History and Origin of White Charcoal
The history of white charcoal in goes back several thousand years to the Jomon era (Japan) according to web of japan. During the medieval period, Japan introduced Chinese charcoal-making techniques that represented an advance for those days, and around the 14th century charcoal was in common use. In the early modern period, Chado (the Way of Tea) took on greater importance, and this led to the making of an even finer variety of charcoal for the tea ceremony. Today, Japan's charcoal-making techniques are admired worldwide. We can classify the different types of charcoal used in Japan into two broad categories: kuro-zumi (black charcoal) and shiro-zumi ("white" charcoal).

Generally, black charcoal is soft and retains the tree bark. It is easy to ignite, and burns hot enough for metal smelting and blacksmithing. Almost all of the charcoal produced around the world is similar to this type. To make it, the wood is carbonized at temperatures between 400 and 700 degree Celsius, then the kiln is sealed until the burning stops and the heat slowly dies away. One type of black charcoal used in the tea ceremony, ikeda-zumi, is favored for its beautiful appearance. It is made from a kind of oak in the northern part of Osaka Prefecture.

White charcoal is made by charring the wood at a relatively low temperature for some time, then, near the end of the process, raising the kiln temperature to about 1000 degree Celsius to make the wood red-hot. The charcoal is then pulled out and quickly smothered with a covering of powder to cool it. The powder is a moist mixture of earth, sand and ash, and gives a whitish hue to the charcoal surface. This explains the name "white charcoal." The rapid rise in temperature, followed by a rapid cooling, incinerates the bark and leaves a smooth, hard surface. If you strike it, you'll hear a clear, metallic sound.

One variety of white charcoal is made from holm oak, a very hard wood used in kilns in the southern Kishu area (Wakayama Prefecture). This charcoal, called Kishu binchotan, is considered to be the best grade because it is hard and yields a long burn. It emits plenty of far-infrared rays, which bring out the flavor of broiled foods. Today, more and more establishments serving grilled eel and yakitori (skewered chicken) make a point of advertising the fact that they use binchotan charcoal.

More Reasons For Charcoal's Comeback Charcoal is attracting attention because its unique characteristics can be used in many ways. It has so many tiny cavities oriented in so many directions that one gram of charcoal has a surface area of about 250 m2. The cavities can attach different substances to their walls, then release them later. For example, they absorb moisture from humid air, then release it during dry conditions. This makes charcoal an excellent humidity regulator.

Charcoal has other benefits, too: it absorbs unpleasant room odors and harmful substances; it generates negative ions that are said to put people in a better frame of mind; and it exerts a far-infrared effect that supposedly improves blood circulation.

Researchers in Japan are examining these benefits, exploring new uses to develop innovative products like water purifiers (for drinking and bathing), agents to keep vegetables and other foods fresh, soil enhancers, humidity regulators for the walls and floors of homes, and deodorants.

Bamboo charcoal has more cavities, so it can absorb even more odors and moisture than wood charcoal. These advantages are increasingly being put to good use. Wood vinegar, a liquid made by cooling moist smoke from the kiln, is used for many purposes, from anti-bacterial agents and agricultural insecticides to deodorants, bath additives, and products to enhance health and beauty.

If you're thinking of using charcoal-based products in the home, you'll want to know what type and how much to use. Masuda Satoshi of Masuda-ya Co., Ltd., says, "binchotan charcoal is made at a very high temperature and has an alkaline effect. It's ideal for treating drinking water because it removes chlorine and other noxious substances. Also, it stays hard in the water, so it doesn't release any powdery material. If you put 50 to 60 grams in one liter of tap water, you'll increase the mineral content and soften the water, making excellent drinking water. If you use charcoal as a humidity regulator and odor absorber, you'll need 8 kg for a room area of around 10 to 13 m2."

Charcoal is environmentally friendly too-when you finish with it, just crush it into small pieces and let it go back to nature. Research continues, in the hope that more uses will be found.

Charcoal Adds to the Good Life - Charcoal has been used as a fuel in Japan since ancient times, but production declined as natural gas, electricity and petroleum became more common. Even fairly recently, it was very rarely seen in everyday life, but today it is attracting attention again. This article looks at some of the surprising advantages charcoal offers, and how its benefits are being enjoyed in Japan as written by Sanada Kuniko Photos by Miyake Gaku