It’s all about the moments in the Land of the Rising Sun. Getting off the tourist trail and stepping confidently into the REAL Japan promises satisfaction as much for the spirit as for the stomach. You just need to know where to go…
It isn’t hard to be impressed in Japan. The Japanese have somehow managed to retain the charming elements of their unique heritage and culture, whilst at the same time embracing a life lived at the very forefront of modern technology and innovation. It’s this delicate balance of old and new, east meets west, that imbues Japan with uniqueness up the ying-yang.
Indeed, for the Japanese, living, and all its elements, is an art form.
And so it’s not surprising to learn that this distinctive Japanese spirit also finds its way onto the plate, dishing out unique moments that you’ll never, ever forget.
We’ve gone ahead and compiled a wee list of five of our favourite unforgettable foodie moments that are way off the beaten track and away from the touristy enclaves of the Golden Route, all of which promise to convince you that Japan is a destination totally worth visiting once international travel is back on the cards.
1. Get schooled by local mums on how to cook fish in Hokkaido
Hokkaido has always been a unique culinary destination in Japan due to its geographical location and its indigenous Ainu population who feasted on the local ingredients, such as Siberian onions, giant butterbur and lots and lots of salmon.
Indeed, as Japan’s northern-most island, Hokkaido is wild and rugged, making it fertile ground for fresh produce and an abundance of delicious seafood. And the best way you can taste this all for yourself is by joining a cooking class (website in Japanese; use Google Chrome and auto-translate) with a gaggle of local matriarchs, known as the “Sailors Mothers.”
Have a moment and learn how to cook freshly caught fish in the local style followed by a delicious homecooked meal. These women hail from the women’s section of a local fish cooperative (known as Hama no Kasan) and are just as friendly as they are eager to share their culinary wisdom.
2. Taste the longest-living food in the world in Okinawa
Although literally on the other end of the Japanese archipelago, Okinawa shares much in common with Hokkaido. Like its northern brother, Okinawa’s food culture is shaped by the island’s unique geography and the culture of its indigenous inhabitants, the Ryukyuans, who seem to have stumbled upon the elixir of immortality.
Well, not literally, of course, but close to it. The Okinawan diet is said to be behind the fact that these southern islanders have the longest life expectancy in the world. On average, Okinawans are three times more likely to live past 100 than other populations in the West. They’re even 40 per cent more likely to reach a century compared to their countrymen in other parts of the country.
Taste the secret to a long life yourself at Cafe Garamanjyaku (website in Japanese; use Google Chrome and auto-translate) for an authentic Okinawan foodie moment that will leave your taste buds satisfied and perhaps even extend your life!
3. Learn the delicate art of making sushi in Takayama
Feel like a sushi chef for a day and get your hands dirty in a traditional sushi-making and Japanese cooking workshop with a master teacher in Takayama.
Don your apron and hat and learn about this tasty art form before putting your new-found skills to the test. Learn other staples of Japanese cuisine and visit a local market for your culinary creations before committing them all to memory via your stomach.
4. Visit the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen in Fukuoka
If you’ve been to Japan before, no doubt you’ve at least heard (if not dined yourself silly many a time) of Ichiran. Although this famous chain is literally all over Japan (and even recently opened up in New York City), visiting the original Ichiran in Fukuoka is akin to a sacred pilgrimage for die-hard ramen ravers. Because it was here that the world-famous tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen was boiled (with love) into delicious existence.
Besides tucking into the best bowl of ramen you’ve ever had in your life, another reason to visit is to experience a little “solo dining.” Allocated to your own private booth on your own, you’ll slurp your bowl in serious contemplation, undistracted by the profane diversions of idle chatter and gossip gathering.
But, believe me: you’ll savour every slurping moment, literally.
5. Sample the best sake in the world in Kobe
Sake, otherwise known as Japanese rice wine, has undergone something of a resurgence in the last decade. As the world catches on and fills its cup with the Japanese spirit, from Melbourne to Moscow, the local taste for national drink has only grown in popularity.
Not that it ever went away, though. As the traditional drink of Japan, sake has a long and cherished history in the Land of the Rising Sun, fermenting since at least the 8th century and used in everything from ceremonial rituals to after-work drinks at the local izakaya (Japanese pub).
And if there’s one place in Japan that lays claim to housing the best sake breweries in the business, it’s the Nada district in the Kansai city of Kobe. Indeed, this city isn’t just famous for its steak. Due to the region’s high-quality rice, clean water and favourable climatic conditions, it remains one of the top sake-producing areas in the whole country.
The best breweries – a mix of old and new establishments – can be found in Kobe’s Nada district, which also function as shops and tasting rooms. You can easily spend a half-day here, hopping from brewery to brewery.
To learn more about the art of making sake and the history of this prized concoction made from fermented rice, visit the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum. The exhibits here are in English and you’ll be able to sample some of the local tipple too!
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