Miketsukuni: Beautifully prepared comfort food

Obama, located on the coast of the Sea of Japan, in the very middle of the Japanese archipelago, has strong ties to the Chinese Mainland and the Korean Peninsula, as well as the capital city of Kyoto, and is a cultural city with over 130 temples remaining. It is also home to many religious festivals and public performances that are handed down for generations. Wakasa has a long and ancient history.

 

The Wakasa region facing Wakasa Bay, blessed as it is with riches of the sea, played an important role since the Nara Period as "Miketsukuni", the region responsible for sending "Minie" or food to the Imperial Household.

 

In the Heian Period, it became a strategic location for maritime traffic, and countless cultural products flowed in over the sea from Mainland China, the Korean Peninsula, and from across Japan, linking Obama and the capital (Kyoto) together.

 

At the time, marine products were sent over countless roads called the "Sabakaidou(Mackerel highway)" (see the Saba Kaido Shiryokan) to the capital, and the latest culture was carried back from Kyoto, bringing prosperity to Obama.

 

Countless Buddhist sculptures from the Heian Period and temples built in the Kamakura Period remain in Obama, and the town is also known as a "treasure trove of cultural properties" (List of cultural properties in Obama). Many statues of the eleven-faced Goddess of Mercy "Kannon" remain in the Wakasa Region, including Obama. This shows a relationship with esoteric faiths, as nobles of the Heian Period were deeply devoted to the Tendai School and Shingon School of Buddhism, and suggests a deep relationship with the capital. Myōtsū-ji temple in Obama was built in the Kamakura Period, and its main hall and three-storied pagoda are designated national treasures.

 

In the year 1408, in the early Muromachi Period, Western ships bearing elephants, ostriches, and other rare animals as gifts to the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu entered port in Obama, which had long continued to develop as a base for foreign trade.

 

The feudal lord of Obama changed several times from the Warring States Period to the Edo Period. But in the time of Tokugawa Iemitsu, who was the third shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Sakai Tadakatsu, a member of the shogun's council of elders, became lord of Obama. Under the rule of the Sakai Clan, the castle town of Obama prospered as the central city of the Wakasa Region, until the end of the Shogunate in the 19th century. The prosperity of Obama at this time can be understood through the "Obama Gion Taisai", a great festival held at Hiromine Jinja.

 

Miketsukuni and Wakasa Obama have a colorful, varied history and culture, which continue to fascinate people to this very day.


Miketsukuni: The home of beautifully prepared comfort food

Miketsukuni was used to refer to the regions responsible for supplying "Minie" (food for the Emperor) to the Imperial Court. Just as the praises of Ise, Shima, and Awaji as Miketsukuni regions are sung in the Man'yōshū, Wakasa is recorded along with Shima and other regions as a supplier of "Minie" (or food) for the Emperor in the Engi-shiki, which is a set of ancient Japanese regulations compiled in the Nara period.

 

It also can be surmised that Wakasa numbered among the Miketsukuni from the labels attached when Minie was sent, which were discovered among mokkan (thin pieces of wood strung together and used for writing in ancient times) excavated from the ruins of ancient Nara.

 

Wakasa served an important historical role as a Miketsukuni, supplying salt and other marine products.


Saba Kaido, the route for fish from Obama to the capital city

The road that lifted Wakasa Obama to fame as a Miketsukuni was the Wakasa Kaido, or "Saba Kaido" (Mackerel Road), a network of roads linking Wakasa and Kyoto (Saba Kaido Shiryokan). The roots of the Saba Kaido, as mentioned earlier, lie long ago in the Nara Period. There are records of mackerel caught in Wakasa Obama being carried along the Wakasa Kaido through the Kutsuki Valley, over the Hanaore Pass, and on to the capital from Sanzen'in in Ohara. This road is the Saba Kaido that departs from Obama.

 

In modern units of measurement, it is only about 80 kilometers in length. Now it is only an hour train ride, but at the time, traders would walk through the deep mountain roads with heavy baskets slung over their backs, making for what surely must have been a difficult journey. According to one story, the road got its name because of lightly salted mackerel caught in Obama and carried that exact distance overnight would be just right the flavor upon arriving in Kyoto. The Saba Kaido supported the livelihood of those men who carried seafood from Wakasa to Kyoto. It is easy to imagine not only mackerel, but all manner of sea food caught in Wakasa Obama being carried over these roads to Kyoto. Saba Kaido continues, linking the past to the food of culture of today.


Specialty products known across Japan

Looking back on history, Wakasa Obama gets a close-up again as a hub for seafood, but the reason it became that way in the first place is that Wakasa Bay, where warm currents and cold currents mix together, has long been a treasure trove of seafood.

 

Fish arriving at the market in the morning have been tenderized by the stormy seas of the Sea of Japan, and reach the table top still fresh and flapping. There is no mistaking the fact that fresh fish from the fertile sea give Obama an extra layer of charm. Try Obama's specialties for yourself the next time you visit.

 

In Obama, fish have long been traded fresh and as "aimono" (四十物) (cured and dried), a similar variety to salted fish. Aimono were carried not only from Wakasa Bay, but also Hokkaido, Oki, and Tango. Among them, Wakasa Amadai and Wakasa Garei became particularly famous as specialty products of Wakasa from the start of the Edo Era. They were most likely carried over the Saba Kaido to Kyoto as well.

 

Saba sushi is still an important part of festivals in Kyoto. From the start of the Edo Period, the town easily has over 300 years of history. Wakasa Garei is still presented to the Imperial Household, and remains a representative specialty of Obama.

 

Of course, Wakasa Garei isn't the only specialty. Sasa pickled small sea bream made using deep-sea porgy caught fresh locally are known nationwide as a specialty of Obama. One more winter fish synonymous with the taste of Wakasa Bay is the Wakasa Puffer Fish. Pufferfish sashimi, boiled pufferfish, hot sake with grilled fish fins, rice porridge mixed with pufferfish, and many other recipes abound.

 

It is said that true gourmets sample the seasonal flavors of their local with the arrival of each new season. For example, seafood such as snow crabs and Wakasa oysters in winter. The abundant firm-bodied fish, washed in the warm and cold currents of the Sea of Japan, are another charming point unique to Obama.


Good flavor makes for good local products

The people of Obama, who are raised with the blessings of nature, in turn create more blessings through nature's gifts. Good flavors arise where good ingredients are available in abundance. This is not limited to just seafood.

 

The people of Obama are well-acquainted with their sense of taste, and even when it comes to Japanese confectionaries, they prefer those with flavors unique to the area. That awareness is what enables them to raise food of unique and exquisite quality.

 

One example of this is the summer treat • Kuzumanju. Kudzu grown in Wakasa is one of the top three in Japan. Kuzumanju is a specialty product which uses kuzu, abundant water, and the natural ingredients local to Obama. As one would expect from pastries made with quality water and simple ingredients, chilling them in artesian well water draws out even more of the natural flavor. The winter Japanese confection • Decchi Youkan is also popular for its subtly sweet flavor. The blessings and hospitality of nature. That is Wakasa Obama in its essence, now and as it always has been.