Hibachi: Japanese Table Grilling.

Traditional Japanese heating methods have always sought to heat the person, a small group of people, or an immediate area rather than an entire room, house or building as is the case in western heating traditions.

In Japanese homes of old, and in some rural farmhouse and guest ryokans today………Slide19 …….(like Chojukan in Chubu and Yamamizuki in Kyushu featured above) – the central source of heating was the irori or firepit – a sunken fireplace in the middle of the room surrounded by zabuton (flat cotton cushions).  Back then, food was cooked in large cast iron pots suspended from beams in the ceiling, or cooked on skewers thrust directly into the thick bed of ashes that insulated the firepit and surrounded the charcoal fire in its centre.  (Check out the last post Robotayaki).

A more portable version of the traditional sunken hearth in the Japanese home evolved into the kanto naga-hibachi – these were originally made of timber lined with clay and later, emerged in box like form with a metal liner, often of copper.   Later still, the hibachi took the form of a wooden cabinet…………hibachi-large…….. (about coffee table size), with a copper insert that was filled with sand to take the burning charcoal on which to heat the iron kettle, or tetsubin for tea making.  Often these carefully crafted objects would be fitted with drawers to keep tools, tea, cups, tobacco, dry food, etc. (The example above comes from The Culinary Curiosity Exhibition at Chicago’s Kendall College).

Thus, the hibachi in its more portable form, heated a room, was used to warm sake, prepare tea for guests, or cook small meals and came to replace the older irori in urban dwellings.

When Japan’s porcelain industry expanded during the Meiji Restoration period (1868-1912) porcelain hibachi became popular, and it is here that the translation takes on its full meaning –  ‘hi’ meaning fire and ‘bachi’,  bowl.

Brunyfire scored (after much scouring online) a porcelain hibachi, most likely amongst the last (this one is dated about 1930s) that were actually made for the use they were designed for – they have since become sought after in the antique world for potted plants or garden water features – sacrilege!

This little beauty originated from Arita in the Saga Prefecture, a town made famous for its porcelain production because of the availability of a local source of high grade kaolin from the ancient quarry site of Izumiyama. The town of Arita lives and breathes making pottery and is home to the one of the largest ceramics fairs in Japan.Hibachi from JapanacheIt is also where the home and workshop of one of Japan’s former Living National Treasures whose name has over several centuries, become synonymous with a particular style of enameled ceramics called Kakiemon ware, resides.

Attending the 37th General Assembly of the International Academy of Ceramics in Nagoya back in the late 90s, Brunyfire and other members of the Academy were privileged to tour the home and workshop of Sakaida Kakiemon XIV (1934-2013).Slide26 Sakaida Kakiemon XIV was an original descendent of Sikaida Kizaemon (1596-1666) who was popularly credited with being one of the first in Japan to discover the secret of on-glaze enamel decoration on porcelain, known as ‘Akae’.  He was bestowed the name ‘Kakiemon’ by his overlord at the time for perfecting a design of twin persimmons (kaki: persimmon) and for developing the distinctive palette of coloured enamels in soft red, (that most resembled the persimmon) yellow, blue and turquoise green.

One of Hobart’s local tip shops provided the perfectly fitting rack to insert into the hibachi after Brunyfire had first lined it with a protective shield of aluminium and filled it with sand.  The tip shop cake rack made a perfect trivet (traditionally of cast iron) for the tetsubin……..Slide20………..and another cuppa was brewed accompanied by green leaf tea mochi, a kind of rice cake.  The hibachi was then put through its paces more thoroughly.  First off, we’d had a bottle of sake in store that we’d been meaning to taste for a while……….P1040394……..an Australian version from Penrith, NSW.  Go Shu, according to its website, is a premium Junmai Sake that has a ‘light fruit nose, slight bitter/dry hint on flavoursome spirity notes with a deliciously dry finish’.  It can be served chilled or warmed, both sounded good, but we opted for the latter given the cooler evenings we’ve started to have.Slide21An idle trawl through the googlynet just to check on the best means of warming sake resulted in a great little research gem.  Apparently, the Japanese (they are such clever designers!) have a device they call a kandouko.  This is in fact a portable sake warmer, thought to have been in use since the early Edo period (1603-1867).  In the past, people would bring these along for picnics particularly at cherry blossom viewing time, and use them to warm their sake and grill their snacks whilst out enjoying the great outdoors. 126873876_624.v1398766319The example above is from a fellow called James who had gone camping on his trusty motorbike and had taken his kandouko along for the ride – he’d even taken a porcelain sake cup to sup his sake – a refined touch.Slide1Slide23The kandouko holds an amount of water, as is illustrated above, sourced in this case from a local stream. The water is then warmed up by the heat of the charcoal fire that burns in a separate cavity, surrounded by the water. The charcoal heat is also used to grill small snacks on a mesh grill while the water is heated which in turn, heats the sake.  At night it provides a nice little heater, and then fired up again in the morning, the first coffee of the day!  A really neat idea and Brunyfire would very much like to get her hands on one…………

But in the meantime, the porcelain hibachi from Arita was firing nicely and so green tea was followed up by skewered ponzu marinated shitaki mushrooms with ponzu dipping sauce and a black sesame seed mayo.Slide24P1040402This was followed by Get Shucked oysters farmed that day, lightly grilled in their shells without any dressing and simply served with a ponzu dipping sauce…….Slide25P1040408




About brunyfire

Practising potter, open hearth gastronomist,wild food forager, writer.
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4 Responses to Hibachi: Japanese Table Grilling.

  1. Ichibay says:

    Thank you for writing about the kandouko sake warmer. I also own some kandoukos, and often enjoy hot sake with them as this James does (actually, I am acquainted with him). They are fascinating gadgets. I love them, and I have written some articles about the kandouko in English, hoping that more and more people know about this gadget. So, if you like, please read my post such as the following:

  2. Bernie Hahn says:

    Hi…I have an antique hibachi that was handed down to me…I would love to use it for grilling. Is there a way I could obtain the rack in the US?

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