake mushrooms, etc.


(Photo: Gomoku Inari Sushi from Ibaraki Prefecture, from "Our Local Cuisine" at https://www.maff.go.jp/ )




4. Local foods eaten on Hatsu-uma

In addition to Inari Sushi, there are other dishes related to Hatsu-uma in many parts of Japan. Hatsu-uma Dango(Dumplings) In Toyama, Gifu, and Gunma prefectures, where sericulture was very popular, there is still a custom of making dumplings in the shape of silkworm cocoons and offering them to the silkworm deity on the Hatsu-uma. The dumplings are served in various ways, such as in soup or zenzai(sweet red bean soup), covered with red bean paste, or grilled. However, in Gunma Prefecture, there is a tradition that dipping Hatsu-uma dango in soy sauce is bad luck because it looks like a brown stain on a white cocoon and should not be eaten with soy sauce.

↑ "Shimotsukare" (photo: https://www.maff.go.jp/, "Our Local Cuisine" ) Shimotsukare / Sumitsukare Shimotsukare is a local dish eaten on Hatsu-uma in the northern Kanto region, including Tochigi, Saitama, and Ibaraki prefectures. It is a stew with grated daikon and carrots using an "Oni Oroshi, Demon grater," which is coarser than a standard grater (see photo below), leftover salmon heads from the New Year, leftover beans from the Setsubun, root vegetables, and sake lees. It is a dish full of the wisdom of our ancestors that uses the leftovers from New Year's and Setsubun, such as salmon heads and beans, which are believed to ward off evil spirits without wasting them, and is also highly nutritious. On the first day of the first lunar month, "Shimotsukare" is offered to Inari Shrines along with "Sekihan" (steamed mochi rice with red beans) to pray for protection from fire and safety in the home. In some parts of Chiba Prefecture, people taste "Sumizukare" with crumbled tofu instead of salmon.

↑ "Oni Oroshi" in the foreground. In the back is a large pot of "shimotsukare" with salmon heads.


5. Summary

↑ Illusionary night view of Senbon Torii


This article introduced Japan's Hatsu-uma as the best day to start learning.

There are more than 10,000 vermilion-lacquered torii gates on Mt. Inari surrounding Fushimi Inari, the origin of Hatsu-uma. Since the Edo period (1603-1868), people have been praying for their wishes to pass through the torii gates or dedicating them as a way of thanking the gods for their success. Every year on Hatsu-uma, many people visit the shrine to pray for improvement in their academic and artistic skills and taste Inari Sushi.


What is the Japanese dish you would like to try to make?

Is there a Japanese dish you would like to taste?

This time, we introduced you to Inari Sushi, one of the Japanese flavors that you should definitely try.

Since it doesn't use fish, it's also a great vegetarian option!

You can learn how to make Inari Sushi at JCI's Sushi Course and Home Cooking Course.

I hope we can enjoy Inari Sushi together on Hatsu-uma next year in Japan!


Let us, JCI(Japan Culinary Institute), support you as you learn about Japanese food in Japan.

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