The best way to experience Japan is to savor the fresh and fantastic delicaciesand rich cultures only available off the beaten path. Japanese foodstuffsand local ways are truly unique to every region,and in harmony with each season.
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Highlighting the culinary charms of the Seto Inland Sea
The city of Onomichi, a port along the Seto Inland Sea, encompasses hilly slopes, coastal shores, and several large islands. Onomichi’s diverse terrain is known for both its catches of seasonal fish and its many varieties of citrus fruit. Over the generations, a distinctive food culture has evolved hand-in-hand with the region’s history. In pre-modern times, the Inland Sea was a thoroughfare for boats transporting rice vinegar. This vinegar was used locally not only to preserve fish, but to bring out its flavor, and this practice produced a local cuisine that is centered on seafood. Today, Onomichi’s characteristic ingredients and regional specialties attest to the area’s rich cultural inheritance.
Yuasa is the birthplace of soy sauce in Japan. Called shoyu, Japanese soy sauce is produced using techniques and ingredients distinct from those used in other Asian countries and generally has a sweeter, maltier taste. As the foundation of Japanese cuisine—which itself has been designated by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage—shoyu came to Yuasa during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), brought from China in the form of Kinzanji miso. The fermentation of miso creates a flavorful runoff that local brewers began to use as a seasoning. In Yuasa, shoyu continues to be made with traditional fermentation techniques in hand-stirred vats, producing shoyu with a distinctly complex flavor.
Tea cultivation methods were first introduced to Uji from China around 800 years ago. Tea farmers and distributors in the region developed their own horticultural processes, and their unique methods produced uniquely Japanese varieties of tea. These new varieties include sencha (green tea) produced from steamed and kneaded leaves, gyokuro (premium green tea), and matcha (powdered green tea). Both gyokuro and matcha are made from leaf buds grown in the shade to increase their theanine content, but matcha has its stems and veins removed before being ground on a stone mill. Eventually these techniques spread across the country, but tea cultivation has continued in Uji since its inception.
The region to the west of Kyoto has a long history of supplying an abundance of agricultural products to meet the culinary demands of an imperial capital. Rice, regional varieties of chestnut and azuki (red beans), as well as the numerous vegetables used in traditional Kyoto cuisine are grown in the gentle climate north of the city. Another area specialty is the ayu (sweetfish) caught in local rivers. The region's festivals are strongly interwoven with its traditional cultivation processes, and the culinary culture of the area is an inseparable part of its history.
Hakuba’s tradition of welcoming visitors is as old as the town itself. Rising from humble origins as a series of way-stops along the Chikuni Highway, Hakuba offered rest and lodging to people traveling between the mountains of Shinano province and the Sea of Japan. Due to the town’s high elevation and cold climate, traditional Hakuba cuisine places special emphasis on preserving food for the winter months. Fermentation and other preservation methods have been handed down through the generations, forming the backbone of local food culture—a culture to which residents ascribe their exceptional health and longevity.
A wealth of natural springs flow through the mountain valleys of the Chichibu region. The purity of the springs and the warmer temperatures of the mountain basin make Chichibu ideal for the production of foods and beverages that are best made with pristine water. Orchards, vineyards, and breweries are everywhere, and the locals sell wine, sake, whisky, and even shaved ice to capitalize on this regional asset. Water is also a theme when sightseeing in Chichibu: numerous hot springs, the “cloud sea” produced in the valley by low-hanging clouds, and the riverside rock formations known as the Nagatoro Iwadatami are all popular destinations. Even the famous Chichibu Night Festival—one of the three biggest float parades in Japan—owes part of its religious significance to the blessings of water.
The people of Takachihogo-Shiibayama Villages possess a deep respect and admiration for nature which they weave into their farming and forestry practices. Throughout the region, people pray to the local gods for favorable harvests and perform sacred dances to music known as kagura. To share the blessings of nature with the gods, village festivals are held with specially prepared kagura cuisine.
Sanuki udon is believed to have originated when the Buddhist monk Kukai brought noodles back from China. The moderate climate and fertile soil of the Sanuki Plain proved excellent for growing wheat to make udon noodles. In addition to its excellent noodles, Sanuki udon is famous throughout Japan for its delicious broth made from anchovies, salt, and other local ingredients. Formerly known as Sanuki Province, Kagawa Prefecture is rightfully proud of its udon but has many other attractions as well.
The city of Kinokawa developed long ago as a fruit-producing region thanks to a temperate climate and fertile soil provided by the Kinokawa River. Boasting fresh fruit available year-round, Kinokawa draws visitors with the passion of its farmers, and of course the promise of world-class fruit.