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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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Regional foods: The ascetic cuisine of the Three Mountains of Dewa

Since ancient times, Buddhist shugendo ascetics have handed down vegan practices developed deep in the Three Mountains of Dewa. In order to survive the harsh winters of the mountains, the yamabushi (literally, “those who prostrate themselves on the mountain”) developed ways of preserving vegetables and herbs to last through the lean months. As a result, ascetic cuisine is sometimes referred to as “life-sustaining food.” These healthy, delicious, yet simple meals are created with ingredients gathered from the foot of the mountain, and are distinctive even within Buddhist cuisine. Consumed with gratitude for the blessings of nature, this spiritual food purifies both the body and the soul.

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Regional foods

The dadacha-mame is considered Japan’s best-tasting edamame (immature green soybeans) due to its unique aroma, sweet flavor, and full umami. The Atsumi turnip is another local favorite, grown in swidden fields made with fire-fallow farming techniques. Local food culture is marked by miso soup with seasonal ingredients, premium local rice, and full-bodied sake, all of which are deeply imbued with the flavors of the region.

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Scenery

The approach to the mountaintop shrine is paved with stone steps that pass through two rows of sugi (cedar) trees which are more than 350 years old. While making your way up to the shrine, make sure to pause at the magnificent five-story pagoda. The natural beauty is striking enough to have earned a three-star rating in the Michelin Green Guide Japan. On the Shonai Plain, expansive agrarian scenery stretches out to the feet of Mount Gassan and Mount Chokai, and the ochre rays of the sun setting over the Shonai Coast are breathtaking. Cherry blossom lovers will delight in a visit to Tsuruoka Park, one of Japan’s top 100 cherry blossom spots.

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Activities

Visitors to the sacred mountains can participate in many spiritual and cultural activities, including ascetic Buddhist practices, vegan cuisine, and Zen meditation. Alternatively, experience living cultural treasures such as traditional grains and fresh fruit by harvesting them by hand or learn how to pound buckwheat for soba. In the old castle town, you will find a workshop for making traditional decorated candles, as well as a chance to try your hand at weaving the bast fibers of the linden tree, a practice that is said to be the oldest textile tradition in Japan. To round it all off, climb aboard a fishing boat and take a cruise in the Sea of Japan.

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Sightseeing routes

Tsuruoka is an excellent place to enjoy nature and history. Tour the Three Mountains of Dewa, which symbolize the past, present and future, where some have reported a sense of rebirth. Visit a farm to see how traditional foods are grown and tour the Kamo Aquarium, which keeps more varieties of jellyfish than anywhere else in the world. At night, stay at a hot spring ryokan and walk around the old castle town. In Tsuruoka you will find rejuvenation of the body and mind, and perhaps some spiritual inspiration as well.

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Inquiries

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Name Tsuruoka Creative City of Gastronomy Promotion Council
TEL 0235-25-2111
URL http://english.creative-tsuruoka.jp/