Foodie hotspots: Shimonoseki, Hagi, Ube, Yamaguchi city, Iwakuni, Hofu
Foodies Look Out For: Fugu blowfish, Kintaro mullet, kawarasoba buckwheat noodles, sake.
The Basics: Yamaguchi prefecture, just a bridge away from Kyushu, is at the Western-most point of Honshu. Shimonoseki has long been the prefecture's most important city, poised as it is on the edge of the Kanmon straits that barrel through the narrow gap between it and Kyushu. It has long been an entry point for Koreans coming into Japan on the ferry, and those exiting by the same route, and the point where the Japan Sea and Inland Sea intersect. Yamaguchi city is the administrative prefectural capital, and Ube and Iwakuni, home to a Marine Corps and Japan Self-Defense Forces base, the main cities.
Foodies Go Yamaguchi:
The Haedomari fish market is at the heart of Japan's trading in the lucrative fugu blowfish trade. Whilst Tsukiji is known worldwide for its tuna auctions, the Shimonoseki equivalent has long slipped below the radar. Back in the early 2000s, Mrs. FGL Editor-in-Chief was given privileged access to see the secretive 'handshake auctions' that take place there to determine which traders get the nation's finest blowfish. From Sept 1st to Dec 31st the auctions are now open to the general public. And guess what. It's free.
On February 11th check out the famous Fuku Matsuri Blowfish Festival. You can buy fuku sashi blowfish sashimi, other blowfish products and fresh seafood from at Haedomari Market. On November 23rd at the Sakana Matsuri Fish Festival you can pick up fresh blowfish, sea bream, yellowtail and other marine products at bargain prices. You can also eat there. Don't miss the ‘Super Jumbo Fuku Nabe’ which is soup of blowfish and vegetables cooked in a 3-meter wide hotpot.
Don't miss the Karato wholesale market. This is the best place to eat fresh fish, especially fugu blowfish - the locals call it fuku by the way - at bargain prices. There are just two establishments, open until 3pm: Ichiba shokudo yoshi (try the huge shrimp lunch set, or nama uni sea urchin platter) and Kaiten Karato Ichibazushi. For a more upmarket experience - geddit? - head to either Ryotei Fuku-Kitagawa or Shunpanrou Honten, next to Akama-jingu shrine. It was the first place in Japan to get a 'fugu license', and has long been a favorite of Japan's Yamaguchi-born Prime Ministers (eight of them!).
Hagi up on the Japan seacoast, in the middle of the prefecture, is an old, tranquil castle town. The Mori clan governed the city for over 250 years, and its residents played an important role in bringing about the Meiji Restoration. The fishermen of Hagi claim to catch more than 250 types of fish, with kensaki ika squid, amadai, nama uni sea urchin, mafugu blowfish, and the bright orange kintaro mullet.
The latter is nicknamed the Japanese rouge, the French word for mullet, and achieved considerable fame when it was picked up by star Italian chef Masayuki Okuda and served at the Tokyo Imperial Hotel. Try it at Hagishinkai, or at Gangan in the michi-no-eki complex in Chinto. The latter is purportedly a favorite of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. If you've had enough fish, check out the tasty champon noodles at Hataman.
The Yamaguchi Budget Gourmet
Try kawarasoba, chasoba buckwheat noodles roasted on, yes, a hot roof tile. Fujiya at the Kanmon wharf is a popular outlet. In Yamaguchi city, owner Miyamoto-san has been making his Yamaguchi bari soba deep-fried noodles at Shuraiken for over 40 years. In Iwakuni, try Iwakuni chagayu, a soupy rice dish made with smoky bancha tea.
The Ramen Professor Recommends: There's not a lot of great ramen action going on in Yamaguchi. In Ube city, try the charshiumen at local favorite Majimegawa; in Hofu head to the massively popular Jikase Seimen Chuka Soba Imari. In Kudamatsu, try the gyukotsu beef-bone ramen at Koran in Ekiminami-cho.
FGL Favorite Tipple: Try Iwakuni city's Dassai, by Asahi Shuzo. Their range of ‘artisanal sakes’ has proven a big hit in the USA. Look out for their collaborations with fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto. They sometimes arrange pop-up bars in Tokyo. This progressive brewery also can arrange internships and training for overseas visitors. Other good Yamaguchi prefecture sakes are Gangi, Fukujyu and the no-holds-barred Kahoritsuru.
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