AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

The ume of good fortune

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 2, 2008

TWO MONTHS AGO, we had a post about the different uses of ume, a Japanese fruit related to the apricot but sometimes referred to as a plum. One of the ways it’s consumed is as fuku-ume, or the ume of good fortune. The fruit is cured in salt, dried in the sun, and sold at shrines for the New Year’s holiday. The idea is to put one in some hot water, drink it, and enjoy good health in the year ahead.

fukuume

Well, good tidings I bring: fuku-ume season has arrived at last. The priests and miko, or shrine maidens, at the Kameyama Hachiman-gu Shinto shrine in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi have begun the work to wrap the ume of good fortune in straw for sale to the public.

The shrine cured 300 kilograms (about 661 lbs.) of the ume in salt and spread them to dry in the sun starting in early July. The wrapping began at the end of November at the shrine, with the miko slipping five of the dried fruit into the straw wrappers the shrine priests made.

Tradition has it that the people who drink the ume immersed in either hot water or tea will enjoy good health all year. It derives from an incident during the Heian period (which was more than a millennium ago) in which someone was cured of the plague by drinking ume tea.

The shrine says this year’s crop is about normal, and hopes that everyone drinks some of the juice on New Year’s Day. One of the straw twists with five of the fruit sells for 600 yen ($US 6.28).

Last week my wife came home with a couple of packs of dried ume to be eaten as a snack that someone had given her. I tried one, and it instantly puckered the insides of my mouth. They’re a bit too briny for my taste.

But I’d drink some hot water in which one had been dunked. That business about keeping you healthy for a year may be only a legend, but who knows? It won’t hurt and it just might help!

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