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New Year Holidays in Japan : Mikan

Mikan is one of the typical fruits in Japanese winter.
When my siblings and I were ever-hungry children, my mother always bought a box with 15 kg (approx. 530 oz, 33 lb) of mikan in winter.
We could easily eat up 15 mikan each at one sitting.
I suppose the Engel’s coefficient of my family must have been quite high at that time.

Mikan in a box

- Mikan box -
Photo from Sozaing

Like kotatsu, mikan is not a “New Year Holidays” special, but it’s inseparable to kotatsu (the standard mikan, “Unshuu mikan” – see below, is sometimes called as “kotatsu mikan”) and that’s why I’m writing this post.

History

Citrus plant is supposed to originally come from the areas around India, Thailand and Myanmar thirty million years ago.
However, it seems that its cultivation had been started in China.
According to several websites, there is a book about the cultivation of citrus plant, written in 22nd century BC.

Both in “Kojiki” (the oldest extant chronicle in the early 8th century) and “Nihon-shoki” (The Chronicles of Japan which was finished in 720), there is a story that Emperor Suinin sent Tajimamori to “Toko-yo no kuni” (Ideal world outside Japan) to bring back a fruit called “Tokijiku no kaku no mi” (lit. fruit with everlasting sweet-smell).
The description in “Nihon-shoki” says that the fruit is a.k.a. “tachibana”, which is a citrus plant.

mikan4

- Mikan tree -

“Unshuu mikan” (citrus unshiu) is believed to be appeared as a mutant fruit in the present Kagoshima in the Edo era, about 400 years ago.
The old “unshuu mikan” tree aged more than 300 years is found in a town in Kagoshima.
“Unshuu” is a name of the famous citrus-produced area in China (“Wenzhou” in Chinese pronunciation), but it is Japanese-born.
I saw a website saying the name “Unshuu” has been commonly used only since the Meiji era. (1868 – 1912)
Before that, its name varied with locality, like “Kara-mikan” (“Kara” means China, Korea, or outside Japan. The same kanji as the Chinese dynasty, “Tang”).
It’s sweet, usually seedless, and easy to peel.
Now, it is the most general mikan fruit in Japan, but it wasn’t widely cultivated until the late Meiji era.
Some say perhaps it was because of the superstition: The word “seedless” reminded people of infertility and they wanted to avoid it.

Mikan-gari (lit. Mikan hunting)

In Japan, there are places you can eat mikan as many as you like at a reasonable fee.
When I was in a kindergarten, we went on a day trip for mikan-gari.
I think it was here .

These kind of “fruit-picking” places are available throughout Japan.
Not only for mikan, but strawberries, Japanese pears, apples, grapes and so on.
If there is any specific fruit you want to gorge yourself in Japan, it’s worth checking if there’s an all-you-can-eat place.

Trivia

[To know how many pieces there are without peeling it]
I tried this only several times long time ago, but I remember I got the correct result every time.

  1. Hull a mikan.Hull of mikan
  2. Count the whitish grain-like small pattern.

    Hull of mikan

    - Close look of the top of the mikan after removing the hull -

 

[To make use of its peel]

Peeling mikan

Photo from Photo AC

The dried “mikan” peel is used as a Kampo medicine called “chin-pi”.
Wash the peel well with hot water, dry it with a towel, put it on a strainer and dry it in the sun *.
When it’s thoroughly dried, slice it to thin strips to preserve it.

*: In a Kampo medicine website, it says that “chin-pi” is the mikan peel dried in the shade for a year.
I doubt if it will not get moldy at home that way.

According to several websites, dried peels help your digestion, clean your skin, improve blood flow, prevent a cold, etc.

– Usage –

  1. For bath.
    Put a cloth bag with a double handful of sliced dried peels into the bathtub filled with warm water.Mikan bagActually, my family didn’t bother to dry nor slice peels.
    We just put a laundry net with raw mikan peels into the bathtub.
    It was all right.
  2. As a mikan drink.
    Put sliced dried peels in a tea strainer.
    Pour hot water and drink it.Mikan Tea
  3. As a seasoning.
    Grate a dried peel.Grated mikan
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kara

A Japanese living in Okayama. A proud "Otaku"! Loves animals, snacks, manga, games (PC, iPad, Nintendo DS, PSP), foreign TV dramas, traveling and football (soccer).

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