Foods nurtured by mild climate and favorable natural conditions
Yamaguchi Prefecture belongs to the Chugoku region, and is located at the westernmost point of Honshu. It opens out into the sea on three sides, the raging Hibiki-nada Sea on the Sea of Japan side; the Kanmon Straits; and the Suo-nada Sea on the Seto Inland Sea side, and based on its topography with the Chugoku Mountains running east to west, it is divided into three main regions, the Seto Inland Sea coastal region; the inland mountainous region; and the Sea of Japan coastal region. In addition, the climate is mild, with relatively little wind and flood damage or earthquakes, making it a comfortable place to live, and it is said to be blessed with natural conditions.
It is rich in a wide variety of marine products, due to the different characteristics of the sea in the north and south, and agriculture also flourishes, taking advantage of its varied topography and other natural features. A wide variety of vegetables and fruits are produced in Yamaguchi Prefecture, including Iwakuni lotus root, which is famous throughout Japan, Hanakkori, the traditional vegetable Kakichisha, and Taya eggplant.
Cooperating restaurant for the interview: Kappo Chiyo
Some video materials provided by: (General Incorporated Association) Yamaguchi Prefectural Tourism Federation
Characteristics born in culinary culture from the blossoming of the Ouchi Culture
The blossoming of the "Ouchi Culture", also contributed to the development of Yamaguchi Prefecture. The Ouchi clan, descended from Prince Imseong of the Baekje Kingdom, moved into the Ouchi region (present-day Yamaguchi City) at the end of the Heian period, after which they gradually rose in power in recognition of their achievements in The Genpei War, and were active as the most powerful Shugo Daimyo and warring lords in the western part of Japan.
The Ouchi clan developed and partitioned its streets modeling them to have an atmosphere just like those of Kyoto, and the streets and houses had Kyoto-style names. The wealth they accumulated through trade with Korea and Ming (China) gave them a lavish culture, that even led it to be called "The Kyoto of the West" in the Muromachi period. After the fall of the Ouchi clan sparked by the rebellion of its vassals, the Mori clan emerged. Later, in Hagi, where the Mori clan was based, and in Iwakuni, where the Yoshikawa family, a branch of the Mori clan, were lords, a samurai culture was born, and along with that food also developed. A distinctive culinary culture was also born, that includes the whaling culture of Kitaura, and cuisine using fugu (blowfish) from Shimonoseki, which is also designated as a prefectural fish.
An eminent figure lifts the ban on Fugu at the end of the Edo period; and whale which is still loved, though obsolete
One of Yamaguchi Prefecture's most well-known foods and specialties in Japan is the luxury fish, "Fugu". It has a long history, with fugu bones dating back 2,000 to 2,500 years having been excavated from Yayoi Period ruins in Shimonoseki. However, during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, due to incidents where soldiers who had eaten fugu had died one after the other during the invasion of Korea, a ban on the consumption of fugu was issued by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In the Edo period, the shogunate also issued a ban on fugu, and the crackdown was enforced further. However, eating fugu was still popular amongst the general public, and it was after Ito Hirobumi was impressed by the taste, that the ban on eating fugu was lifted only in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1888, and Shimonoseki became known as the town of fugu.
Whaling also thrived in the Kitaura region including Shimonoseki, and in Nagato in the 12th year of the Kanbun era (1672), records remain of “Whaling teams” from what is now Senzaki Bay, being appointed by the Choshu Domain. Whale fishing flourished because whales went south from Fall to winter to give birth and raise their young in the warm waters. The Kawashiri region alone is said to have captured more than 2,800 whales over a period of about 200 years, which gives some indication of the prosperity of the area.
However, the drastic decline in the number of whales led to a decline in whale fishing, with the last whaling being done in 1910. In contrast, Shimonoseki, a port of call for cargo ships that sailed the Japan Sea in the Edo period, served as a "Distribution base" for whale meat and oil caught in Nagato and Hagi, which were sent to Kyushu, Hokuriku, and Kansai via wholesalers in Shimonoseki, as well as a base to supply funds and resources to whaling crews that did not hunt whales, and also as a consumption area. Since it was also a consumption area, whale eating culture has taken root, and it is said that the whale restaurant "Nisshin," which was under the direct management of Taiyo Fishery's in 1958, had as many as 25 kinds of whale dishes. Even after whaling in the Kitaura region ceased, whale eating had taken root among common people, and has been passed down to the present day.
In addition to the culinary culture known throughout Japan that includes things like fugu and whale, there is a wide variety of local cuisine in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Here, we will introduce the culinary culture of each area by dividing it into three major regions, the Kitaura region on the Sea of Japan coast, which includes Hagi, Nagato, and Shimonoseki; the eastern region, which includes Iwakuni and Shunan; and the central region on the Seto Inland Sea coast, which includes Ube and Yamaguchi.
< Kitaura Region >
Wealth and am abundance of food brought by the blessings of the sea
The Kitaura region, which includes Shimonoseki, Nagato, and Hagi, is located along the coast of the Sea of Japan and so is blessed by the bounties of the sea. The most famous of these is Shimonoseki's Torafugu, which is often eaten on special occasions such as celebrations as, "Fugu sashimi," which is so thinly sliced that you can see through it. In contrast, inexpensive fugu, such as the Green rough-backed puffer, is seasoned and deep-fried as, "Fugu karaage" (deep-fried fugu), which is eaten daily either at home or in Japanese-style pubs.
Although whaling, which once flourished in Nagato, is no longer practiced, local dishes such as "Kujira no Nanban-ni" (whale stewed with vegetables) and "Kujira no Tatsuta Karaage" (whale flavored with soy sauce and deep fried) have been inherited as remnants of the whaling tradition. In particular, "Kujira no Nanban-ni" is a dish that was made using not only the whale's red flesh, but also its skin. With this special dish we can catch a glimpse at the relationship between people and whales, in which even the whale's skin and whiskers were utilized so that nothing went to waste.
Within the Kitaura region, Hagi City, where the samurai culture remains, has its own unique culinary culture. "Itoko-ni" (vegetables boiled in miso), which is eaten throughout the prefecture, is a local dish that is especially popular in Hag. While the use of sweetened azuki beans and dumplings made of rice flour is common, the seasoning, ingredients, and soup, etc., differ from region to region. In Hagi, the soup is clear, which is typical of a castle town, and the broth made with kelp, etc., is seasoned with soy sauce, and salt etc. In addition to azuki beans and rice flour, shiitake mushrooms and fish paste, etc., are added to make a cold soup.
Another dish deeply connected with Hagi's history is "Natsumikan-gashi" (Summer orange confectionery). Hagi once prospered as the political and economic center of the Choshu domain, however, the people of the city were impoverished when the administrative headquarters moved to Yamaguchi. Moreover, when the Meiji era came, the samurai families were also impoverished, and as a solution to overcome that, it was the summer oranges that they planted, which became a specialty product and saved the people of Hagi. These summer oranges are still a specialty of Hagi today, and are eaten as candied "Natsumikan-gashi".
< Eastern Region >
Rice consumed in different forms as an offering, and as daily food
Surrounded by the Sea of Japan and the Seto Inland Sea, and with the Chugoku Mountains running east to west through the center of the prefecture, Yamaguchi Prefecture is a mild region due to its geographical and topographical characteristics. However, the effects of these characteristics in which the environment differs greatly from region to region, can be seen in the cultivation of rice. Rice cultivation is carried out in suitable places and using suitable crops, according to the climate and atmosphere, in regions such as along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea; in the mountainous areas bordering Shimane and Hiroshima prefectures; and from the flat areas of the Sea of Japan to the central part of the prefecture. Among these, the eastern region, which includes Iwakuni City and Shunan City, still preserves local cuisine using rice.
The individuality of the local cuisine in Iwakuni has stood out since the time of the former Iwakuni Domain
Iwakuni City in particular, is one of the most scenic places in Iwakuni Prefecture, and is also known for having the Kintaikyo Bridge, a five-storied wooden arch bridge that has been designated a national landmark. The area was a castle town in the Iwakuni region ruled by the Yoshikawa clan in the Edo period, and after the restoration of imperial rule, became the Iwakuni domain in the 4th year of the Keio era (1868). One of the local delicacies that still remains that is typical of the castle town is "Iwakuni sushi", made from Iwakuni lotus root, which has been cultivated since the Edo period.
Iwakuni sushi is a luxurious pressed sushi typical of the castle town, that is made with three to five layers, using sumptuous ingredients such as vinegared Iwakuni lotus root, the traditional vegetable Chisha (Romaine lettuce), simmered sea eel, thin omelet cut into strips, and finely shredded and seasoned fish. Also called "Tonosama sushi," it was made to be a non-perishable food during the war by order of the Yoshikawa clan. It was sometimes served as an offering, and is now an essential dish for celebratory occasions.
Whilst "Iwakuni sushi" is a luxurious dish made to be eaten by a large number of people at the same time, there is another dish that was created to conserve rice, which was considered precious, when eating it. That dish is "Chagayu," which was promoted by the Iwakuni feudal lord Kikkawa Hiro, at the beginning of the 17th century to conserve rice. It was often made by cooking boiled tea and leftover rice, and sometimes even sweet potatoes were added. Both of these dishes should be eaten with nostalgia for the days when rice was precious.
< Central Region >
The culinary culture of Yamaguchi Prefecture, spreads from its center, throughout the prefecture
The central region includes the Seto Inland Sea coastal areas such as Ube City and Yamaguchi City. There are many tourist spots, including the five-story pagoda of Ruriko-ji Temple in Yamaguchi City, which was called the "Kyoto of the West"; and Akiyoshidai, the largest karst plateau in Japan, and a special natural treasure, which stretches across the central and eastern parts of Mine City.
In Yamaguchi City, "Uiro" (sweet rice jelly) which has been loved since the Muromachi period, is a popular souvenir. Unlike "Uiro" from other prefectures, the use of bracken flour gives it a tense elasticity and chewy texture which is its characteristic, and so its one-of-a-kind flavor has many fans.
"Chicken Chicken Gobo" also originated in Yamaguchi City and has spread throughout the prefecture. The dish was invented based on ideas for menus collected from families in order to break out of the monotonous routine of school lunch menus, and the sweet and spicy taste of the sugar and soy sauce sauce has been well received by children. The dish has become a staple of the prefectural diet, spreading via school lunches to households, and then even to the town by word of mouth.
Similarly, there are many local dishes that are eaten throughout the prefecture, such as "Kenchou" and "Kabu zoni", and "Chicken Chicken Gobo" will also probably take root as a local dish of Yamaguchi Prefecture in the near future.