A prefecture blessed with mountains, oceans, and rivers, where agricultural, forestry and fishery products abundantly grow
Fukushima is located at the southernmost tip of the Tohoku region, at the junction with the Kanto region. With an area of 13,784.14 square kilometers, it is the third largest prefecture in Japan after Hokkaido and Iwate (Geographical Survey Institute, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, "National Area Survey by Prefecture, City, Town, and Village"). The area is rich in nature, with the Ou Mountains and other mountains, the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, as well as rivers and lakes such as the Abukuma River and Lake Inawashiro, and abundant water sources such as Matsukawa-ura Bay, the only lagoon in the prefecture. Its beautiful scenery is known throughout Japan, to the extent that many of its parks have been designated as national parks, including Oze National Park and Nikko National Park.
Footage obtained in cooperation with: Eiwa Gakuen Culinary Arts College of Japan
The prefecture is surrounded by nature, resulting in thriving crop production and fishing. Fukushima produces and ships a variety of agricultural, forestry, and fishery products, with the 11 most widely produced being known as the Fukushima Eleven: rice, cucumbers, asparagus, tomatoes, peaches, Japanese pear, gentian, Fukushima beef, Jidori Kyodai (Kawamata Shamo/Aizu Jidori), nameko mushrooms, and flatfish. Fukushima also boasts the nation's top production of pea pods, beans, apples, konjac, and potatoes (Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Fukushima Prefecture, "The Current State of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Industry in Fukushima Prefecture"). It is also known as the land of fruits due to its very high fruit production.
Fukushima has a tidal sea where the Kuroshio Current from the south and the Oyashio Current from the north collide, resulting in favorable fishing grounds. Many kinds of seafood such as saury, bonito, octopus, flatfish, and mehikari are landed. Koriyama City is the largest carp producer in Japan by municipality, with 747 tons of farmed carp produced in 2019, accounting for 80% of the total production in Fukushima (Koriyama City "Koi ni Koisuru Koriyama Project").
A diverse food culture with plenty of influence from neighboring prefectures
Fukushima Prefecture is divided into three regions: Nakadori, Aizu, and Hamadori, with the Abukuma Highlands and the Ou Mountains as the borders. Hamadori faces the Pacific Ocean, while the Nakadori and Aizu regions border six prefectures: Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Niigata, Yamagata, and Miyagi. Fukushima has a diverse food culture influenced by the food customs of its neighboring areas.
Although Fukushima produces plenty of crops, farming in winter was difficult in the past because the area is covered in snow during that season, fostering the culture of the preserved foods shimi-mochi (frozen-dried rice cakes) and shimi-dofu (frozen-dried tofu). Shimi-mochi is made by hanging mochi from the eaves of houses around January to February, exposing it to the cold wind and drying it. It is frequently eaten in Katsurao Village and elsewhere. Meanwhile, shimi-dofu is made by freezing tofu and returning it to below-freezing temperatures, drying it for about two weeks. It is said that Fukushima's frozen-dried dish food culture stems from the strong monsoon Azuma Oroshi blowing from the northwest in winter.
Fukushima Prefecture has nurtured a diverse food culture. Here are the local cuisines of the Hamadori, Nakadori, and Aizu regions.
< Hamadori >
Warm climate facing the Pacific Ocean
Hamadori has a mild climate facing the Pacific Ocean, with heavier rainfall during the rainy season and autumn. Winters here are warmer than in the other parts of the prefecture, with not much snowfall. The area is divided into the Iwaki area centering in Iwaki City and the Soso area, which includes Soma City, Minamisoma City, Futaba Town, and Namie Town.
Hokkigai surf clams are often harvested in the coastal areas of Fukushima Prefecture. People have been fishing off the coasts of Soma and Futaba since the Meiji era (1868-1912), and the area has long been known as a famous hokkigai producer. The mineral-rich seawater off the coasts of Soma and Futaba enhances the growth of the hokkigai, making them relatively large, sweet, and soft in texture. Hokki meshi is a well-known local rice dish that uses hokkigai. The rice absorbs the broth from the hokkigai, giving it plenty of umami.
Ika-ninjin (squid and carrots) is a local side dish eaten even in the northern areas of Nakadori. It is made by chopping up surumei (dried squid) and carrots into small pieces and marinating them in a sweet and spicy sauce and mirin sauce. The texture of the carrots and surume and the sweet dip make this dish addictive. It also goes well with rice. Today, ika-ninjin continues to be loved in various forms and is enjoyed as a snack flavor or as kakiage (mixed vegetable and seafood tempura), takikomi gohan (seasoned rice), and other arrangements.
Aside from the above, there is also the Iwaki Nanahama beach in Iwaki City, where a variety of seafood is landed throughout the year. Among the seafood, saury is especially actively fished in autumn. And one of the most eaten dishes using saury is the saury popo-yaki. Mince the saury, round it up like a hamburger steak, and grill it. The "popo" in "popo-yaki" is said to be from the sound it makes when the oil from the saury causes the fire to blaze up when grilling it over charcoal.
Junen botamochi is made by rolling glutinous rice into a bite-size ball and sprinkling sugar-flavored junen on top, rather than the usual botamochi with a red bean paste filling and wrapped in soybean flour. Junen refers to wild sesame and can also mean ten years. It is so nutritious that people are said to live ten years longer if they eat it, and its harvested seeds sprout even after ten years if sown, hence its name "junen." In Fukushima, it is a popular healthy food, with many local dishes using junen.
< Nakadori >
The land of seasonal flowers and fruits
Sandwiched between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean sides, Nakadori has many basins. It has hot summers while cold winds and snowfall visit in winter. The region is divided into northern, central, and southern areas. The northern area includes Fukushima City, Nihonmatsu City, Motomiya City, and Date City. Meanwhile, the central area is home to Koriyama City, Tamura City, Sukagawa City, and Furudono Town. Lastly, the southern area has Shirakawa City, Yamatsuri Town, Tanagura Town, Yabuki Town, Hanawa Town, and Samegawa Village. All of these play core roles and are brimming with uniqueness.
For example, carp production is thriving in Koriyama City. It is said that the practice began in the Edo period when Harunaka Tanaka, a retainer of the Aizu domain, encouraged households to build ponds in their homes to raise carp in preparation for famine. From there, samurai families in various regions began raising carp in reservoirs, increasing carp production. Another reason for the increase in production was the easy availability of the carp food silkworm chrysalis due to sericulture thriving in the area. Carp raised in the mineral-rich water from Lake Inawashiro have little odor and are often shipped to Yamagata, Akita, Nagano, and other prefectures.
Carp is used in various dishes, including deep-fried and ankake dishes (food covered in thick starchy sauce). Among these, koi no amani is a local Koriyama dish said to have been created by Harunaka Genzai himself. The carp is simmered sweet and spicy with plenty of sugar, syrup, soy sauce, and sake, resulting in a dish jam-packed with umami without the carp's odor. Another of Fukushima's representative carp dishes is the koi no arai, fresh carp eaten as is. Koriyama's carp is so fresh it can be eaten without heating.
Furudono and some areas in Fukushima call potatoes "kanpura" and have a deeply rooted culture of eating them as a staple food. Miso kanpura is made by stir-frying unpeeled kanpura with miso, sugar, mirin, and other ingredients. A kanpura farmer invented this innovative dish to enjoy potatoes too small to be shipped at home. The sweet miso seasoning makes it a perfect snack great for adults and children alike. Ika-ninjin is a local side dish eaten even in the northern areas of Nakadori. It is made by chopping up surumei and carrots into small pieces and marinating them in a sweet and spicy sauce and mirin sauce. The texture of the carrots and surume and the sweet dip make this dish addictive. It also goes well with rice. Today, ika-ninjin continues to be loved in various forms and is enjoyed as a snack flavor or as kakiage, takikomi gohan, and other arrangements.
< Aizu >
Food culture nurtured by rich nature and history
In the Aizu region, summers are cool in the mountains but hot and humid in the basins. On the other hand, its winters have heavy snowfall and even lower temperatures than in other areas. The Aizu area to the north includes Aizuwakamatsu City, Kitakata City, Kanayama Town, and Nishiaizu Town, while the Minami Aizu area extends to Minamiaizu, Hinoemata Village, Shimogo Town, and other towns.
Shingoro is a dish made by mashing junen and adding miso, sake, mirin, and other seasonings for the sauce, coating it on mashed rice, and baking it. It is said that it was named after a certain young man. Shingoro could not eat mochi on New Year's, so he mashed and balled up rice instead, dipped it in junen-miso, and baked it, making his mother happy, hence the dish's name. This local dish with a simple and gentle flavor is especially eaten in Shimogo Town and Minamiaizu Town.
Kozuyu is a local dish served in a teshio-zara (a shallow Aizu lacquerware) with various ingredients such as kikurage mushrooms, bracken, and taro cooked in scallop soup stock. It has been eaten for over 100 years. In the past, it was served in two separate bowls: "ichi no ju" and "ni no ju" or "ichi no tsuyu" and "ni no tsuyu." However, since 1985, it is now served in a single bowl as kozuyu.
Nishin no sanshoduke is a local dish made by dashing sansho pepper on migaki nishin (dried pacific herring) and seasoning it with soy sauce, vinegar, and sake. It is often eaten around Aizuwakamatsu City and is so loved that there is a special bowl just for sanshoduke called a nishinbachi (herring bowl). During the Edo period, when there was almost no distribution of raw fish in Fukushima, herring caught in Hokkaido were dried and made into migaki nishin to be distributed to the other regions. These herrings were brought to the Aizu region, where they came to be valued for their preservation and as a source of protein.