A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Getting Ready for Ibaraki and Tochigi Prefecture`s Unique HATSU UMA (初午) Celebrations- this year on February 12th (2017)

By Avi Landau

Getting ready for Hatsu Uma ( February 12th this year), by cleaning the precincts of Inari Shrines ( this one in Inari-Mae, Tsukuba)

SUMITSUKARI- a dish served only on Hatu-Uma which is unique to certain parts of Ibaraki and Tochigi Prefectures. This uncooked type (生) was prepared by Asako Seo of Tsukuba

Sumitsukarei wrapped in straw and left as an offering at a small Inari Shrine in Hojo, Tsukuba. Identical objects are also sometimes thrown on rooftops to prevent fire

The kitchen-ware section at the Seibu Department Store put up a display explaining how to make the local Hatsu Uma speciality SUMITSU KAREI

On the eve of Hatsu-Uma- I was lucky enough to get to sample a delicious SUMITUKARE, in Tsukuba, Sasagi. It was made of daikon radish, carrot, fried tofu, leftover setsubun soybeans, sugar, vinegar and soy sauce

If you look at a Japanese calendar, you will notice that every day of the month has been designated as belonging to a different animal of the Japanese zodiac. Today, February 12th on the Gregorian calendar, is the first Day of the Horse of the second month of the year, making it HATSU UMA (初午, the First Horse), a day which has been celebrated for more than 1000 years by devotees of O-INARI-SAMA. There are tens of thousands of Inari shrines around Japan (more numerous than any other type of shrine), ranging from the grand to the tiny (these are called HOKORA, 祠), which are instantly recognizable by their red or vermilion torii gates (sometimes lined up one behind the other forming a tunnel!) and their many fox statues and figurines which lead to the mistaken notion that the foxes are the Gods of these shrines. Even those who have never been to Japan have probably seen them in books or posters as these exotic features make them a very popular subject for photographers.

Fox figurines at a small Inari Shrine in Hojo, Tsukuba. Foxes are the messengers of the deity, not the deity itself, as some assume


The first Day of the Horse of the second month of the 4th year of WADO (711 AD) was the day on which the God UKANOMITAMA NO KAMI was called down to HIS/HER new home, Mt Inari (in modern day Kyoto), upon which later the Fushimi Inari Shrine would be built, as the Titular God (ujigami) of the great Hata Family, which had come to Japan from China. Ukanomitama No Mikoto was originally a god of food and rice. The alternate name INARI is actually a variation of INE NARI, which means to become rice (INE: 稲, rice; NARU: 成, to become, to grow).

The fox, the messenger or servant of this god, has become so strongly associated with Inari shrines that these animals are often confused with the god him/herself.

Over the years, as Inari shrines sprang up throughout the country, they became associated with other things besides agriculture, all in accordance with various stages of Japanese economic development: industry, business, sales, household safety, the arts, etc. Inari is even considered the patron of mahjong parlors and tobacconists. Truly an all-purpose deity. In fact, the Fushimi Inari Shrine actually enshrined four other Gods besides Ukanomitama No Kami, which have become incorporated into the Inari of that shrine, though not necessarily all of the Inari shrines, especially the small ones, around Japan.

Inari-Mae's Inari Shrine

Inari-Mae’s Inari Shrine、across from YU-WORLD in Tsukuba


To celebrate the Inari’s original descent to Japan, devotees begin by cleaning the grounds around the Inari Shrines, as well as the shrine structures themselves. Today I chatted with the men who were getting ready for Hatsu Uma ceremonies at the Inari Shrine in Inarimae in Tsukuba, just across from Yu World and Cineplex. They were burning fallen leaves, cleaning the shrine building and preparing new sacred ornaments of straw, rope and paper, all in preparation for the ceremony which will be held at 10am on  February 12th (in 2017).

At homes, many families throughout Japan will be eating SEKI HAN (celebratory rice with red beans), and offering rice wine (o-miki), mochi, and seki han to the shrines along with plenty of ABURA AGE (fried tofu) which is supposedly a favorite food of foxes. Doing this is said to bring good harvests in the coming year and prevent disasters and sickness as well. Others believe that in this entrance examination period, PASSING THROUGH THE TORII GATE TUNNELS will help students PASS exams.

Morie Nakano Sensei`s Hatsu Uma decorations on display in Tsukuba. It is my opinion that the reason Hatsu Uma is so important in this part of Japan because of the prevalence of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism which is closely connected to the Deity of Inari ( the sect`s protective deity)

An important belief associated with HATSU UMA is that it is a dangerous day on which to make a fire. Because of this superstition a very interesting and extremely localized custom has developed in parts of Ibaraki and Tochigi Prefectures. In order to avoid cooking with fire on this day, a special COLD DISH is made, which utilizes leftover beans from the setsubun bean throwing ceremony, the salted salmon which was eaten during New Year’s and the vegetables of the season- daikon radish and carrots, which is roughly grated with a bamboo grate called ONI OROSHI.

Abura-age ( fried bean curd) is also added as an hommage to the fox messengers. This special dish is known either as SUMITSUKARI, SUMITSUKARE or SHIMOTSUKARE, depending on the area.

Sumitsukari and Celebration rice (sekihan) are also often wrapped in straw (separately) and offered to Inari Shrines and to the Household Gods ( Ujigami- Sama, 氏神様). Since this dish does not spoil easilly, what it is usually eaten by the family for a few days- anyway, until it is all finished.

Offerings to an Inari Shrine in Hojo, Tsukuba for Hatsu Uma – fried tofu,sekihan,soy beans, and sumitsukrei

SUMITSUKARE- the cooked type


Also, in the belief that that it can help prevent fire, the sumitsukari and the rice, wrapped in their straw , are sometimes thrown over the roofs of houses.

SUMITSUKARI appears to be experiencing a revival of sorts. I have met several women who have prepared this dish for this weeks celebrations, and there have even been classes in how to make it at community centers in this area. If you make it to the shrine in Inarimae on the morning of the 6th you might get a chance to taste this very unique dish. If you cant and are still interested, tell a local farmer that you`d lke to try some. Im sure they`d be happy to share with you.

Inari Hokora in Hojo

If you`d like to try and make it yourself here is the recipe.

This is the type of grater used to roughly grate the daikon radish and carrots for sumitsukari (called an ONI-OROSHI)


Recipes for Sumitsukari (スミツカリ)- which is sometimes pronounced SUMITSUKAREI (スミツカレ), and in Tochigi Prefecture SHIMOTSUKARE (シモツカレ)

These recipes do not include salted salmon which is often used, especially in Tochigi.

Recipe for the Cooked Type of Sumitsukarei

Ingredients : Half a daikon radish, half a carrot, half a cup of setsubun soy beans, a sheet of ABURA-AGE ( fried tofu), a tablespoon of Sake dregs, dashi (Japanese soup stock) to taste, and 2 tablespoons each of sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce.

How to make:

Roughly grate the radish and the carrot. Lightly grill or toast th abura-age, and chop up into thin pieces. Peel the soy beans after roasting a bit. Add to pot with the rest of the ingredients and simmer.
Recipe forUncooked (nama) Type

Ingredients- the same as above WITHOUT the sake dregs, soy sauce or dashi

How to make::

Same as the above, except lightly drain the liquid from the grated radish and carrot before adding the vinegar and sugar.

Some delicious SUMITSUKARI (スミツカレ)- prepared by Asako Seo


The most famous Inari Shrines in Japan are the Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, the Kasama Inari in Ibaraki, and the Toyokawa Inari in Aichi. Even more interesting, however, are the small Inari Hokora you can find in Tsukuba’s bamboo groves and forests, or behind shops or restaurants. You can’t miss them with their red wooden gates and little fox figurines.

Sumitsukare throw up on the roof as an amulet protecting the house from fire

Sumitsukare and Sekihan wrapped in straw thrown on top of the roof of one of Ryuichi Someya`s sheds – in the hope that it will prevent fires

A special bento lunch box for todays joint SETSUBUN and HATSU UMA celebrations- a sardine for the former and sumitsukare for the latter- prepared by Asako Seo

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  • betty harada says:

    I was looking to see where I can purchase a oni-oroshi when I came upon your blog entry. What you have learned and to share that with others is so wonderful. Thank you.

  • alice says:

    I have never eaten sumitsukare before. This is the first time I’ve heard of it. Thanks for positing about it.

  • alice says:

    I’ve seen a fox shrine in the compound of a private house and in front of a pachinko parlour but never pay attention to it until I read your post. Thanks.