Tokamachi, land of snow, food and scenic beauty

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Receiving up to four meters of snow in the mountain heights and two meters of snowfall in town, Tokamachi spends half the year snowed under and is the snowiest city in the world. The beautiful village culture here is represented by kaen-gata pottery, named for its unique flame-shaped embellishments. This pottery, whose history can be traced back more than five millennia, is the oldest National Treasure of Japan. Unravel the history behind this ancient village culture as you sample distinctive local cuisine that reflects the area’s snowy climate.

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Seasonal vegetables, fine food, and lake activities Hamamatsu and Lake Hamana, a lakeside community at an ancient crossroads

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Lake Hamana is a lagoon connected to the ocean near the geographical center of Japan. Although originally a lake, more than five hundred years ago an earthquake connected the lagoon to the sea, turning the water brackish (slightly salty). For over a century, Lake Hamana has been a prime location for cultivating eels, soft-shell turtles, seaweed, and oysters. The Hamamatsu and Lake Hamana area is known for its unique fishing methods and fresh seafood.

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Enjoy a gottso feast in the Samurai City

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Once a stronghold of the Tohoku region, Aizu was long-governed by feudal warlords. Aizu is a castle town surrounded by mountains and blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, including the pristine scenery of Lake Inawashiro and Mount Bandai. The food and sake culture of Aizu has developed in conjunction with the four seasons of the year and is deeply tied to the bounty of the land.

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The hunting roots of Akita kiritampo and warm, local hospitality

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Akita is one of Japan’s largest rice-producing regions, and the kiritampo that is made and eaten there is a testament to the versatility of rice. The kiritampo is said to come from the Matagi, a subculture of woodland hunters with great reverence for nature. The Matagi would stew together pounded rice and wild fowl on long mountain trips, a practice which became a customary part of Odate’s regional cuisine in the form of the kiritampo that we know today. Handed down through generations, the kiritampo is deeply rooted in Akita culture and evokes an image of family and friends gathered together for a warm meal.

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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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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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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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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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