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Japan Hour

It's Lunch Time

Join us as we travel around Japan to discover interesting places, while finding out what the locals eat and how they prepare their meals. Our first destination is Minami-Alps City in Yamanashi Prefecture. 

Join us as we travel around Japan to discover interesting places, while finding out what the locals eat and how they prepare their meals. Our first destination is Minami-Alps City in Yamanashi Prefecture. It is one of Japan's major fruit producers and one can see many fruit orchards in the area. For example, the city is Japan’s foremost plum grower and one of the varieties of Japanese plums is Taiyo; it ripens in August and is very sweet.

We stroll through the residential area and see a sign for Inoue Dyed Textiles. This textile dyeing studio has been around for 160 years. Its current master is the 7th-generation heir of the business. He learned the art of textile dyeing from his father and grandmother. The studio also sells products which have been dyed using traditional methods, such as cork coasters. The main items on display are carp streamers and classical warrior streamers - all of which have been produced manually at the studio - for the Children's Day Festival.

We get to observe how a carp streamer is made. First, the contours are outlined with rice paste. Ancient, traditional ink and other natural dyes are used. After dyeing, the rice paste is washed off with water and the fabric is dried. It is then shaped into a carp streamer. This technique of tracing contours with rice paste dates back to the 17th century. In the past, the paste removal process was done in a river. Nowadays, it is done in a water tank.

We are keen to see what the family is eating for lunch. So we visit their home and see how Mrs Inoue prepares lunch. She first makes Hoto noodles with lots of vegetables, clamshell mushrooms and oyster mushrooms. Mrs Inoue then cooks a provincial dish - chicken gizzards glazed in a sweet and spicy sauce. The gizzards are first pan-fried after which she sautees the special sauce separately. The gizzards and sauce are then stir-fried together and later plated on a bed of lettuce. 

We then ask Mr Inoue about restaurants in the city. He suggests a popular cafe called Orchard, known for its stone-baked pizzas. We head there, order the recommended margherita pizza and watch the restaurant manager Kazuya Ozawa making it. He honed his skills at an Italian restaurant after graduating from college. He set up this restaurant with his friend, Kazuyuki Kubota, about 12 years ago.

Tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese are placed on the stretched pizza dough. Then a generous amount of basil is sprinkled, after which it is topped with olive oil. The pizza takes about five minutes to be fully baked. After enjoying our pizza, we ask to see what the restaurant’s employees are having for lunch. Mr Ozawa makes pasta with mountain vegetables for the staff. The vegetables are picked by Mr Kubota. Garlic and chilli peppers are first sauteed in olive oil. Sakura shrimp, edible flowers, fatsia sprouts and ostrich fern are then added. The sauce is made from white wine and pasta water. Japanese parsley is sprinkled on top of the pasta and the dish is ready.

The second city we check out is Narita in Chiba Prefecture. A major tourism spot here is Mount Narita's Shinshoji Temple. The sacred mountain ground was developed about 1,080 years ago. The number of visitors to the temple on the first three days of the New Year is one of the highest in the nation. There are about 60 eel restaurants along the road leading to Shinshoji Temple, with broiled eel being the most popular item on their menu. One of the eateries is the Shimoda Koseido Bakery and Teahouse. Its speciality is broiled eel bread. It started as a broiled eel restaurant 50 years ago and was converted into a bakery about six years ago. It is co-managed by the restaurant’s third-generation proprietor Shingo Shimoda and his mother, Ms Hideko. There is a dining space at the back of the bakery, where customers can enjoy dishes made with the bread of their choice. The bakery’s main attraction is broiled eel bread. It looks like a regular roll but its dough is packed with broiled eel paste, pickled local gourd and chopped broiled eel.  

We are interested to find out what the bakery’s employees eat for lunch. Mr Shimoda prepares a vegetable pizza, a curry pizza and a special “bread-crust” sandwich, all of which are made from leftover items to avoid food wastage. According to him, the flavour of the bread is most concentrated in the crust. He smears organic butter on the crust and then spreads some strawberry jam on top, together with mashed sweet beans.  

We continue exploring Narita City. A major event which takes place here annually is the Narita Taiko Drum Festival. It has been held for over 25 years and was first introduced to revitalise the town. More than 24,000 visitors attend the festival, which lasts two days. Over 50 teams from all over Japan are selected via video auditions and up to 1,500 drummers take part in the event. It is said that every Taiko drummer dreams of participating in this festival. We meet some of the participants who are getting ready for the parade.

Among them is the Tanaka family, who are taking part in the drumming festival for the first time. They kindly agree to let us see what they are eating for dinner. So we head to their home in Yotsukaidoshi, which is a 30-minute drive from Narita City. One of the dishes Mrs Tanaka prepares is tomato chicken. Chicken is fried with Dashida - a Korean seasoning powder - onions and tomato paste. Mrs Tanaka also serves pork sauteed in miso paste.

1) Plums are among the fruits to try when visiting Minami-Alps City
2) Broiled eel is a popular delicacy in Narita City


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