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[HISTORY OF HAND MADE SOMEN] In the Nara era an early form of somen was introduced from China,

Kentoushi and the origin of somen

The product most similar to somen was first introduced to China from Japan during the Nara era (710-794 aC), by Kentoushi who was the Japanese ambassador during the Tang dynasty. This theory is proven by the presence in the Fujan province (a coastal region of south eastern China) of a somen like product, that even today is eaten during religious festivals or as a propitiatory meal.
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Somen in the imperial court: the original form

Types of noodles known as "muginawa" and "sakubei" are considered as early forms of somen.
As far as these products are concerned, in antiquated language "mugi" means "wheat" indicating all typed of noodle pasta made from wheat flour whilst "nawa" meaning string and refers to the shape of the noodle. "Saku" is also another word meaning string, whilst "bei" was the generic term for all food products made from wheat flour. Thus we see clearly that it refers to the same kind of food but under two different names.
In particular the "sakubei" were served in court in the Heian era (794-1185 aC) during religious ceremonies and appeared also in the treatise of manners "Engishiki" (927 aC) Overall, the custom was, at the time, to serve somen as a court food during the festival of Tanabata (which is celebrated on the 7 July.)

Somen today: A food of the people

Thanks to the introduction of machines and other agricultural aids the technique of producing flour has greatly improved and somen have acquired their current status.
This is also down to the the spreading of the knowledge of how to mix the oil and stretch the noodles.
Even its name, along with its physical attributes has been modified: After "Sakubei" was transformed into "sakumen" it eventually became "soumen" whilst others have derived the name "somen" from the deformation of the Chinese "sumian." Finally in the Edo era (1600-1868 AC) somen truly became a food of the people.

The origin of the somen of Miwa

The legend of the birth of somen in Miwa emerges around 1200 years ago and it is said that Tanenushi, the second born of a shinto priest of the Oomiwa temple, called Oomiwa no Ason Saikusa planted the first seeds, having been drawn to the area by the fertile land of the village of Miwa and by the water from the Makimuku river that comes from the Miwa mountain, which makes it perfect for the cultivation of wheat. Following the wish of the gods, he started the production of somen with flour from the crops. It is also said that somen, a foodstuff that keeps extremely well, saved the inhabitants during a time of famine. Somen were brought to every corner of Japan as Miwa is found on the main route of pilgrimage towards the sanctuary of "Ise" (a Shinto temple in the prefecture of Mie, dedicated to the sun gods) which was very popular during the Edo period. Even today in the major centres of somen production like Harima (in the prefecture of Hyougo) Shimabara (Nagasaki), Shoudoshima (Kagawa) and Awaji (Hyougo) it is possible to find derivations of the temple of Oomiwa noodles, another sign that Miwa was indeed the birthplace of somen.
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