A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Hyogo and Akashiyaki

In the western part of Japan’s Honshu Island, Hyogo Prefecture encapsulates the beauty and grandeur of ancient and modern Japan, its natural beauty and its famous cuisine.

Hyogo Prefecture cuts across the Kansai region of the island, with its northern coastline bordering the Sea of Japan and its southern one the Seto Inland Sea. Mountains dot the central interior of the prefecture and contribute to the area’s natural hot springs and caves.

Kobe is the capital city of the prefecture, home to famous kobe beef, sake breweries, excellent seafood and the Luminarie Festival, held in December at the Higashi Yuenchi area to commemorate those who perished in the 1995 Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake. Kobe is Japan’s second largest trading port after Nagoya, and along with bustling shopping, is part of the Keihanshin District, a high-end resort and tourism area including Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto. The Arima Onsen, founded in the 8th century by Buddhist monks, is a major draw, as is Mt. Rokko, standing 3,054 feet high, where indigenous Kiso and Tokara horses pasture on the mountain’s plateaus.

South of Kobe, into the Seto Inland Sea, lies Awaji Island, connected to the mainland by the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. This bridge is the world’s longest suspension bridge, measuring 12,832 feet long with two bracing towers located approximately 6,270 feet apart. The bridge is lit every night, affording amazing views from Mt. Rokko. Awaji Island is the largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, with beaches and hiking trails, along with a unique feature called the Uzushio. Here fast tides swirl near the coast, causing whirlpools of all sizes!

Traveling counter clockwise around Hyogo Prefecture, it’s easy to visit Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the premier examples of medieval Japanese fortified castles. The bright white castle resembles the shape of a heron with wings spread and is beautifully preserved. The castle architecture focuses on defensive strategies, showcasing multiple gates that create bottlenecks for advancing enemies, fortification walls with oval, rectangular and triangular holes from which specific weapons could be shot and skirt-like sashes at windows through which hot oil and sharp rocks could be thrown. For all of its warlike fortifications, Himeji Castle is now the site of the Himeji Castle Cherry Blossom Viewing Fair in spring, the Himeji Castle Festival in summer, the Moon Viewing festival in autumn and a famous Ceramics Market. Visitors also tour nearby Mt. Shosha, with its 1,000-year-old temple and the Kōko-en Garden, with its reproductions of Edo Period buildings.

Towards the northern part of Hyogo, the Kinosaki area boasts numerous ryokan and onsen, as well as a basalt mass 214 feet long with deep caves left over from cooled lava flows. Overlooking this picturesque area is the Onsen-ji Temple, founded by the Buddhist saint Dōchi Shōnin in the 8th century. From this temple, as numerous statues of Kan’non, the ancient Japanese Goddess of Mercy, look down over the area. Takarazuka in the southeastern part of prefecture is also famous for its Kiyoshikōjin Seichō-ji Temple, where legends of Kōjin-san, the God of Fire, abound and where visitors come to ensure good luck in their endeavors.

No matter where you are in Hyogo, small and large restaurants provide incredibly diverse Japanese food, from succulent kobe beef to the signature dish of the prefecture, akashiyaki. Akashiyaki are eggy octopus balls, similar to takoyaki, but served with a savory dashi broth and without sauce. Akashiyaki are made with eggs, green onions, ginger, a small amount of flour and pieces of diced octopus, often from the Futami area, where the species are known for their succulence. Akashiyaki are prepared similarly to takoyaki on a special molded pan heated over a wood fire, and are served slightly underdone on a sloped wooden cutting board. When eating akashiyaki, the dumplings are scooted from the cutting board into a warm umami-rich dashi broth. On a cold day, akashiyaki fill the belly and warm the soul!

And as always, be sure to share your comments below!

A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Hokkaido Prefecture with Rich, Savory Genghis Khan

We’re exploring Hokkaido Prefecture this month on our Food Lover’s Tour!

Hokkaido Prefecture is the northernmost prefecture in Japan, covering the entire island of Hokkaido. Hokkaido Prefecture is home to incredible natural landscapes, thriving metropolises and the ancestral home of the indigenous Ainu people.

Sapporo is the largest city in Hokkaido, and serves as the prefecture’s capital. Sapporo is located on the island’s west coast, serving as a center for the academia, finance, government and trading companies in the northern part of Japan. More popularly, Sapporo is known of its beer and festivals. One of the highlights of a visit to Sapporo includes Odori Park, which stretches from east to west along the city center. Odori Park is the perfect representation of Sapporo, and Hokkaido as a whole, full of art, nature and culture.

One of the best ways to experience Hokkaido is to travel around the island, and in our post this month, we take a virtual trip along the coast. The natural landscape has defined Hokkaido Prefecture for hundreds of years. One of the most volcanic areas in Japan, lakes that never freeze and onsen hot springs abound, along with fertile areas inland and off the shores. Traveling up the west coast of the island leads us to Wakkanai, the northernmost city in Japan. Wakkanai is sandwiched by the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk, serving as a port city and launching point to Hokkaido’s outer islands of Rebun and Rishiri, as well as Cape Noshappu and Cape Soya. These areas, all the way southeast to Mombetsu and Abashiri, are where ice floes float in the ocean. Inland is Asahikawa, where both traditional and modern arts and crafts are practiced, and where travelers can launch their explorations into the surrounding Furano and Sounkyo Gorge areas, is lush with wildflowers, forests and mountains. Japan’s unique fauna can also be experienced in the Kushiro area, along the eastern coast of the island. And as we travel to the southern areas, visitors can view seals frolicking along foggy and windy Cape Erimo. The southern coast of Hokkaido is an area full of volcanic activity, especially onsen hot springs, and the Noboribetsu Primeval Forest. Visiting Hokadate is a must when in Hokkaido, as this trading port is a showcase of Japanese, British and Russian culture and architecture.

If a trip around the coast isn’t possible, then visiting the Matsumae area, where feudal history abounds, and the Shakotan area, where you can see down to the sea bed, are highlights. The Notsuke Peninsula offers ghostly landscapes of fir straw woods, and the central region of Biei, famous for landscapes full of multicolored flowers, trees, and hills.

Spending time in Hokkaido means enjoying the bounty of nature… and of eating well. Ramen, cod roe and other dishes are expertly prepared in this prefecture, but it is also famous for its signature dish, the Genghis Khan!

The Genghis Khan is a grilled lamb or mutton dish, made in dome-shaped grills reminiscent of Mongolian warrior helmets. The meat is sliced and cut to grill well, and is basted in a special sauce. Onions are usually grilled with this dish, and all of it is washed down with pints of beer.

Summer is a great time to for barbeque, and we highly recommend adding the Genghis Khan to your repertoire. Check out our recipe, which can be easily made using our indoor electric grills.

We hope you enjoyed learning about Hokkaido Prefecture and as always, share your comments below!

A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Gifu Prefecture and Savory Gohei Mochi

Our Food Lover’s Tour continues this month in Gifu Prefecture, home of the famous gohei mochi!

Located in Central Japan, Gifu Prefecture represents so many facets of the Japanese landscape and the diverse culture of this area.

The northern part of Gifu Prefecture is mountainous, covered by large swathes of alpine forests, ideal for skiing in the winter and trekking in the summer. The central area of the prefecture boasts clear, fresh springs, caverns and local traditions. And the southern part of Gifu Prefecture is famous for traditional cormorant fishing, modern industry and the confluence of powerful rivers.

One of the most famous sights in Gifu Prefecture is Shirakawa-go, situated at the base of Mt. Haku-san. Shirakawa-go embodies ancient Japanese alpine life, with a river running through the village, nourishing rice fields, a temple, coalhouse and paddock to preserve the old village scenery and 114 traditional thatched roof homes, still occupied along with the more modern residences. Locals continue to practice traditional industrial arts such as weaving, dyeing and culinary arts such as making soba noodles and sake. UNESCO designated Shirakawa-go as a World Heritage Site in 1995.

When not enjoying the snow, visitors to Gifu Prefecture enjoy the onsen, or hot springs, predominantly found in Gero and Okuhida. The hot springs at Gero have been active since the 10th century, and are said to be effective in treating ailments. They’re even nicknamed the “springs for the beautiful” because the smoothness of the water is said to aid in beautifying skin tone and complexion. The Okuhida area also boasts hot springs, five of which are famous in Gifu Prefecture. These onsen–Hirayu, Fukuji, Shin-Hirayu, Tochio and Shin-Hotaka–are scattered along the base of the Japanese Alps, and are surrounded by incredible frozen waterfalls in winter and teeming rivers and white birch forests during warmer months.

The southern part of Gifu Prefecture is widely famous for cormorant fishing along the Nagara River, near Gifu City. This area prospered as a castle town during the 13th century, and to this day, the annual Tejikarao Fire Festival, when portable shrines are carried among a shower of sparks and paraded through the city in the spring. Also in the spring, traditionally beginning on May 11, cormorant fishing takes place along the river, a practice that has been taking place here since the 8th century. Cormorants are aquatic birds that have been trained to catch sweet ayu, a type of river trout. The fishing masters are recognized by the Japanese Imperial Household and showcase this type of fishing until the middle of October.

For those who crave more nightlife, the Okumino Area hosts the Gujo-odori, a dance festival that lasts for 32 nights, within this period, four days are termed “All-Night Dancing” and the participants dance the whole night from dusk until dawn! The Takayama Festival and Furukawa Festival also provide ample opportunity to party, with both festivals showcasing the craftsmanship and artistry of this area–including the production of washi paper and wood carvings—in the floats that are designed for the processions.

But Gifu Prefecture isn’t just about tradition. Many modern industries thrive in this area, from the serious aerospace business to the more whimsical production of plastic food displays. No matter what your interest–skiing, trekking, museums, architecture, onsen, or outer space–Gifu Prefecture has everything to offer…

… Including pleasure for your taste buds! Gohei mochi is a signature dish of this area and is made from cooked short-grain white rice, pounded and shaped onto a flat stick. The rice is then grilled and once crispy, coated with a walnut-miso paste and grilled again. The resulting snack is warm, savory and delicious… and best of all, easily made at home! You may try out this simple recipe!

We hope you enjoyed learning about Gifu Prefecture and as always, share your experience with us… and don’t forget the pictures of your gohei mochi!