About AIZU Agriculture, Food, Sake
Food and Sake of Aizu-Wakamatsu
The Aizu region has long been one of Japan’s most important agricultural centers, known for its delicious rice, produce, and sake. Learn about the history and culture of food in Aizu-Wakamatsu, including recommended dishes and ways to enjoy the region’s prizewinning sake.
Food Culture of Aizu-Wakamatsu
Japan’s traditional food culture highlights the use of seasonal ingredients, affected by the region’s climate and agricultural practices. The geographic features of Aizu are ideal for growing rice and vegetables, and the heavy winter snow and seasonal temperature differences are said to enhance the flavor of produce. Fresh seafood, however, was very difficult to obtain in the past, as the region is surrounded by mountains and located far from the sea. Dried seafood therefore became an important source of protein. It was brought to Aizu along the Agano River via the kitamae-bune ships plying a major shipping route in the Edo period (1603–1867).
Japan rapidly industrialized following the end of shogunate control of local domains, and the development of a national railroad system made transporting foodstuffs from other areas easier. The people of Aizu, however, have continued to cherish their traditional dishes, along with more recent additions to regional food culture. The following are just a few examples of the filling and flavorful dishes on offer in Aizu-Wakamatsu.
Perhaps the best-known example of traditional Aizu cuisine is kozuyu, a soup made from dried scallop stock and seasoned with salt and soy sauce. Enjoyed for centuries, this hearty dish contains satoimo (a variety of taro potato), carrots, various mushrooms, ginkgo nuts, and small balls of wheat gluten called mamefu. It is often served on special occasions, such as festivals and weddings, and also at restaurants year-round.
The beautifully presented dish known as wappa-meshi is a feast for the eyes as much as the palate. Wappa is a round container made from a thin sheet of wood, shaped into a lunchbox. In the past, it was used by woodsmen when they went out to the forest. It is thought that a local restaurant came up with the idea of filling the container with a mix of seasonal dishes, including cooked vegetables and seafood, and naming it wappa-meshi (meal in wappa).
Miso dengaku is made by covering small slabs of fried tofu with a paste of red miso and sugar, and then roasting them. Traditionally the tofu is placed on wooden skewers and cooked over an open flame.
Sauce-katsudon consists of a bowl of rice topped with a layer of shredded cabbage and a crispy fried pork cutlet, followed by lashings of tangy sauce. This dish has been a local favorite since the early 1900s, and it is said that each restaurant has its own signature sauce.
A relative newcomer to Aizu-Wakamatsu’s culinary scene is curry-yakisoba, which was introduced around 1950. It combines two very popular dishes: Japanese-style curry and stir-fried noodles (yakisoba). Curry-yakisoba is filling yet inexpensive.
Those with a sweet tooth will want to try some wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionary), which typically include ingredients such as sweet bean paste, rice cakes, and walnuts. A cup of green tea is the perfect accompaniment.
Sake production requires a cool climate, high-quality rice, and fresh water, and the Aizu region has these in abundance. Local breweries consistently win top prizes in national competitions, establishing Aizu as one of Japan’s premier sake-producing regions. Sampling the local sake is a highlight for many visitors to Aizu-Wakamatsu, and it makes an ideal souvenir or gift for family and friends.
The key ingredients in sake are rice, water, koji mold, and yeast. The rice is very important, influencing the aroma, taste, and alcohol content of the final beverage. Aizu rice typically has large grains and a soft texture, making it good for both eating and making sake. Moreover, the local water tends to be soft, which helps to give the sake a light and refreshing taste. The brewing process is complex and requires great attention to detail. Drawing on more than 400 years of history, local breweries continue to produce top-quality sake while developing their products in new and exciting directions.
A proud tradition of brewing
Sake brewing in Aizu began during the sixteenth century, when Gamo Ujisato (1556–1595) became leader of the region. Ujisato invited sake brewers to Aizu, where they found ideal conditions for production. By 1667, there were more than 320 sake breweries in Aizu. A new generation of expert brewers arrived in the area during the time of daimyo lord Matsudaira Katanobu (1744–1805). This led to further improvements in techniques and a rise in sake quality.
There are currently around 30 breweries in Aizu, six of which are located in Aizu-Wakamatsu. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, when local sake producers faced a decline in domestic demand for sake, they began switching their focus from production volume to improvements in the quality of their product. These efforts paid off, and Aizu-Wakamatsu contributed to the eight consecutive gold medals awarded to Fukushima Prefecture at Japan’s national sake competition. Some of the city’s breweries offer tours and tastings for visitors who would like to learn more. Advance booking is recommended.
The Aizu Book of Agriculture
Aizu is known for its high-quality rice and produce, and farmers draw on centuries of specialized knowledge about techniques suited to local conditions. Regional agriculture developed rapidly in the early part of the Edo period (1603–1867), and much of the credit for this lies with Saze Yojiemon (1630–1711), a local farmer and village leader. He produced several books about farming techniques based on careful observation and his own experience building a sound base for agricultural practices throughout Aizu.
Yojiemon was born in the village of Makunouchi, now part of Aizu-Wakamatsu. He published the first and most famous of his books, Aizu nosho (Aizu Agricultural Manual), in 1684. He described his experiences and the outcome of his experiments, along with practices of other farmers in the district. The book soon attracted the attention of local leaders, who were eager to borrow it and apply the knowledge in their own villages.
The book was written in Chinese characters, which made it difficult for many farmers of the time to read. Yojiemon therefore came up with a clever way to introduce the contents of his book to them. He produced Aizu uta nosho (Aizu Agricultural Song Manual), which presented the book’s content in the form of waka, a traditional type of short poem or song. Because farmers could easily memorize the waka, Yojiemon’s work could reach a much broader audience. He continued to write about and advise on agricultural practices in Aizu, and he was officially commended in 1689 for his services and achievements.
Visitors can learn more about Aizu nosho and regional agricultural history in the Fukushima Museum, located near Tsuruga Castle.
This English-language text was created by the Japan Tourism Agency