In the mountain villages just outside Tokyo on the west side, the villagers made their living as silk farmers from May until October and charcoal makers from November to April.
There are no mulberry leaves for the silkworms in the winter and the trees stop drinking water in the in the winter so the quality of the charcoal is better.
There are hundreds of old stone charcoal kilns in the mountains around my place. As the old guys move on to the next world the last few in operation are abandoned. Walking by them on daily dog walks I can remember the smoke and the persimmon trees heavily laden with fruit around them.
Hiro asked me to pick up some charcoal for his Brazilian BBQ night a few days back. Instead of the crappy stuff from the local supermarket I drove out with my workshop members past an old active kiln to visit a local potter and glass maker. I noticed old man Takasaki's truck in front of his kilns.
He was the last major silk farmer in our town who quit 13 years ago. (He is in his mid-90s now) He had a huge barn with mostly mechanized rotating trays. Many years ago I would help him out with cocooning. I haven't seen him since. He was really happy to hear that I was still farming silk on the other side of town. He let out a good sized roar of laughter when I showed him the tattoo on my forearm of an old traditional bamboo silk farming tray.
His charcoal is amazing. (I guess it should be with about 90 years of experience!) Hiro's BBQ was delicious. It was the good-bye dinner for the members of the autumn ten-day workshop. Thank you Anne, Maureen, Emma, Renee, Tobie, Jaime and Kate. Many smiles and much laughter. You made my life richer. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.