Journey into Kunisaki, Oita Prefecture｜Scenery Where Rich Japan is Created
Japan, the island country which is slender and long, extending north to south. Small, but beautiful land with full of rich nature and blessed with pure water here and there. Delicious things have been developed from beautiful sceneries. In this series, we will introduce delectables originated from landscapes in Japan, which cannot be found in big cities.
Not just onsen (hot spring), Oita Prefecture has another face
What do you think of Oita Prefecture? The majority of people will probably think of onsen (hot springs). In fact, Oita has the largest number of onsen spots in Japan, so it is often called the ‘onsen prefecture’. In recent years, a lot of tourists from abroad visit the prefecture for these onsen spots. The most famous onsen are Beppu and Yufuin. However, apart from onsen, Oita also has a different charm. In the north east lies Kunisaki peninsula which can be reached from Oita Airport by car. In the peninsula, Shinto and Buddhism coexist in unity.
Kunisaki - the unique peninsula, where shrines and temples syncretise
A very long time ago, monks in the Nara Period used to visit the Kunisaki peninsula for their training. Shrines and temples are distributed in the six villages of the valleys which stretch
radially from the summit of Mount Futago. The number of shrines and temples is beyond your imagination. Once you enter the mountain area, you will see mossy statues of Nio and Buddha in many places and soon you will find out that Kunisaki peninsula itself has long been a spiritual site which is protected by Shinto and Buddha. You can drive around Kunisaki to enjoy the place efficiently, or, by taking a bit more time, you can walk along the long Kunisaki Hantou Trail - the first long trail to be built in Kyushu. While you walk on the trail, you can enjoy the lovely landscape of the mountains and the sea in Kunisaki. It is a great place to reset your daily life.
Kunisaki’s great food grown in the spiritual sites
If you would like to upgrade your trip to Kunisaki, seafood and food from the mountains are the key factor.
Kunisaki’s sea is a good fishing ground where a great variety of seafood can be caught. From the sea, you can look over to Shikoku and Honshu (Japan’s main island). There are a great number of ‘must eat seafoods’ in the area such as There are a great number of ‘must eat seafoods’ in the area, such as sushi using fresh cutlass fish aka ‘Kunisaki Gintachi,’ and seasoned and cooked rice with wild-caught octopu ‘Kunisaki Himedako.’ From November, the diligently promoted by the city ‘Kunisaki Oyster’ is also another food you don’t want to miss.
There is also a lot of great food grown in the mountains. As a starting point a Japanese restaurant loved by the locals, Taiki is the place to go. The must eat food in the restaurant is shabu-shabu (hot-pot dish with thinly sliced meat) of branded pork, Sakuraou. The pork is locally farmed, and every time you bite the shabu-shabu pork it will melt in your mouth and please your taste-buds with the sweetness from the meat. You will be even more surprised with the quality of the meat. Sakuraou pork will not get stiff even if you leave it in the shabu-shabu pot for too long accidentally. A generous portion of the local specialty spring onions are also added to the pot. Most importantly, the restaurant owner Shun Hashimoto’s secret recipe Shoyu Kohaku Dashi (golden-color dashi soy sauce) makes the shabu-shabu even more special and delicious. The special soy sauce has been developed over the years by the owner Hashimoto.
The drink which you might like to have with the appetizing food in the restaurant is the local renowned sake ‘Nishinoseki.’ The 5th generation owner of the brewery, Susumu Kayashima modestly says, “Our business was established in 1873, but we are still inexperienced as a kuramoto (brewery).” He also adds “One of the reasons our sake is tasty is because there are few inhabitants around this area, so the spring water from the mountains does not get polluted by domestic drainage. That means that we can secure good quality clear water for our sake.” The shop built next to the brewery sells some other products as well as sake. You should also check the shop’s interior. The old equipment which was used to make sake is reused as part of the shop’s interior.
The number one shiitake mushroom in Japan and Kunisaki-grown olives
Oita Prefecture’s specialty food is shiitake mushrooms. In fact, the prefecture has won the group division in The National Dried Shiitake Mushroom Competition for 19 years consecutively. The owner of Yamaya,Shoji Yamaguchi, and his wife Shinobu grow shiitake mushrooms together and have been contributing to winning the competition as one of the farmers in Oita. Among the competitive farmers in Oita, the friendly couple has been growing their mushrooms using Kunugi Genboku (unprocessed oak). The cultivation of mushrooms using Kunugi Genboku requires certain skills and specialist knowledge. They told us the fun and difficult aspects of the mushroom cultivation. They also let us eat and compare a variety of shiitake mushrooms. In this town famous for shiitake mushroom, the experience of eating and gaining the knowledge of mushrooms made our trip very memorable.
The last destination of our trip was the farm of ‘Kunisaki Olives.’ It has been only 10 years since the farmers in Kunisaki started growing them. However, they all are working very hard day by day to make the olives another Kunisaki specialty product. It is almost impossible for consumers to be able to taste the olive oil due to the low production volume. However, we believe that in the near future, we will be able to see the good quality olives from Kunisaki put onto the market.
We have been introducing our trip of Kunisaki, traveling in nature, studying the culture and enjoying the local food of the city. If you are interested in knowing more about Kunisaki, please go to Kunisaki City’s official website. There are a lot of places which we could not introduce here, so why don’t you visit these places yourself on your next holiday?
写真・広瀬 美佳 文・FOODPORT.編集部