It's Lunch Time

Japan Hour

Japan Hour - Summer
It's Lunch Time


Japan Hour:

It's Lunch Time

Our “lunchtime trips” continue this week and the next location is Tago in Nishiizu, Shizuoka Prefecture. It is a port town known for bonito fishing and its famous local product is dried bonito flakes or "tago-bushi". Another popular item is preserved dried bonito, also called “shio katsu". After the bonito is cured with salt, it is placed on the household altar and then eaten by families during the New Year for good luck.

We go to the fishing harbour and meet fisherman Mr Okabe, who is repairing the holes in a fishing net used to catch Ise shrimp. Ise shrimp from Nishiizu is priced at over 15,000 yen per kilogramme. We want to see what Mr Okabe eats for his meals, so he invites us to visit his home in the evening for dinner.

In the meantime, we continue walking around Tago and come across Yuraku. It is an unusual place, with customers on the first floor and a binocular telescope on the second-floor verandah. Yuraku started as a meat shop over 50 years ago. It then became a tavern, sushi restaurant, banquet hall and private lodge, before finally converting to this shop. Yuraku is currently managed by its founder, 82-year-old Ms Toshiko.

The store sells mainly two products - pressed sushi and sesame tofu. It is open for business only twice a week, but everything would usually get sold out by noon. The binocular telescope on the second floor dates back to 1962 and was used by Ms Toshiko to watch ships returning from fishing expeditions. We try Yuraku’s popular shiitake and dried gourd pressed sushi. We request Ms Toshiko to show us her lunch and she gladly obliges. She has grilled bonito sprinkled with salt and steamed black seaweed strips.

After this, we make our way to Mr Okabe's home. Besides being a fisherman, he also runs a diving school. His castle-like mansion built on a hill boasts 10 living, dining and kitchen areas. Expensive ornaments are displayed all around the home. In the hallway, there is even a 2m-wide taxidermised spider crab caught by Mr Okabe. The living room offers a spectacular view of the sea and sunset. We meet Mr Okabe’s wife, Ms Ayako, who prepares an extravagant seafood dinner for the family. Dishes include steamed banded reef cod, miso soup seasoned with Ise shrimp, rock porgy sashimi and mackerel scad sashimi.

Our next trip takes places in the ancient city of Kyoto, which has a history of around 1,200 years. We first speak to a couple who are on their way to a restaurant called Miyatake for brunch. We are keen to see what they normally eat at home so the wife, Ms Naoko, tells us to drop by her parents’ house in the evening. She would usually have dinner there every weekend with her husband and their eight-year-old twins.

So we head to her parents’ condominium later in day. Ms Naoko’s mum, Ms Sachiko, has prepared a delicious seven-course meal, which includes seared Omi beef topped with myoga ginger, green onion, white radish strips and citrus vinegar; bamboo shoots stewed in flying fish stock and sweet rice wine; ham salad; spinach with sprinkled sesame seeds; and miso soup with bamboo shoots and seaweed. The food is served on earthenware ceramics made by Ms Sachiko, whose hobby is pottery. After dinner, the family takes us to the roof of the condominium, from where we can see a panoramic view of the city of Kyoto, including Kyoto basin and Kyoto Tower.

Our last destination is Daisen-cho in western Tottori Prefecture. We begin at Yodoe Harbour, where we talk to Mr Wakita, a net fisherman who is gathering a type seaweed called Aosa Monba. He tells us that in spring, many local residents would come here to collect seaweed. Mr Wakita is headed home - a 10-minute drive from the harbour - after this, and allows us to see what he is eating for lunch. He stays with his wife, Ms Teruko, his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. The meal comprises rice with red beans, mackerel cooked in mildly sweet miso, miso soup with mitten crab stock and seaweed in soy sauce.

1) Bonito is a famous local product in Nishiizu
2) Seaweed is among the popular specialities of Daisen-cho