Charcoal Use in Japan

Tom Miles

Charcoal Use in Japan (From Japanese Market News: Charcoal 2000)
IBPC Osaka Network Center

1. In Japanese, charcoal is called "mokutan", or sometimes simply "sumi". Long ago, charcoal used to be the main source of fuel for household use, and was as important a necessity of life as rice. Domestic output in around 1955 was approximately 2 million tons. Output gradually dropped year by year, however, because of the switch to the
use of gas and electricity as household fuels due to the energy revolution brought about by economic growth, and by 1985 annual output had fallen to some 32,000 tons, just 1.6% of what it was at its peak.

2. Charcoal is the solid residue from the pyrolysis of wood matter. The best materials for making charcoal are considered to be oaks such as nara, kunugi and kashi. Japanese charcoal is of two kinds?black charcoal and white charcoal?which are made by different methods of burning. The two types are produced in basically the same manner, though the quality of the charcoal differs totally depending on how the fire is finally extinguished. Black charcoal is jet black in color and easy to ignite, but does not burn for long. Kunugi and nara are chiefly used for this. The charcoal used for barbecues (e.g. for camping by the seaside or in the mountains or for cherry blossom
viewing) and the tea ceremony is also black charcoal. White charcoal on the other hand, which is covered in whitish ash, is more difficult to ignite but lasts longer. The high-quality bincho charcoal made of ubame-gashi(ilex) used as a heat source for grilling eel, yakitori, yakiniku and co ffee is a typical example of white charcoal.

2.In addition to these uses as a fuel, charcoal is used in a variety of other ways. These include industrial use (e.g. as a material for making activated carbon) and agricultural use (e.g. in soil improvement and as a livestock feed additive), and use in combating pollution (e.g. for air purification, se wage processing and deodorants).

3.The main prefectures where charcoal is produced in Japan are Iwate (which accounts for around a quarter of national output), Hokkaido, Fukushima and Wakayama. Bincho charcoal made in Wakayama Prefecture is said to be the king of charcoals. The top spitchcock eateries and exclusive rest aurants in major cities have signs up saying they use bincho coal from Kishu, which is the old name for the Wakayama region.

4. Due to factors such as the aging of charcoal producers, the shortage of successors and the difficulty of procuring the right wood for making charcoal in these regions, however, imports have increased. Over 60% of the 160,000-170,000 tons annual domestic demand for charcoal is now imported.
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17. New non-fuel uses of charcoal include:

1. Putting three or four pieces of charcoal in a washing machine to remove solvent stains from textiles without using detergent.
2. Applying a charcoal face pack to remove liver spots, freckles and wrinkles and to whiten the skin.
3. Spreading charcoal under the floor to protect buildings and keep away termites and cockroaches, etc.
4. Sleeping on a bed made from 200-300kg of charcoal. (This gives off negative ions, allowing one to sleep more soundly and reducing the amount of sleep required.)
5. Drinking good quality water and charcoal powder every morning to improve one's bowel movements.
6. Bathing in a bath with pieces of charcoal floating in it to alleviate stress.
7. Drinking in the pyroligneous acid contained in charcoal smoke to improve the functioning of the liver. (This is because toxins in the environment do not enter the body.)
8. Placing charcoal by electronic appliances such as computers, TVs and microwave ovens to prevent harm from electromagnetic radiation.
9. Using charcoal pillows to ease insomnia and also stiff shoulders, lumbago, etc. (The reason is that the charcoal emits far-infrared rays which, in the case of the human body, penetrate every single capillary.)

These are some of the many supposed effects of charcoal, though whether charcoal really provides such benefits remains for the individual to confirm for himself.

See report.