Sugidama: That Cedar Ball Hung in front of Doors in Chizu

  • TRADITIONAL
  • CULTURE
  • The Cedar Ball1

    Author’s photo

    Have you ever seen a ball-like object in either brown or green hanging in front of a sake brewery or a Japanese house?

    If you are from Chizu or have been to this town, you may probably know what is that strange spheric decoration hanged in front of the doors of Chizu’s houses and shops or brewery and you may have an idea about the meaning it carries. For me, I had never seen it nor known of its existence until I went to Chizu last Golden Week.

    Chizu

    On a side note, Chizu is a town in southern Tottori where the famous Ishitani Residence (石谷家住宅), is located. The 300 year-old residence has more than 40 rooms and Japanese gardens on land that spans over of 10,000 square meters. It has also been recognized as an “Important Cultural Property” of Japan.

    How to get to Chizu

    From Tottori station, take a local train towards Chizu. Travel time: about 50 minutes.
    From Osaka, take an express direct train. Travel time: about 2 hours

    While arriving in Chizu, you would easily remark that strange ball, I am talking about. This ball is called “Sugidama”.

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    Sugidama (杉玉)

    The Cedar Ball2

    Author’s photo

    Sugidama is found uniquely in Chizu because this town was once famous by its brewing industry in the old days. At present, however, you may find that almost every family in Chizu hangs at least one in front of their houses.

    The Cedar Ball3

    Author’s photo

    Sugidama, also known as “Sakabayashi”, is a ball made up of cedar branches tied and held together in a spherical shape.

    The Cedar Ball 4

    Author’s photo

    A metallic base is used to hold the branches in place.

    The Cedar Ball5

    Author’s photo

    Then the branches are meticulously trimmed into a perfect sphere.

    The Cedar Ball6

    Author’s photo

    In the past, Sake or beer brewers would hang a fresh Sugidama outside their premises at the start of brewing production. As a newly made Sugidama collects freshly harvested cedar branches which account for its green appearance, it is a signal of the beginning of Sake production. Over time, the cedar branches dry up and hence Sugidama becomes brown in tandem with the maturing fermentation of beer. Therefore, when the customers see a brown Sugidama suspended in front of a Sake shop, they know that the brewed beer is sufficiently aged and ready for sale.

    For your information, you may make a Sugidama in Sugidama Tsukuri Kōbō (杉玉作り工房) for a certain fee.
    So, take your sweet time and stroll slowly along the streets to spot the iconic Sugidamas of Chizu!

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