My Favorite Shimedaiko Tightening Method

Edo Bayashi shimedaiko courtesy of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten & tightening tools

Edo Bayashi shimedaiko courtesy of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten & tightening tools

I have used several different methods for tightening shimedaiko over the years, and my single favorite technique uses a kizuchi (wooden mallet). I first learned about it from Kenny Endo many years ago when I moved to Hawaii to study with him. Last year, during my Edo Bayashi intensive with Kyosuke Suzuki sensei in Tokyo, I was taught all the details for Wakayama Shachu’s version of this method. Suzuki sensei is always very open in sharing his knowledge, and his terrific teaching skills are always present, whether I’m learning Edo Bayashi, shishimai, or shimedaiko tightening. You can read more about the intensive here:

The biggest advantages for the kizuchi method are: you can tighten a drum by yourself, muscle power is not needed due to the use of leverage, there is no need to weaken the rope by hitting it, and there is minimal strain on your back. Last year I started offering instruction on this method, and it has been great to see people sharing my enthusiasm for tightening shimedaiko this way. The two most common problems I see with rope shimedaiko are not getting it tight enough and repeated uneven tightening resulting in the ‘clamshell’ effect. I have no doubt that learning the kizuchi method will help groups improve the sound and longevity of their drums.

The taiko pictured here is courtesy of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten, an Edo Bayashi drum and stand made to Wakayama Shachu specifications. Next to it are my oak agebachi (43cm), a kizuchi head modified to fit the agebachi, vinyl hose pieces, and a plastic pad for protecting the drumhead. Thank you to Yoshihiko Miyamoto san for the continued support!

Here are ten pieces of advice about shimedaiko tightening that I learned from Suzuki sensei:

  1. Play the lower-pitched side of the shimedaiko. It sounds fuller and richer.

  2. Tie the rope to the playing side using a bowline knot (moyai musubi). This knot is included in my blog about atarigane knots.

  3. Make sure the tate rope (tsuna) is evenly tightened before going on to the next step. If uneven, the drum will clamshell in the long run.

  4. For new drums, use slitted pieces of hose to protect the rim as you use the agebachi.

  5. Use a kizuchi (approximately 7 x 15cm head, 40cm handle length) to get the drum tight through the use of leverage. You can make it yourself or order custom-made mallets from my friends Abby or Chris. Contact me for more information.

  6. Protect the drumhead when using the kizuchi.

  7. To save time, find the middle point of the rope and pull the doubled rope through.

  8. At the end, the rope should wrap around the drum 3 times, tying the very last knot at the same place as the very first bowline knot.

  9. Place the knot side on the bottom when you place it on the stand.

  10. Always loosen the drum after playing. The advantages are: better sound, longer-lasting heads, any unevenness will not become permanent, and it provides valuable tightening practice to improve your skill.

Decorative Knots for Atarigane and Shumoku

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I recently started a serious study of knots and quickly found out how bottomless this world of knot-tying really is. During my Tokyo Edo Bayashi intensive (read about it here) last June, Suzuki sensei showed me his method of tightening shimedaiko including all of the knots. But for the atarigane and shumoku, sensei simply showed me his instruments and advised me to look up some decorative knots and experiment after I got home. While this was a fun activity, I realized the challenges of not only learning how to tie them, but to find the correct knots in the first place. The internet usually makes information searches fast and easy but my lack prior knowledge made it frustrating to comb through hundreds of tutorial photos, videos, and useless web links. For knots, it turns out that you need to know the exact name of the knot before any good search results will show up. This was even more difficult when I was trying to find the English name of Japanese knots, or trying to reverse engineer knots from photos. Fortunately there are a lot of great tutorials online when you start with the correct knot names, and I list all of the ones I use here.

My research is knot done yet, but these labeled photos will provide a good starting point for anyone looking to add some color and style to their atarigane and shumoku. I don’t believe that there is a single correct way to approach this, and I would encourage everyone to experiment with different combinations of these and other knots. Much like the study of the Edo Bayashi music, there is no end once you start going deeper and deeper down this path. It would be fun to see everyone’s versions so please send me a photo if you try this yourself.

The left-side photo below shows a 5.5 Betsubiki atarigane with some decorative string I repurposed from a pair of chappa. The shumoku (Marukuma Edo Bayashi) string was originally on one of my other kane, and at 93cm it’s probably too long. I might go with something like 60 - 70cm for the shumoku string (length before tying). The common colors I see are purple, red, orange, and white, but it might be interesting to try other colors or combinations. The right-side photo (orange string) shows my experimentation with locking loop knots so that the string length is easily adjusted for different playing styles. Of the two, I prefer the adjustable grip hitch for its ability to hold more firmly. I added a variation so that the end of the string points down rather than out to the side. This photo also shows the proper orientation of the kane where the string holes are toward the bottom.

There are some bonus photos at the end showing two knots: the cowboy bowline and the snake knot. I used an old piece of string from my vibraphone to practice these knots before trying it on the real material. I would highly recommend doing this to get more familiar with the many different techniques. The cowboy bowline is typically used as the starting knot for shimedaiko and is called moyai musubi もやい結び in Japanese. Although I considered similarly breaking down all of the knots I list here, I decided knot to because doing your own research is invaluable, and I wanted to keep the length of this blog entry reasonable. Feel free to send me any follow-up questions. Good luck and happy tying!

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Orange kane and shumoku.jpg

Poacher’s knot

Adjustable grip hitch
(variation of passing the string through the last loop down)

Snake knot
Tsuyu musubi つゆ結び

Shamrock knot (sailor’s cross)
Agemaki musubi あげまき結び

Japanese square knot
Kanou musubi かのう結び

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Orange close up copy.jpg

Snake knot

Japanese square knot

Triangle lanyard knot

Double connection knot

Overhand knot

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Snake Knot

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snake knot tight copy.jpg

Cowboy Bowline Knot

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Cowboy bowline tight copy.jpg
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My Edo Bayashi Year of 2018

Edo Bayashi intensive with Suzuki sensei in Tokyo, June 2018

Edo Bayashi intensive with Suzuki sensei in Tokyo, June 2018

A lot of great things happened in 2018, but one of my most important through lines of this past year was Edo Bayashi. My initial introduction to traditional Tokyo festival music happened through my first teacher, Saburo Mochizuki sensei, who patiently taught these intricate rhythms to me and the members of our youth taiko ensemble based in Saitama. I can clearly recall those lessons and eventual performances where I quickly realized the necessity to practice the material on my own time in order to internalize it completely. This was quite different than the other taiko pieces we had been learning. The music was fascinating, but I also remember the unmistakable festive feeling of omatsuri bringing joy every time I heard this music. Many years later, I had the good fortune of completing a full circle by studying and performing Edo Bayashi in Hawaii with Kenny Endo. In addition to studying Japanese classical percussion with Saburo sensei, Kenny had spent many years learning Edo Bayashi from Maru sensei, one Wakayama Shachu’s top players. During my time as a member of Kenny’s ensemble, I met Suzuki sensei. He had been invited by Kenny to appear as a guest artist for a Hawaii concert tour, and I was immediately struck by his combination of uncompromising artistic standard and genuine niceness as a teacher and fellow musician. This first encounter has turned into a thirteen-year connection spanning lessons, concerts, and US tours, and I am grateful to have Suzuki sensei as a teacher, collaborator, and friend. Below are some of the highlights of my Edo Bayashi year of 2018.

For anyone wanting to start or to further your Edo Bayashi studies, contact me. I’m happy to answer any questions and help you gather the necessary tools to start practicing. This music is remarkable in the way it has been steadily spreading across players of all styles, ages, and experience levels. In addition to workshops, I teach private lessons - both in person and through online software like skype. Feel free to send me an email to inquire about setting something up for yourself or your group. I can also discuss possibilities of inviting Suzuki sensei to your area.

Edo Bayashi practice materials during my 2-week Tokyo intensive

Edo Bayashi practice materials during my 2-week Tokyo intensive

Edo Bayashi private lesson intensive in Tokyo
In order to further my Edo Bayashi study, I traveled to Tokyo for a 2-week private lesson intensive with Suzuki sensei in June. While my previous intensive focused on how to teach the kihon (basic) version of Edo Bayashi, this recent trip was to focus on how to teach the next level.

Read about my previous intensive

Learning “Level 2” has its challenges due to the music being more free and open to changing rhythms and section lengths compared to the “Book” version. I wanted to make sure my own playing and instruction concept reflected the proper approach of Suzuki sensei within the Wakayama-Ryu style. Our lessons covered three main topics: the music (shimedaiko, odaiko, atarigane, shinobue), the reigi (etiquette), and shimedaiko tightening. There are various paths of study that Level 2 Edo Bayashi can take, but it was important for me to clarify all of the details so that my teaching of the material would be completely in line with Suzuki sensei’s method. It was also interesting to confirm my thinking that, like the study of jazz, transcribing and studying the best players are of paramount importance in this next-level study. On this trip, I was lucky to have the opportunity see Wakayama Shachu perform Edo Bayashi several times at a small festival in Tokyo at Shirahige Jinja, and this provided more insight on how Suzuki sensei and his fellow members approach this music.

Wakayama Shachu performing Edo Bayashi at Shirahige Jinja

Wakayama Shachu performing Edo Bayashi at Shirahige Jinja

Shirahige Jinja in Tokyo

Shirahige Jinja in Tokyo

The topic of reigi has increasingly been on my mind, especially because of Suzuki sensei’s interaction with many students and collaborators during his recent US tours. On one side of this issue is how etiquette in Japanese traditional arts (especially professional) are taught, practiced, and expected. As sensei states, both teachers and students who are accustomed to this structured system feel more “ochitsukeru" (at ease) when everyone’s behavior follows traditional customs. An opposing viewpoint might argue that anyone who didn’t grow up in the system should not be expected to follow this foreign etiquette, as it is separate from the appreciation and commitment to the music itself. Finding a healthy balance point seems to be a continuous puzzle for sensei as he navigates teaching in a wide variety of situations during his time here. Talking at length about how things went during previous tours, we boiled down this topic into three points which we feel are universally valued and easily understood: hello, thank you, and I’m sorry. Here are the three A’s of good etiquette:

  1. Aisatsu - this is to acknowledge the presence of your teacher and fellow students. Always say hello when you see someone for the first time, especially your teacher. The phrase “yoroshiku onegai shimasu” can be added after the initial hello if a lesson, rehearsal, or performance is to follow. It’s also important to say goodbye before parting. A simultaneous lowering of the head, even slightly, communicates your feeling of respect to the person. It’s also good practice to avoid looking down on your teacher by positioning yourself at the same level or lower than your teacher. For example, sit down if they are seated, or step down from a higher point such as a riser on stage.

  2. Arigato gozaimashita - thanking your teacher for a lesson, performance, meals, and generally their time and energy can probably never be overdone. A truly great teacher provides us with invaluable knowledge and experiences, so the least we can do is to express our appreciation as much as possible. This also applies to the next day or next meeting after a lesson, concert, or meal where we can say “thank you for the performance yesterday.” Notably missing here is “otsukare samadeshita” because within Wakayama Shachu, as is the case in many Japanese traditional arts, this phrase is never used to address your teacher or fellow students who are more experienced.

  3. Ayamaru - as sensei says, we apologize to clear the air. If we make a mistake during a performance, good etiquette tells us to say sorry to your teacher (and fellow performers) immediately after exiting the stage. This is to verbally clarify that you take responsibility and do not place blame on others. Common sense also dictates us to apologize for being late, or causing nuisance in any way to your teacher. Of course, we should always be striving to prevent situations where such apologies become a necessity in the first place.

Finally, I was able to learn the shimedaiko tightening method used by Wakayama Shachu. It utilizes the agebachi as well as a large wooden mallet, which provides leverage so that getting a lot of rope tension is possible without much muscle exertion due to physics and the use of body weight. In contrast, the two-person tightening method requires more strength along with the biggest disadvantage of needing two people. The other common method of pulling up on the rope as you stand on top of the drum also requires more muscle power, and it strains your back even if you are careful to use your legs. I am confident that the method Suzuki sensei taught me is truly superior to these other two, and I’m looking forward to sharing the technique with others in the near future. The taiko world needs more properly tightened shimedaiko, in my opinion.

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I would like to express my enormous gratitude to Yoshihiko Miyamoto and Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten for sponsoring these private lessons. Such kind support is very important and meaningful for me to continue my studies into this bottomless well of learning that is traditional Tokyo festival music. Thank you very much Yoshi san!

Suzuki sensei US Tour
We are fortunate that Suzuki sensei is always willing to travel to the US to share his knowledge and artistry. He was at the very first North American Taiko Conference in 1997, and he continues to gain new fans with each new workshop or performance presented around the country. Suzuki sensei’s most recent tour happened in April and we visited three places:

Suzuki sensei with Ho Etsu Taiko

Suzuki sensei with Ho Etsu Taiko

Suzuki sensei and Eien at “the bean" in Chicago

Suzuki sensei and Eien at “the bean" in Chicago

Ho Etsu Taiko invited Suzuki sensei for a 1-week residency which included many hours of workshops and private lessons along with the group’s very first performance of Edo Bayashi. The planning started 6 months before the concert, when I conducted an introductory Edo Bayashi workshop weekend for Ho Etsu. This extraordinarily short timeline required focused planning and a lot of hard work, and the group’s dedication came through in multiple ways, resulting in a very successful residency and concert. This was their first time meeting Suzuki sensei and I could sense a bit of anxiousness as his arrival date approached, but it didn’t take long for everyone to witness his kind and relaxed demeanor. The concert program was a nice mixture of Ho Etsu’s repertoire, featured spots for Suzuki sensei and myself, and the traditional forms of Edo Bayashi, Edo Kotobuki Jishi, and Ryoumen Odori. The members of Ho Etsu created an excellent blog series documenting this process, and they even asked me to contribute a guest blog. Ho Etsu’s leader Jason Matsumoto also created a short video recap of the residency, which provides a glimpse into the activities that week.

Ho Etsu Taiko’s Edo Bayashi blog

Suzuki sensei residency recap video

The planning of this US tour began with TaikoArts Midwest’s Jennifer Weir and Iris Shiraishi inviting Suzuki sensei for their April installment of Taiko Tuesdays concert series. We were in Minnesota for ten days, which consisted of rehearsals, workshops, private lessons, and a little bit of sightseeing. Suzuki sensei continues to be impressed with the progress of the TAM Edo Bayashi Ensemble. He was there in August 2017 to work with the group and some of the members have taken other intensives in the US and Tokyo. Like Chicago, the concert included pieces from the Enso Daiko repertoire, features for Suzuki sensei and myself, and the traditional forms of Edo Bayashi, Edo Kotobuki Jishi, and Ryoumen Odori. Perhaps the most significant achievement is this: this was the very first performance of Level 2 Wakayama-Ryu Edo Bayashi as taught by Suzuki sensei outside of Japan. As important as this was, TAM continued to blaze trails a few months later by crowdfunding successfully to purchase a new set of instruments for Edo Bayashi and Kotobuki Jishi from Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten. More about these drums later, but a big congratulations to the TAM Edo Bayashi Ensemble!

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Taiko Tuesday program featuring Kyosuke Suzuki sensei

Taiko Tuesday program featuring Kyosuke Suzuki sensei

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Photo by Jeff Sandeen

Suzuki sensei intensive at Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center in Brooklyn

Suzuki sensei intensive at Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center in Brooklyn

Our final stop was the Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center in Brooklyn, New York for a weekend intensive. The format consisted of instruction on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as well as facilitating in-depth learning along with ample opportunities to talk and ask questions to sensei during breaks and communal mealtimes. Being at the end of a long and busy tour, Suzuki sensei and I were somewhat challenged by this intense schedule, but it was very rewarding to spend so many consecutive hours on instruction and informal conversation. One of the fun late-evening moments was when Kaoru hooked up his computer to the projector and we watched various videos of Suzuki sensei and Wakayama Shachu, pausing to talk about the music, dance, costumes, history, or some related topic. It’s a pleasure to have a friend and colleague like Kaoru, as our views about the importance of traditional forms, and music in general, are very much in line with each other.

In March, I interviewed Kenny Endo for my blog’s interview series. I wanted to specifically talk about his time in Japan learning Wakayama-Ryu Edo Bayashi, and this interview turned out to be an important resource for anyone interested in Edo Bayashi. I agree with Iris Shiraishi who said there were many ‘aha’ moments during the conversation. Thank you to Kenny for making time to share these important stories and insights.

Kenny Endo Interview

Taiko workshop for Edo Kotobuki Jishi in San Diego

Taiko workshop for Edo Kotobuki Jishi in San Diego

Earlier that month, I was invited for a weekend of public workshops in San Diego. I had spent a week there in August 2017 during the North American Taiko Conference and Suzuki sensei’s Shishi Mai Summer Taiko Institute. Partly due to this, there was plenty of interest in workshops for Edo Bayashi and the shishimai ohayashi (music). I also offered workshops for shinobue and taiko fundamentals to round out the weekend. I had a great time and it was wonderful to see so much interest in these topics. My hosts were wonderful, taking me around to visit a respectable number of breweries in the thriving scene there. Thank you to Chris Huynh and Jack Hsiao for the warm hospitality.

Taiko workshop in San Diego

Taiko workshop in San Diego

Shinobue workshop in San Diego

Shinobue workshop in San Diego

Later that month, I was invited by Susan Yuen of Jun Daiko to work with the Edo Bayashi nerd club in Mountain View, California. Jun Daiko has so many members with whom I played in Hawaii as a member of Kenny’s group so it’s always a fun reunion where we can speak the same language and share stories. You can also read Sue’s guest entry at Ho Etsu’s Edo Bayashi blog page.

Ho Etsu Taiko’s Edo Bayashi blog

Edo Bayashi workshop in Seattle with Dekoboko Taiko

Edo Bayashi workshop in Seattle with Dekoboko Taiko

In May, I was invited to teach Edo Bayashi to a newly formed group in Seattle called Dekoboko Taiko. None of their members were familiar with Edo Bayashi, but they showed a lot of interest before, during, and after this introductory workshop. I was shown some of the music they play and it was wonderful to see their energy and emphasis on playing the group’s original compositions. I look forward to seeing the development of Edo Bayashi in Seattle. Thank you to Lamond and Leanna for the fun time.

In August, Maui’s dynamic youth group Zenshin Daiko invited me for a one-week residency. It’s always wonderful to be back in Hawaii and to work with such a great group of kids. Zenshin has a lot of experience performing big shows and learning from professionals, and as a result I have learned that it usually take them half the time to learn new music compared to other taiko groups. This proved to be true when I introduced the taiko and atarigane patterns for Nageai, where they were able to rotate parts to learn everything in the book. I returned in October to introduce the fue parts along with new taiko and atarigane variations to incorporate. I look forward to seeing how this group incorporates the new material into their future performances. Thank you to Tony and Valerie Jones for the always wonderful hospitality.

After the Edo Bayashi workshop in Denver

After the Edo Bayashi workshop in Denver

In September, I traveled to Denver for a variety of workshop topics. The origin point of the tour was the Denver Buddhist Temple, where I conducted a Natto Demonstration and a Japanese Knife Sharpening Workshop. Those events went well, along with the music-related workshops for different Denver groups. There was a public workshop called Introduction to Edo Bayashi where we covered the taiko and atarigane parts for Nageai. A few days later was the class where we covered the fue portion. I feel fortunate to have a lot of friends who take care of me in Denver, and I feel warmly welcomed each time I visit there. Thank you to Sarah Anderson, Courtney Ozaki, and everyone else involved with my tour.

Finally, back to the new taiko fund-raised and ordered by TaikoArts Midwest! The beautiful new instruments arrived to Minneapolis in early November and I was invited back to introduce more Level 2 Edo Bayashi material from my June intensive. It was also rewarding to share the new shimedaiko tightening method to everyone, and this was the first tightening session since their delivery. The drums look incredible and sound fantastic! The real sound can only come from the real instruments made for this specific music, and it was wonderfully rewarding to conduct our workshops on these new drums after tightening them as a group using Suzuki sensei’s method. Indisputably, TaikoArts Midwest is simultaneously setting the bar higher for Edo Bayashi study and showing the rest of us that this is all possible. I am looking forward to what comes next in Minnesota, and everyone should be paying close attention as well. Thank you to Iris Shiraishi and Jennifer Weir for everything you do.

TAM shimedaiko after tightening.JPG
TaikoArts Midwest members with the newly arrived Edo Bayashi taiko from Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten

TaikoArts Midwest members with the newly arrived Edo Bayashi taiko from Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten

Video: Five Study Tips for Taiko Players

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A few months ago I was asked to submit a video for the Taiko Community Alliance Taikothon 2018, a one-day online event where videos from taiko artists and groups are broadcasted for public viewing. Typically, the videos contain live performances, discussion on a topic, or even skits (I especially enjoyed the creativity and production quality of Zenshin Daiko’s submission). Two years ago, I made a video explaining my approach to the rules of rhythm by breaking down the notion of pulse and subdivisions. This year I decided to contribute my top five tips - practices which have most significantly helped my development as a taiko player. Below is the video, which covers these tips and demonstrates them in an example where I play a hip Edo Bayashi atarigane transcription along to a cool funk tune. My top five study tips for taiko players are:

  1. Think like a drumset player - good drumset players prioritize consistent timekeeping and being good accompanists. This means that we are always working on tempo control and playing with appropriate dynamic levels. Listening and flexibility are crucial ingredients for good accompanying.

  2. Transcribe music - students of jazz commonly transcribe and learn to play the solos of their favorite musicians. Not only does this practice teach you what kind of notes to play, it provides invaluable insight into why those notes are played and the phrasing (inflection) used to bring them to life.

  3. Study traditional music - there is no substitute for experiencing the depth of an art form with centuries of history. When healthy, traditional music is full of life, constantly changing due to the cycle of practitioners keeping the best parts and removing the worst parts. There is a reason for everything contained in traditional music, and this is powerful.

  4. Focus on your sound - the sound of your instrument is the most uniquely personal part of playing music. Trying to emulate your teacher’s sound or your favorite musician’s touch on the instrument is the path that will lead you to improving your sound.

  5. Take private lessons - just like the clear difference between rehearsing with your group and practicing on your own, studying privately with a good teacher will greatly accelerate your development compared to learning in classes or workshops. Private lessons should have a laser focus on your goals, and a good teacher will provide the tools for you to reach them as long as you put in the work.

How to Make Onigirazu - A Step by Step Pictorial

Willamette Valley rose with onigirazu (nori, brown rice, canned sardines, grilled zucchini and peppers, lettuce, shiso, and shoyu-balsamic vinaigrette). There are no rules.

Willamette Valley rose with onigirazu (nori, brown rice, canned sardines, grilled zucchini and peppers, lettuce, shiso, and shoyu-balsamic vinaigrette). There are no rules.

Onigirazu is a fairly new food preparation which has been getting more popular in Japan over the last few years. Apparently, the idea first appeared in a comic book series 30 years ago, but it seems to be a newer trend among home cooks. I learned about it recently through an online article on the website of the Japanese supermarket Uwajimaya. The Japanese word onigirazu (おにぎらず) means ‘to not grip, or unsqueezed,’ referring to its main difference from the traditional rice ball called onigiri (おにぎり). Onigiri is a popular snack food where a flavorful ingredient (such as umeboshi, salted salmon, spicy cod roe, shiso, pickles, etc.) is placed into the center of the rice ball before squeezing into a triangle with wetted and salted hands. Wrapping nori around the onigiri is optional. Another similar preparation is makizushi (巻き寿司), which is rolled sushi made with seasoned sushi rice. To me, makizushi requires the most technical skill to build, along with the added step of having to make seasoned rice.

I was excited to discover the onigirazu concept because the format encourages improvisation. You can think of it as a sandwich but with the satisfying flavor and texture of rice. Because the nori contains everything like a burrito, the onigirazu can be stuffed with ingredients that might fall out of a sandwich, and the higher filling-to-rice ratio differentiates it from onigiri and makizushi. As I learn to make better onigirazu, it’s clear that there are still techniques waiting to be discovered for improving upon this basic method. In terms of ingredients, anything goes. Here, I had some leftover grilled vegetables and sausage to which I added some fresh cucumber, tomato, and herbs from the garden. It’s good to think about how sandwiches are made - adding condiments to the bread is typical - in order to make sure the rice is seasoned properly. Whereas bread has salt in it, rice does not and therefore needs seasoning. The onigiri has its exterior salted, but it makes more sense to season the inside of the onigirazu. Finally, every online recipe instructs us to wrap it tightly in plastic wrap for a couple of minutes so that the nori can adhere better. This works, but I’m skeptical that it is the single best method. More experimentation is needed to find alternative ways.

Making Onigirazu

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The filling is prepped while the rice is cooking. Grilled vegetables (corn, sweet onion, zucchini, yellow pepper) and sausage, cucumber, and cherry tomato. I find it easier to eat if the ingredients are cut into smaller pieces.

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One sheet of nori is placed on a piece of plastic wrap. The nori’s shiny side is facing down.

Hot rice is placed in a square shape. It helps to press down so that the shape is maintained for later steps.

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It’s important to season the rice with salt (or furikake) and…

…sauce made with homemade mayonnaise, homemade miso, and shichimi. Anything can be used, and a good source of inspiration might be to ask yourself, “what do I like on sandwiches, burgers, hotdogs, tacos, onigiri, makizushi, or anything else resembling such foods?”

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Begin stacking with the flatter filling items. I like to think about contrasting sweet, salty, rich, and acid. Grilled corn (sweet) and tomatoes (sweet, acid).

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The richer ingredients of sausage and zucchini are added.

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Finally, freshness is provided by the shredded shiso and other herbs and greens.,

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Carefully mound more hot rice on top.

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Bring in the opposing corners of nori and press lightly, holding for a moment for the nori to adhere to the rice.

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Repeat with the other two opposing corners of nori. It takes some practice to fold it neatly like a wrapped present.

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Tightly envelop with the plastic wrap, and then press down firmly. Let this sit for about one minute. This is the step that could use some rethinking.

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Unwrap and use a sharp knife to cut into triangles because science has proven that triangles actually taste better than rectangles. Here, I poured my own Centennial IPA (using homegrown hops from 2017) in my Heater Allen glass. Located in McMinnville, Oregon, Heater Allen makes some of the very best lagers in the country.