The hidden haven of Nishi-Awa Step back into a land that time forgot

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Historical records tell us that in the twelfth century Heike Clan soldiers fled here after losing the Genpei War, but for nearly thousand years since then, the way of life in Nishia-Awa has changed little. The local food culture maintains its traditional focus on potatoes, buckwheat, and less-common cereal grains in place of rice or wheat. Because the villages are spread out like fans on the steep mountain slopes, inhabitants are called the “people of the sky.” Nishi-Awa’s eternal beauty gives it the air of a land that time forgot.

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Maze, one of the most beautiful villages in Japan

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The ayu, or sweetfish, is prized in Japan for its sweet flavor. Residents of Maze (pronounced “mah-zay”) have spared no effort to conserve the natural environment of the sweetfish as an important part of the Maze culinary heritage. The sweetfish is sensitive to its living conditions, and volunteers have been working since the 1940s to maintain the pure water of the Maze River. They have even designated surrounding forests as “fish conservation forests.”

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Local food and culture in Tsuruoka, UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy

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Tsuruoka’s landscape is filled with the seasonal blessings of mountains, rivers, plains, and oceans. Among the sixty varieties of heirloom crops which are unique to the region are dadacha-mame, a sweet aromatic edamame, and Atsumi turnips. These “living cultural treasures” are an important part of the regional heritage. To this day, local families maintain traditional practices and customs relating to food, many of which have deep ties to the local culture, such as to the ascetic practices performed on the Three Mountains of Dewa and to Kurokawa noh.

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Mochi cuisine and bucolic scenery

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Some four centuries ago during the Edo period, a unique tradition involving mochi (rice cakes) was born. It began with offerings of mochi that the Date Clan made to the gods and Buddha for peace and good health each month, but soon pounding sweet glutinous rice into mochi and eating it became a custom at weddings, funerals, and other important life events, as well as on New Year’s Day and other seasonal occasions. This tradition of hare-no-shoku (ceremonial foods) is maintained in Ichinoseki-Hiraizumi to this day and provides a rare opportunity to experience the extensive variety of mochi cuisine in Japan.

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Wholesome, natural foods and spectacular scenery on the northern farming plain of Tokachi

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A vast plain with the largest farming area in Hokkaido, Tokachi is surrounded by the Hidaka Mountains to the west and the 2000-meter peaks of the Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group to the north. Tokachi’s geography makes it an ideal place to enjoy the scenic wilderness that Hokkaido is famous for. The long summer days at this northerly latitude are excellent for growing crops and raising livestock, and the soft, rich soil is filled with nutrients from volcanic ash. These natural conditions yield milk with high fat content that is excellent for making cheese. Tokachi produces the majority of the natural cheese made in Japan, and people come from all over the country and the world to sample the region’s bounty.

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