A supply district of goods and resources for the metropolitan area, blessed with a natural environment rich in variation, and a temperate climate
Kanagawa Prefecture rests almost squarely in the center of the Japanese Islands. In the heart of the prefecture is the Class A river Sagami River, which runs north-south, while to the northwest are the mountain ranges of Hakone and Tanzawa, and to the southeast are extended coastlines and flatlands overlooking Tokyo Bay and Sagami Bay.
Located adjacently to Japan’s capital of Tokyo, it is a prefecture of consumers, inhabited by a population of approximately 9 million, while it is also a thriving production center of agricultural, livestock and marine products, blessed with a temperate climate, mountains, oceans, and rivers––a natural environment rich in undulating terrains and resources.
As a region dotted with many travel and transportation hubs, and a very popular tourist area, with its own unique historical background, Kanagawa Prefecture has produced a local food culture that is rich in variety and diversity, whether you are seeking Japanese, Western, Chinese, or any other type of dining.
With cooperation by: Tsumamasa
Yokohama Port, the heart of international trade, has contributed significantly to the modernization of Japan’s food industry
When talking about Kanagawa’s food culture, one thing we cannot omit is the presence of Yokohama Port. At the end of the Tokugawa shogunate era, after the arrival of Commodore Perry’s fleets had signaled the end of Japan’s long period of isolation, in 1859, Yokohama Port was opened as an international trade port. Ever since then, Yokohama has served as the gateway to foreign cultures, an early portal to receiving food cultures from around the world in Japan.
Foreign settlements were established in the area surrounding the port, with one district developing into Yokohama Chinatown. In addition, a large number of dishes that incorporated Western culture, such as sukiyaki, and seafood doria (Japanese seafood and rice gratin), originated from the Yokohama area.
Broadly speaking, Kanagawa Prefecture is comprised of 5 areas. The Yokohama and Kawasaki regions, which were openly receptive to foreign food cultures; the Yokosuka and Miura regions, which are surrounded on three sides by oceans; the Shonan and Kamakura regions, which retain elements of their ancient cities; the Ken-o (central) region, where nature and urban environments coexist side-by-side; and the Ken-sei (western) region, blessed with a diverse natural environment, filled with lakes and onsen hot springs, etc. Here, we will introduce the distinguishing characteristics of each respective area, and the local cuisine that developed there.
<Yokohama / Kawasaki regions>
”Sukiyaki,” which spread the popularity of beef, which had been taboo during the Edo period
The period of Japan’s isolation, which began in the early Edo period and continued for over 200 years, came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and Japan in 1858. Symbolic of that development was the opening of the port to international trade. Yokohama Port is the closest port to Tokyo, and as the front line in the rush of foreign cultures pouring into Japan, it became a thriving area. Formerly a poorly inhabited, impoverished village, piers were built at Yokohama, and in addition to building foreign settlement areas where foreigners could legally reside, construction proceeded on Japanese towns where local merchants could build shops, and a government office district. As international exchange continued to flourish, the cuisine of various foreign countries came to be arranged and adapted to fit Japanese tastes, and in many cases was popularized throughout the country.
A particularly significant turning point in Japanese food culture was the influx of a meat eating culture. As far back as the Asuka period, based on the reasoning of Buddhist teachings that killing was forbidden, Japan issued its first meat eating ban. While the passing of time led to some transitionary progress, eating meat was still publicly forbidden during the Edo period, so people did not partake of animal flesh. However, with the advent of the modernization policies of the Meiji era, the meat ban was lifted. “Sukiyaki,” a dish born in Yokohama, which involved the flavoring of beef––a favorite of Westerners––in a manner that better suited Japanese tastes, became massively popular, and indeed came to represent a new enlightened and civilized age.
Eventually, a large Chinatown developed in the foreign settlements area, and dishes like “sanmamen” and “shumai,” which had their roots in Chinese cuisine, became beloved as a form of soul food for the locals.
Now then, situated in between the cities of Yokohama and Tokyo, is Kawasaki. The city flourished as a post town on the Tokaido highway during the Edo period, and by taking advantage of the abundant waters supplied by the Tamagawa River, a large-scale cultivation of rice paddies took place. Currently occupying a section of the Keihin manufacturing district, it is largely thought of as an industrial area. But in fact, the inland areas retain a large and thriving natural environment. And by taking advantage of the fact that it sits in close proximity to the large consumption area called Tokyo, the region enjoys a prosperous urban agricultural industry. The area is distinguished by the development of a diverse range of crops, of which “norabona,” a vegetable cultivated since the Edo period, is one. Although a member of the Brassicaceae family of vegetables, it possess little of the bitter or acrid taste common to most of those plants, and is characterized by a faint sweetness and gentle texture. When prepared as ohitashi (a side dish of blanched greens in a soy-based marinade), it results in an enjoyable fragrance and sweet flavor, and pleasantly chewy firmness.
<Yokosuka / Miura regions>
A peninsula surrounded by Sagami Bay and Tokyo Bay, this is an area blessed with a temperate climate, and abundant in agricultural and marine products
The Miura Peninsula is known for its splendid ocean views and tourist attractions, but it also has a rich natural environment and an intricate coastline. Thanks to its warm, temperate climate, it is an area with a thriving open-field culture and fishing industry.
The specialty of Misaki Port, located at the tip of the peninsula, has to be maguro (tuna). Because the topography of Misaki is ideal for a port, it saw early growth in its fishing industry, and by the early Showa era, boasted some of the largest tuna hauls in the nation. In general, the most-eaten portions of maguro are toro (fatty meat from the belly side), akami (red meat), and naka-ochi (meat scraped off the bones). But at restaurants in the Misaki Port area, diners can enjoy maguro dishes that utilize various other portions of the fish, such as “Maguro Kabuto-yaki” (grilled tuna head).
What’s more, the Miura Peninsula is also a major producer of daikon radish, with a history of over 100 years of cultivation. In winters, you can see the coast filled with lines of daikon being dried to make takuan (yellow pickled radish), and the sight has become a seasonal tradition. There are a variety of locally beloved daikon dishes, among which is “wariboshi daikon no harihari zuke” (pickled dried daikon), which uses wariboshi daikon (strips of daikon sliced lengthwise and dried), which is thicker than kiriboshi daikon (thin dried radish strips), and has a pleasantly crunchy taste.
And then there is the Yokosuka region, which has a slightly different character. Ever since the opening of Japan at the end of the Edo period, the area saw a steady establishment of army and naval bases, and experienced development as a military port. Following World War II, to this day the U.S. Navy maintains a naval base here, and the city overflows with an exotic atmosphere. The city actively hosts revitalization projects based around curry dishes, with the “Yokosuka Kaigun Curry” (Yokosuka Navy Curry) being most famous, thanks to its association with the navy.
<Shonan / Kamakura regions>
Tasting the fresh blessings of the sea, and traditional cuisine of the ancient city of Kamakura
Into Sagami Bay, which expands to the south of the prefecture, flow rich nutrients from the Tanzawa mountain massif, surrounding mountain range, and forests. The specialty of the Shonan region, which faces Sagami Bay, when all is said and done, is of course, its seafood. Using primarily fixed netting and gill-net fishing techniques, the majority of fishing boats are small ships that get their hauls in one-day trips. Because the fishing grounds, port, and consumption areas are all proximate to each other, it is possible to deliver seafood to the dining table while still fresh after being caught.
Aji (horse mackerel) and saba (mackerel) are prolifically caught in this region, but the most well-known specialty product is shirasu (whitebait). Shirasu spoils quickly on its own, so “Nama Shirasu Don” (raw whitebait bowl) offers diners an opportunity to taste raw shirasu, which means that it is only available on the day it is caught––a famous and popular dish unique to the Shonan region.
Furthermore, the Kamakura region, located at the base of the Miura Peninsula, is the place where Minamoto no Yoritomo established the bakufu (first shogunate). For approximately 250 years, this ancient city flourished as the center of Japanese politics and culture. For this reason, it is populated with many cultural assets, historic landmarks, and Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples with long histories. “Kenchin-jiru” (a vegetable soup prepared with root vegetables and tofu), which has now become a national comfort food, has roots in the vegetarian cuisine prepared at Kenchoji, a Zen Buddhist temple located in Kamakura.
Local food, developed from farming village life, a tradition that continues today
The Ken-o region encompasses the cities of Sagamihara and Atsugi. While the western portion retains its ancient rural landscape of rice paddies and farming villages, nourished by the Tanzawa and Oyama mountain ranges and water resources supplied by Lake Miyagase and Sagami River, the southeastern area has developed as a major transportation point, served by arterial roads and railways. Oyama, located in the city of Isehara, has been revered as a holy mountain and an object of worship since ancient times, and since the Edo period, beginning with the shogun himself, has been visited by some 200,000 worshippers each year. Blessed with high quality waters, before anyone realized it, the tofu made here, which paired well with vegetarian cuisine, became a famous specialty, and came to be known as “Oyama tofu cuisine” among the people.
Meanwhile, the plains of Sagamino daichi (Sagamino plateau), where the cities of Sagamihara and Zama are located, have accumulated fallen volcanic ash, making them unsuitable for rice farming. So instead, with abundant crops of barely, wheat, and sweet potatoes, the area developed a thriving culture of foods made from flour. And so, from such a lifestyle, closely associated with how the farmers worked and lived, came “Sake Manju” (round steamed cakes) and “Ishigaki Dango” (dumplings), made with flour and sweet potatoes.
Likewise, within Kanagawa Prefecture, with the opening of Japan, pig breeding (to serve the foreigners living in the new settlements) began to proliferate, and in the Ken-o region, which was especially suited for cultivating sweet potatoes, by making effective use of potato stems and yam beans as pig feed, an aggressive push to popularize hog farming took place throughout the Meiji and Taisho eras. In particular, it was said that at one time there were approximately 300 pig farms in the city of Atsugi. With the modernizing waves of urbanization, the number of pig farms has declined a bit, but even now, “ton-zuke” (pork marinaded in miso) is a specialty dish in this region.
The mountains, lakes, oceans, and hot springs. A food culture that is made possible thanks to a colorful and abundant natural environment
This is a region overflowing with nature, set against the backdrop of the abundant forests and mountains of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and Tanzawa-Oyama Quasi-National Park.
Ashinoko Lake, located on the prefectural boundary shared with Shizuoka Prefecture, in a caldera of the Mt. Hakone volcano, is known as a scenic spot for viewing Mt. Fuji, but is also famous as a fishing spot. Ever since the Taisho era, when wakasagi (Japanese pond smelt) were transplanted here from Ibaraki Prefecture, breeding programs have continued, and now the wakasagi of Ashinoko Lake are revered highly enough to serve as gifts for the Imperial Household. There are various ways to prepare wakasagi, such as frying or nanbanzuke (fried and then marinated in a spicy sauce), but kanroni (stewed in soy sauce and sugar) is an especially beloved and time-honored method in these parts, and is a standard item of the dining table during the New Year’s holidays.
In this sprawling area at the foot of the mountains, an abundant variety of fruit crops can be harvested, including mandarin oranges, Shonan Gold (a hybrid Japanese citrus), and ume (plums). It seems that plum cultivation in Odawara had been going on since before the Sengoku period (the Warring States period), with umezuke (pickled ume which are not dried), a specialty in this city, making an appearance in the novel “Tokaidochu Hizakurige,” written during the Edo period. Juro ume, an original breed of ume from Odawara, is known for its thick, soft flesh, and is regarded as a top quality breed for making umeboshi (dried pickled ume).
In Odawara, which faces Sagami Bay, fresh fish are very often caught, and have long been used to make kamaboko (fish cake). During the Edo period, the city became a post town on the Tokaido highway, and “Odawara Kamaboko,” which was served to travelers, became a widespread hit among the visitors.
With abundant nature, and hot spring resorts like Hakone, and conveniently located within easy traveling distance of Tokyo, the area developed as a tourist destination, apparently a factor in this Ken-sei region specialty becoming known throughout the country.