It's Lunch Time

Japan Hour

Japan Hour - Spring in Japan
It's Lunch Time


Japan Hour:

It's Lunch Time

This week, our first “meal investigation” takes us to Tokorozawa, a city in Saitama Prefecture. This town has many forests where several creatures live and is believed to be the inspiration behind the famous animated film by Hayao Miyazaki, "My Neighbour Totoro".

The area produces a lot of wheat so people here eat udon very often. A speciality dish is Kate Udon, where the noodles are dipped in a strongly flavoured soup that has meat and boiled seasonal vegetables. Tokorozawa also has red soil, which is good for growing fruits. So we visit the Arai Vineyard, owned by Mrs Masayo Arai and her mother, Tsuru. Six kinds of grapes are grown here. They include Kyoho and Himrod; the latter is sweet and seedless. Visitors can enjoy grape-picking in the natural environment and even purchase the grapes as souvenirs. 

We next go to an after-school day care centre, Mikajima. About 50 elementary school kids come here regularly. They do their homework or play until their parents pick them up in the evening. We speak to some of the parents, one of whom is Tadashi Narusawa. He agrees to let us visit his home to see the family’s dinner. The Narusawa family consists of Mr Narusawa, his wife and two children - Kazuma, who is 11, and seven-year-old Himari. Mr Narusawa has been making fishing lures for 17 years. He handcrafts several hundred lures each year and sells them to fishing gear stores.

For dinner, the family is having Mrs Narusawa's speciality, grilled chicken with melted cheese and aurora sauce. Chicken thighs are topped with onion, enoki mushrooms and zucchini, after which the ingredients are mixed with the sauce made from ketchup, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Lots of cheese used for pizzas is added and then the chicken is grilled for about 15 minutes. Other dishes include miso soup with enoki mushrooms and tofu; avocado and tomato salad; and burdock salad with white sesame seeds. 

The location of our next “meal investigation” is Tomonoura, a port town along the Seto Inland Sea in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture. This area has been an important hub for marine transportation since the Edo period. The picturesque town was also used as a model for Hayao Miyazaki's animated movie, "Ponyo".

For nearly 400 years, sea bream has been caught via net fishing at Tomonoura. Sea breams that come to Tomonoura for spawning in spring and summer are top grade in terms of size, shape and taste. A local speciality is sea bream somen noodles. The noodles go well with the light dipping soup made with sea bream and shiitake mushrooms.

We explore the port town, where one can still see merchants’ houses from the Edo period. We meet 84-year-old Ms Reiko, who runs a store called "Ken-chan no Irikoya". It sells dried food her family makes from seafood of Tomonoura such as sardines and squid. She shows us her lunch, which is a special oden she prepared at home. It has dried sardines, egg, ganmodoki, beef tendon and chikuwa. The meal also includes rice balls covered with Korean seaweed.

After this, we go to Ofunayado Iroha, a sea bream restaurant in a renovated townhouse from the Edo period. We request to see what the restaurant staff are having for lunch. The dishes include hamburg steak made of ground beef, onions and grated garlic; and a sweet and spicy sea bream stew. 

Next, we drop by okonomiyaki restaurant Nomura, which has been around for more than 100 years. Its third-generation owner, Mitsue Fujimoto, works as a civil servant. So the restaurant is only open on Sundays and during holidays. Nomura used to sell udon, imagawayaki, cakes and tempura. The former owner, Ms Misao, converted it into an okonomiyaki restaurant.

Ms Fujimoto shows us the staff meal. The main dish is okonomiyaki which combines fried egg - a feature of Hiroshima okonomiyaki - and modern-yaki of the Kansai area. Cabbage and agedama are mixed into the batter and pork belly and thick noodles are placed on top. Ms Fujimoto learnt the recipe from her mother. Another item prepared is stir-fried vegetables such as cabbage, carrots and onions seasoned with Okonomiyaki sauce.


1)     Fans of “My Neighbour Totoro” should visit Tokorozawa, which inspired the animated film

2)     A must-try delicacy in Tomonoura is red sea bream