A food culture bursting with individuality, nurtured fully and freely with the blessings of the seas and the mountains

Tokushima Prefecture, located in the eastern portion of the Shikoku region, is an area surrounded by three oceans—the Seto Inland Sea, the Kii Channel, and the Pacific Ocean. The area is supplied with an abundance of water resources, including the Naruto Strait (said to be one of the world’s three major currents), as well as large rivers such as the Yoshino and Naka River. Furthermore, as it is surrounded by a mountain range covering an area of 4,146.79㎡, Tokushima is blessed with a rich bounty of natural environments (Tokushima Prefecture official website). With a temperate climate ideal for growing crops, the area overflows with unique specialty products that have been nurtured fully and freely by the blessings of the mountains and the seas.

With cooperation by: (general incorporated association) Tokushima Prefecture Licensed Cooks Association

For example, this region is the number one producer of sudachi (a small, round, green Japanese citrus), and produces close to a 100% share nationwide of this crop (from the Chugoku-Shikoku Regional Agricultural Administration Office official website). In addition to being grown in Tokushima, Kamiyama, Sanagochi, Anan, and other cities and villages, the sudachi flower has been designated as the official prefectural flower, and can be said to be a specialty product that proudly represents the region. The prefecture is also known for producing top nationwide shares in crops such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and lotus roots (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries FY2018 Summary of the Annual Report on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas in Japan). Meanwhile, with regard to marine products, items such as fresh wakame seaweed, sea bream, and pike conger, caught in the Naruto area, are known as specialty products here as well.

In addition to producing an abundance of specialty products, the prefecture has a history of being known as the gateway to Shikoku since the Ritsuryo period (603-967 AD). With Awaji Island situated in between Tokushima and the Kyoto area, the prefecture has long welcomed a flourishing cultural exchange with Kyoto, and established a diverse food culture that built upon and innovated upon the wisdom of ancestors, to develop a style of local food that could be served to guests and can be preserved and transported easily.

Yusanbako (multi-tiered boxes)

Images provided by: “Local cuisine of Tokushima” (Tokushima Prefecture)

Surrounded by mountains, rivers, and oceans, Tokushima offers plenty of local cuisine made with fresh ingredients that have benefitted from the blessings of nature. The “yusanbako,” which serves such items in multi-tiered jubako (nest of boxes) is an especially prominent expression of Tokushuma food culture. The yusanbako are three-tiered lacquered wooden bento boxes, a tradition in Tokushima since the Edo period. The yusanbako is portable, and the boxes pull out like drawers, with the first tier filled with a main dish such as makizushi (rolled sushi), the second tier with side dishes such as nishime (vegetables and konnyaku simmered in soy sauce and water), and the third tier filled with confectioneries like yokan (a wagashi made of red bean paste, agar, and sugar).

These dishes are often enjoyed during the Doll’s Festival and autumn festival, and also said to be prepared for outings to view flowers and cherry blossoms, and picnics at the beach or river. Depending on the region or family, the food packed inside will vary, filled with the history and memories that make each local province unique.

The food culture of the Tsurugi mountains and Mt. Iya

To the east are the Tsurugi mountains, which were selected as part of the One Hundred Mountains of Japan, and to the west is Mt. Iya, where mountainous traditions and culture still remain prominently. The agricultural history here is particularly ancient, and is said to have begun with the shifting cultivation systems of the Jomon period. A wide variety of crops are grown here, including millet, Japanese millet, azuki beans, and soybeans, but perhaps the most commonly known crop is “soba” (buckwheat). Beause rice was relatively difficult to grow in this area, it was said that the culture of eating soba as a staple took hold. In fact, in the Iya region, local cuisine made with soba, such as “sobamai zosui” (Japanese rice soup made with soba), “Iya soba” (soba noodles), and “dekomawashi” (roasted skewers of soba dango (dumplings), tofu, and konnyaku (yam cake)), are popular and enjoyed often.

In addition, there are also plenty of dishes prepared with the wild edible plants and vegetables that grow in the mountainous regions, and the ayu (sweetfish), amego (red-spotted masu trout), and Japanese freshwater crabs that can be caught in the rivers. What’s more, a culture of preserving food took hold as well, enabling food to be transported up and down the mountains, and to be stored for extended periods. For example, “uchigae zoni” (simmered rice cakes and vegetables) made with iwadofu (a tofu that is hard like a rock) is particularly well known. It can be said that this region possesses a food culture that is highly unique, and quite different from other areas in the prefecture.

Here, we divide Tokushima Prefecture into the areas of the Yoshino River middle basin region, the Ken-o (center of the prefecture) region, the western region, southern region, and southern mountainous region, and introduce the characteristics of the food cultures that exist in each respective region.

< Yoshino River middle basin region >
A variety of specialty products produced by the fertile land, including sugar cane and somen (fine white noodles)

Yoshino River is a Class A river, one of the largest in the prefecture, that flows from the west to the east of Tokushima. The surrounding areas have formed into unique rock formations and wide, expansive plains filled with fertile soil, from which high quality crops are produced and harvested. An especially abundant crop is sugar cane. During the reign of Tokugawa Ienari, the eleventh shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, sugar cane was brought into Tokushima, which was used to make “Awa Wasanbon” (Awa refined Japanese sugar). And this refined sugar was used to make “Awa Uiro” (uiro is a traditional Japanese steamed cake made of rice flour and sugar), which is counted among the three great uiros of Japan, along with “Nagoya Uiro” and “Yamaguchi Uiro.” The appeal of Awa Wasanbon is in its gentle sweetness, and is widely used within and without the prefecture.

Another specialty product that is widely known and cultivated from the fertile earth of Tokushima is “Handa Somen,” made in the town of Tsurugi in the Handa region. When it was first cultivated, it was produced as a self-sustaining food for farmers, or as a means of earning extra money, but as it became known that the natural features and climate of Handa was ideal for making somen, production began to flourish, and was popularized throughout the country. For the most part, Handa Somen is a bit thicker and firmer than regular somen noodles, and is distinguished for being quite filling. The altitude at which each noodle-making factory is located, as well as the type of wheat, mixtures, and salt used can vary the taste, little by little. In recent years, individual noodle-making factories have become brands themselves, with many ardent fans making visits from faraway places.

< Ken-o region >
The gentle flavor of local food has laid its roots here since ancient times, in the city that forms the core of this prefecture

The city of Tokushima, located in the eastern region, is the prefectural capital. Although it is a central city with a population of approximately 250,000 people (Tokushima City official website), it is an area filled with nature, with various rivers, big and small, including the Yoshino River, flowing through it.
An item that is eaten often in this area is “chagome,” a sweet rice cooked with broad beans and zarame (granulated sugar). Although it used to be a dish served in samurai residences, after the new broad beans were gathered and used up, it became a dish popularized in farming households as a way of consuming the old broad beans. While it is generally known as a dish eaten in between breaks during farm work, depending on the region, it may be a delicacy served during New Year’s celebrations, and according to some customs, is used to make offerings at family Buddhist altars during memorial services.

< Western region >
From sobamai zosui to dekomawashi, warm country cuisine prepared by the fireside

In the western region, which includes Mt. Iya, foods made on the yururi, or irori (fireside hearth), such as soups and grilled dishes, are common. For example, “sobamai zosui” is made with buckwheat seeds harvested since ancient times from this area, and simmered with vegetables and meat. “Iya dekomawashi” (broiled skewered potatoes, soba dumplings, iwadofu, and konnyaku) are prepared by sticking skewers into the yururi, and turning the skewers round and round until the food is thoroughly cooked. This dish was named in this manner because the turning of the skewers while they roasted in the fire was similar to the way the heads of the deku (wooden dolls) spun in the Awa Ningyo Jorui puppet theater.

Perhaps “Iya Soba,” which is made with 100% local soba (buckwheat) flour, can be termed the soul food of Iya. Because the noodles are easy to cut, and result in thick, short pieces, they are called “soba kiri.” “Hirara-yaki” is made by grilling fish and vegetables in miso on top of heated flat rocks, which are called “hirara,” which is how this dish came to be so named. In ancient times, this dish was commonly prepared outdoors. It can be said that this is an area in which much of the local cuisine prominently values its local ingredients in a manner unique to the region.

< Southern region >
An area famous for its fresh seafood, including high-class items such as Ise lobster and boze

Images provided by: “Local cuisine of Tokushima” (Tokushima Prefecture)

The southern region is another area blessed with plenty of water resources. In addition to the Naka River, a Class A river, it is surrounded by the Kii Channel and Pacific Ocean. The Anan Coast, which stretches from the city of Anan to the town of Kaiyo, is known as an area with many picturesque locations, and visited by large numbers of tourists. This area is particularly well-known for its local cuisine, which feature hearty portions of fish and shellfish caught in its oceans and rivers.

In the southern region of Tokushima, “sugata-zushi,” which is sushi with the fish served whole and intact (instead of sliced and filleted), prominent examples include “boze” (Japanese butterfish), as well as aji (horse mackerel) and konoshiro (gizzard shad). In the Tokushima dialect, boze is called “ibodai,” “uboze,” or “shizu,” and is a white meat fish, often grilled or simmered, or cut open and dried, and served nationwide. However, serving boze as sugata-zushi is said to be unique to Tokushima, as it is easier to acquire fresh boze here.

Images provided by: Tokushima Prefecture Society of Cookery Science, Shikoku University / Keiko Takahashi

Meanwhile, Ise lobsters that are missing their whiskers or legs are labeled as unfit for shipping, and termed “agari,” and are used as soup stock for “Ise Lobster Miso Soup,” which is often served in the Minami area. In September, when Ise lobster season opens, it signals the beginning of “Okoami no Kuchiake” (opening of the nets), and during this period, there are Ise lobster festivals, and a custom of serving miso soup. This area is known for many forms of distinguished local cuisine in addition to seafood dishes. For example, near the town of Kaiyo, “Shusse Imo” (sweet potatoes promoted to the status of rice) is an inspired idea that formed during a period when rice was difficult to come by, and was prepared as a substitute for ohagi (a wagashi made with glutinous rice, regular rice, and sweet red bean paste). Sweet potatoes were wrapped in red bean paste, and prepared just like ohagi.

< Southern mountainous region >
An area rich with the blessings of the mountains, starting with the specialty product Kito Yuzu

Images provided by: “Local cuisine of Tokushima” (Tokushima Prefecture)

The southern mountainous region, surrounded by several mountain ranges, such as the Shikoku Mountains which pierce through Shikoku from east to west, Mt. Tsurugi, and the Kaifu mountain range, receive abundant amounts of rainfall, and produce bounties of the mountains’ blessings in cereals, vegetables, and fruits. The town of Naka, which consolidated the towns and villages of Wajiki, Aioicho, Kaminakacho, Kisawa, and Kito, has flourished through the production of high-quality “Kito Yuzu,” which particularly benefits from the area’s climate. “Kito Yuzu” is not only registered with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Geographical Indication Protection System (GI), it is used frequently to prepare local cuisine in the area.
On the other hand, a dish that is well-known in these parts is “Hangoroshi.” It is called so because it is prepared by grinding cooked rice into a mash, but leaving about half of each rice grain intact, meaning that “only half of the rice is ground.” And thus the name. Within the prefecture, for a time it was sold under the name “kusamochi,” but when local students requested that it be called by its original name, the old name was restored. Such movements to maintain and succeed the history and culture that has taken root since ancient times continue to this day.

Tokushima's main local cuisine