In December 2023, the Feel Japan event, held in our office in Roppongi Hills, gathered some of the latest products and local foods from all over Japan to share with our curious readers and supporters, who came to learn, taste, and enjoy.

Event participants had the opportunity to learn about Ogata Beikoku, a prestigious rice shop from Yamagata, directly from its 5-star Rice Meister, as well as to taste some of it. We also admired some Japanese craftsmanship through the booths of Hamamonyo, pattern-dyed fabrics from Yokohama, and Artificial Bonsai by J-Wa International. Hamamonyo mainly showcased its Omotenashi Selection Gold Award-winning picture tenugui cloths. J-Wa displayed three of their beautiful artificial bonsai, creating a Zen atmosphere in the venue.

Here’s how the Feel Japan event went and what we all learned.

1. Ogata Beikoku: Into the World of Rice

One of the most prestigious rice stores in Yamagata, Ogata Beikoku has existed for over 130 years. It’s the only company in the prefecture to have won three prestigious rice licenses: Five-Star Rice Meister, Gohan Sommelier, and Rice Taste Appraiser.

Atsushi Ogata, a Five-Star Rice Meister and fifth-generation owner of Ogata Beikoku, explained the strict selection criteria and storage conditions for the company’s rice. The Meister visits farmers directly, asking about their soil and water quality. Only rice with minimum use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers is selected. Then, the rice is stored in refrigerated warehouses all year round, only polished when it’s ordered.

The Feel Japan participants had the opportunity to taste this for themselves, while also testing their tastebuds. Participants carefully savored the Yukiwakamaru and Yumegokochi types of rice in a blind test, comparing their distinctive characteristics in terms of sweetness, aroma, viscosity and texture. Many found that Yumegokochi was extremely sweet and sticky even compared to other rice in general, while the latter had a more subtle but still rich taste. In the end, Ogata revealed how the large temperature difference between night and day creates a rich umami flavor, along with the snow melt water and fertile soil in Yamagata.

2. Hamamonyo Pattern Dyed Fabrics: An Omotenashi Selection Gold Award Winner

Tenugui is a Japanese-style long rectangular towel that is so versatile in its use that it can even be a delightful decoration on your wall. Hamamonyo’s Picture Tenugui portrays various seasonal sceneries of Japan on a tenugui displayed in a special frame.

Founded in 1948 as a textile dyeing factory, Hamamonyo has accumulated unique techniques to dye locally-made scarves and handkerchiefs in Yokohama. It utilizes a dyeing method called “Yokohama Nassen” that can vividly express delicate patterns without impairing the texture of the fabric.

Hamamonyo’s products received a gold award as an excellent product packed with Japanese culture from the Omotenashi Selection, two years in a row. Many event participants stopped by Hamamonyo’s booth to take a close look and touch the stunning fabrics. Not only did the tenugui have stunning painted scenes, but also smooth texture. Participants were excited to receive an omiyage goodie bag from Hamamonyo.

3. A-Bonsai: A Never-dying Japanese Landscape at Home

The traditional art of growing and shaping trees in small pots is a beautiful yet difficult skill. Although bonsai trees may look like regular house plants, they have a demand for skilled attention — daily watering, sunlight, fertilization and more. J-Wa International, however, has another option for bonsai fans lacking a green thumb. J-Wa makes and exports worldwide maintenance-free artificial bonsai called A-Bonsai.

Carefully handmade one by one by skilled artisans in Japan, these bonsai are modeled after the typical bonsai type called “goyomatsu” and look very similar to the real thing. At this year’s Feel Japan event, a booth to showcase A-Bonsai surprised many participants as they thought the bonsai were real living trees and not artificial items.

The next Feel Japan is scheduled to be held in Firenze, Italy in 2024.