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!

A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Hiroshima’s Famous Okonomiyaki

May is a beautiful time to visit Japan. The air is fragrant and the mild, sunny weather makes it perfect for sightseeing. One of the most famous places in Japan is Hiroshima, and this month we explore its signature dish, Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, along with some history and culture about the area.

Hiroshima Prefecture is located in the Chugoku Region of Japan, at the western-most end of Honshu Island, which is Japan’s main island. On the west coast, the Chugoku Region is bound by the Sea of Japan, and on the east coast, by the Seto Inland Sea. Hiroshima Prefecture lies in the center of this region, bordered by the Seto Inland Sea on the east and the Chugoku Mountains along the northern border of the prefecture.

Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima

Five areas comprise Hiroshima Prefecture, including the Hiroshima City area, the Miyajima Area, Onomichi/Fukuyama Area, Northern Hiroshima Prefecture and Bihoku Area. Each of these diverse areas offer travelers and foodies much to experience!

Known as the “City of Water” because of the six rivers that flow through it, Hiroshima City lies at the coast of the Seto Inland Sea and serves as the administrative center of the prefecture. The city was originally founded by Terumoto Mōri in the 16th century as a feudal town, and served as gateway through the mountain passes in the north and an important trade center along the sea coast. Hiroshima City is famous for many things–from the fresh oysters that have been cultivated there since ancient times, grilled to perfection, to the rich cultural diversity brought by traders. Visiting Hiroshima City today means visiting Hiroshima Castle, Shukkei-en Garden and the red Taho-to Tower at Mitaki-dera Temple, as well as the Genbaku Dome and Peace Memorial Park.

A street vendor selling hiroshimayaki sits among other food stands

Miyajima Island, formally known as Itsukushima Island, is famous for the awesome sight of Mt. Misen and the glorious Itsukushima Shrine. Mt. Misen is considered one of the most beautiful spots from which to view the islands of the Seto Inland Sea and from which to enjoy the virgin forests that are designated as a national natural monument.  When not climbing the peak, visiting the Itsukushima Shrine and the accompanying Ōtorii or Grand Gate are a must. Both were built in 593 and to this day, seem to float in the waters of the sea itself! Depending on when you travel, don’t miss the Water Fireworks extravaganza.

Miyajima Island is a ferry ride from the coast, and when returning to the mainland, visiting the Onomichi / Fukuyama area provides a wonderful trip to a scenic port town and temples from which to enjoy the view. And in autumn, when the maple leaves dramatically change colors, trekkers flock to Northern Hiroshima Prefecture and the Bihoku area to climb in and out of the valleys and ravines, catching glimpses of the sea and mountains.

Making Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki

Traveling all over Hiroshima Prefecture is sure to whet your appetite! Along with fresh, grilled oysters, Hiroshima is famous for its okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a portmanteau from “okonomi” which means “as you like it” and “yaki” which means “grilled”. The Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, also known as hiroshimayaki, was conceived of in the 1950s, during which time it provided inexpensive food for the population recovering from World War II. Hiroshimayaki is made by layering ingredients, as opposed to mixing finely chopped ingredients into the thicker pancake-like batter as is popular in the Osaka area. The traditional form of hiroshimayaki is a thin layer of crepe, dried bonito powder, shredded cabbage, tempura scraps, thinly sliced green onions and bean sprouts topped with pork belly and another layer of crepe. Once that has cooked, it’s further topped with yakisoba noodles stir-fried in okonomiyaki sauce and a fried egg. All of which is further topped with more sauce, mayonnaise and dried green seaweed powder.

Want to make the resulting goodness? Try out our recipe for Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima-Style! It’s easy to make using our electric griddles and so very satisfying!

As always, share your pictures with us…and tell us how you like to top your okonomiyaki!

A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Eating Tenmusu in Aichi

This month, we continue our Food Lover’s Tour by exploring Aichi Prefecture!

Aichi Prefecture is located in central Japan and is blessed with a natural landscape including a mountainous area full of lumber and rivers, the flat Nobi Plain rich with fertile agricultural land and the abundant fishing waters of Ise Bay, Chita Bay, Mikawa Bay and Atsumi Bay.

This naturally plentiful environment has led to the growth of many industries in Aichi Prefecture, and the third largest city of Nagoya, is strategically located between Tokyo and Osaka. In ancient times, Nagoya was controlled by the Tokugawa Clan, who built one of the most noted castles in Japan, and fostered native industries. Commerce was, and is, one of the largest activities in Aichi Prefecture, bringing many influences from different parts of Japan as well as other countries. Today, Aichi Prefecture is famous for ceramics, textiles and Toyota’s automotive manufacturing.

Nagoya castle nestled trees, surrounded by the sprawl of Nagoya

Nagoya is the largest city in Aichi Prefecture, and is famous for this month’s special food: tenmusu. Tenmusu are rice balls stuffed with shrimp tempura that has been soaked in a savory sauce and then wrapped in sheets of nori seaweed. Tenmusu, comes from two words–tempura and omusubi–and brings both delicious items together in a wonderful dish.

Tenmusu has a colorful history! It is associated with Nagoya, but it was originally developed in the city of Tsu, in the Mie Prefecture across Ise Bay. In the 1930s, a woman named Mrs. Mizutani owned a tempura set-meal restaurant called Senju in Tsu City. Legend has it that on a busy day, Mrs. Mizutani didn’t have enough time to prepare lunch for her husband, and gave him rice balls with cut pieces of shrimp tempura hidden inside. Her husband must have enjoyed it, because 20 years later, the shrimp tempura rice balls were being served not only to her husband but to restaurant employees as well. Patrons soon discovered the dish, and asked for it from the restaurant’s secret menu, until Mrs. Mizutani perfected her recipe and began offering it on the formal menu, where a woman named Mrs. Fujimori, who was on vacation from Nagoya, ordered it and loved it.

Fifty years later, in 1980, the depressed economy in Nagoya led Mr. Fujimori, the patron’s husband, to close his watch shop. Mrs. Fujimori began exploring ways to support her family, and thought to sell the tenmusu that she loved from Mrs. Mizutani’s restaurant as a new item in Nagoya. She visited Mrs. Mizutani, and was rejected. She kept coming back, and was rejected. And she was persistent, even staying with Mrs. Mizutani, and finally gained her friendship. Through her persistence, friendship and negotiation, Mrs. Mizutani taught her the recipe and allowed her to open a branch of Senju in Nagoya.

Tenmusu was unknown in Nagoya, but after all that Mrs. Fujimori had gone through, she began a marketing campaign that gained her much publicity, and tenmusu became famous as a Nagoya specialty!

Tenmusu shop (photo by m-louis)

Both the Tsu City and Nagoya restaurants are still in existence, and you can see a sign that says “ORIGINAL” outside of the shop in Tsu City.

We love tenmusu at Zojirushi, too, and our recipe is as tasty as the ones from the original shop!

The best part about tenmusu is eating it in and around Nagoya. While trying out new foods may be one of the most interesting things to do in Aichi Prefecture, we know you’ll also love visiting the many spectacular attractions in the area, including the Mikawa Bay Quasi-National Park, the 1,900 year old Atsuta Jingu Shrine, Inuyama Castle and the Minamichita Hot Springs Resort. If you’re fortunate enough to be in Aichi Prefecture in winter, don’t miss the Hadaka Matsuri or “naked festival”… it’s a 1,200 year old tradition!

We hope you love Aichi Prefecture as much as we do, and as always, try making tenmusu and tell us how it went!

A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Maki Sushi in Chiba

We’re so excited that winter will end soon and our third location on our Food Lover’s Tour of Japan is the perfect place to enjoy the upcoming beauty of spring… Chiba!

Chiba Prefecture is located in the southeast part of Kanto Region of Japan, a large, fertile plain that is unique in a country predominantly defined by mountains.  Some part of it is also situated on the Boso-hanto Peninsula, with Tokyo Bay on the west and the Pacific Ocean on the east. This peninsula is sheltered and temperate, even during the cold months of winter, and has been densely populated for centuries due to its climate, fertile farmland, rich fishing zones and famous floriculture.

Chiba’s signature dish is futomaki sushi… and as we learn more about this beautiful area of Japan, you’ll understand why this dish is such a great characterization of this region.

On the west coast of the prefecture, situated alongside Tokyo Bay and within commuting distance of Tokyo, you’ll find Chiba City. Chiba City is the governmental and business hub of the prefecture, home to one of Asia’s biggest convention centers, the Makuhari Messe, and to the Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team. Many businesses and shops are in the city, and for leisure activities, locals and visitors both appreciate the cute port area called Chiba Port Park, where they can enjoy the beach, viewing tower, boat rides and cycling.

Not far from Chiba City, to the northeast, is Narita. Many of us know Narita as gateway to Japan, since this city is the location of Narita International Airport. But Narita is also a great spot to experience traditional Japanese culture. The famous Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple attracts over 13 million visitors a year and has been a time-honored place of worship since 940 AD. During the spring, one of the largest drum festivals is held in Narita. 200 drummers participate and the thunder of their drumming can be heard throughout the city! Early summer is time for the Narita Gion Matsuri, where the Shinto object of worship from the temple is paraded around the city along with floats.

Tulips bloom in Chiba

History also abounds in the neighboring cities of Sawara and Sakura City. In these cities, visitors come to experience the atmosphere of Edo period through well-preserved architecture, shops, homes, samurai residences and classic streets. The National Museum of Japanese History, Chiba Prefectural Boso-no-Mura Museum and the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences are well-worth the visit.

The beaches in this prefecture are stunning. Kujukuri Beach, along the Pacific Ocean, is 41 miles long with a long straight coastline without reefs. It extends from Cape Gyobu in Iioka Town to Cape Daito in Misaki Town and is a pristine area for swimming, surfing, water sports and sport fishing. At the north end of the beach is Cape Inubo-saki, a raised marine abrasion where dramatic cliffs, rough waves and blasts of wind contrast strongly with the more serene beach towards the south. There is a lighthouse at the cape, where if you go up to the observation deck to view the panorama of the Pacific Ocean, you’ll be able to see the curvature of the Earth and if you’re lucky, dolphins! Not far from the cape, the Byobu-ga-ura Cliffs rise 131-164 feet high, and are fondly called the Dover of the Orient, due to their sparkling white façade.

Because of Chiba Prefecture’s temperate climate, flowers grow abundantly throughout the peninsula. The natural landscape and rich flora inspires Chiba’s signature dish: futomaki sushi. Chiba Prefecture’s futomaki sushi are artfully crafted, thick sushi rolls, made with colorful vegetables, rice decorated with food dyes, eggs and seafood. The traditional rolling techniques, learned in from a young age, and designs unique to each family, result in patterns that show through the cross-cuts made in the rolls when they’re sliced. Flowers in the shape of ume blossoms and roses are common motifs, but the variety of designs is as endless as the number of families rolling the sushi.

Futomaki sushi is thicker than basic maki sushi, or sushi roll. While futomaki sushi is traditionally made for special occasions, people enjoy simpler maki sushi throughout the year. Just like futomaki suhi, maki sushi can be made with fresh, colorful fillings, such as tamago (sweetened omelet), carrots, gourd, mitsuba, shiitake mushrooms, pickled ginger, shiso leaves, cucumber, eel, shrimp and tuna. Whether or not the rolling technique results in a patterned design, the ingredients are balanced so that no one flavor overpowers the other.

Making Chiba Prefecture’s futomaki sushi is an art practiced over years, so preparing simpler maki sushi is a great way to get started. Try out our recipe for a basic maki sushi and as always, let us know about your travels to Chiba and your adventures in rolling sushi!

A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Mizutaki in Fukuoka

Did you make yudofu last month? Wasn’t it perfect for a cold January?

This month, we’re excited to feature Fukuoka, Japan’s sixth largest city, and home to mizutaki.

As foodies and travelers, we love the cuisines, cultures and special areas of Japan. This month, as part of our new series, A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan, we explore the city of Fukuoka, its history, culture, natural surroundings and famous mizutaki.

City of Fukuoka, as it’s known today, was the result of the merging of two historic towns, Fukuoka and Hakata. Fukuoka was the feudal castle area of the Kuroda family, on the west bank of the Nakagawa River, and Hakata was the ancient center for international trade with Korea and China situated on the east bank. The city of Hakata eventually got destroyed because of a battle in 1569, and in the early 17th century Fukuoka began to emerge to Hakata resulting in the merged city of Fukuoka which was officially inaugurated in 1889.

The Fukuoka city scape above blossoming cherry trees

Today, Fukuoka prefecture is a major metropolis and cultural center, often known as the gateway to Kyushu, where one can see the historic sights of Nagasaki, experience the volcanic activity at the Aso Caldera, enjoy Japan’s best surfing along the Nichinan Coast, relax at onsen hot springs, and learn ceramic arts from Saga’s three legendary pottery centers. Fukuoka sits in the northwestern part of Kyushu and faces three straits—the Sea of Suo to the northeast, the Sea of Genkai to the northwest and the Sea of Ariake to the southwest–that border Continental Asia.

The spirit of the two original towns that make up Fukuoka still influence the character of the city today. Fukuoka City, which is often known locally by its ancient name of Hakata, is the main urban area of Fukuoka Prefecture. Within the prefecture are smaller cities and scenic areas that are worth a visit, including Dazaifu, the location of the Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine, where students seek blessings for academic achievement. The shrine is also famous for the countless varieties of red and white plum trees and irises. Kitakyushu, another city in Fukuoka, is a unique blend of medieval and modern industry. The Senbutsu limestone cave is a scenic spot in Kitakyusyu and is full of stalagmites and stone pillars. Many interesting museums can be found in Kitakyushu. Western Fukuoka prefecture is lush with azaleas and many old temples and shrines, including some that are dedicated to water deities and to the goddesses of fertility and easy childbirth. The southern part of the prefecture is an idyllic place to relax in the hot springs and onsen spas.

The Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine

While a visit to the prefecture is sure to provide varied experiences, Fukuoka City itself is teeming with things to do. The city center, or Hakata District, is home to the business area of Fukuoka, as well as to the Kushida-jinja Shrine, which hosts one of the main summer festivals held in the city. The riverfronts in the city are always bustling, especially in the Nakasu / Tenjin areas. Approximately 3,500 restaurants and food stalls can be found in Nakasu and Tenjin thrives with fashionable shops and department stores. You can even catch a baseball game at Fukuoka Dome along the main waterfront area! And if you’re looking for time in nature, the Kashii / Shikanoshima Island areas along the coast offer history, views, water and serenity.

Fukuoka’s incredibly diverse international influences show up in its food, just as much as its culture. Mizutaki originated in Fukuoka, and means “water stew”. It’s a deceptively simple dish that was inspired by European consommé and chicken dishes from China. To make mizutaki, chicken, which is consumed more in Fukuoka than any other place in Japan, is boiled along with vegetables in a kelp-based broth, without any other seasonings. Once the chicken and cabbage, carrots, daikon radish, mushrooms and green onions are cooked, each person then take the ingredients in individual bowls and eat with tangy ponzu sauce. Rice can be added to the leftover broth, cooked and eaten as a savory soup or porridge. Two dishes in one!

Try out our recipe for Mizutaki, which you can easily make in our Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet (EP-RAC50) and let us know how you like it!

And don’t forget to share your Fukuoka stories with us below.