Discover the Japan Adventure – Michinoku Coastal Trail – Sanriku Trail and Train

Discover the best of Japan Adventure tour, in Michinoku coastal trail with sustainable life.

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Discover the best of Japan adventure tour with a sustainable life.

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The Tastes of the Trail

Walking the 100 miles (160km) from Hachinohe to Tanohata, the northernmost part of the Michinoku Coastal Trail delivers plenty of ways to sample local food culture.

the convivial, covered stalls at Miroku Yokocho

In Hachinohe, the convivial, covered stalls at Miroku Yokocho are a welcoming place to try a regional classic called senbei-jiru. A hotpot of vegetables, seafood and chicken, the exact recipe varies by restaurant and family, although all have one consistent and very distinctive signature ingredient: Nambu senbei wheat crackers, which are broken into the hotpot and cooked until addictively chewy.

Sanriku Seafood Specialties

Seafood is a major part of the diet along the Sanriku Coast, and on any stretch of the northern trail you’ll pass fishing ports large and small. Looking out to sea, you’ll often notice scallop beds and salmon traps dotting the ocean. Not all the catches, however, are familiar. Moving from Aomori Prefecture south into Iwate Prefecture, Hirono Town serves up a very distinctive regional specialty: a gnarly looking sea squirt called hoya.
As Ms. Shizuko Niwa explains, this year-round catch that hits the tastebuds with an “ocean” twang has become the specialty of her restaurant Hamanasu-tei, located just a couple of hundred meters off the trail.

“We call hoya ‘broth of the sea.’ It has a lot of umami served raw or boiled, with a fresh and fruity flavor that lingers in your mouth,” Ms. Niwa says. “For hoya first-timers, boiled and diced hoya mixed with rice and then topped with sesame seeds and shiso leaf is a gentle introduction, but I love it raw. It has such a good aftertaste.”

In July and August, sea urchin is in peak season in Iwate, and it’s especially good served simply over a bowl of rice. As summer then gives way to autumn and winter, scallops and oysters come into their own, but whatever time of year you hike the trail you will find a wide range of in-season fish and shellfish on menus at restaurants, inns, and hostels.

Coastal Culinary Artisans

You’ll also find various forms and uses of seaweed. In Kuji City, Mr. Yuji Shisaku is the sole remaining konbu (kelp) shaver in the region, taking hard kelp and shaving it into super-fine strips of melt-in-the-mouth oboro konbu with a sweet, almost briny flavor – something he recommends for wrapping onigiri rice balls, melting into soups to add a creamy thickness, or eating with slices of sashimi (raw fish).

Others in the region will sometimes dip their cuts of sashimi in local salt, instead of the usual soy-wasabi dip. And if you are going to do that, it’s hard to look beyond the salt crafted by Noda Shio in Noda Village. Reconstructed on the ground of a municipal-run inn (Ebisho-so) as part of the region’s recovery efforts from the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, the new incarnation of Noda Shio strives to pass on traditional techniques, as factory chief Mr. Chokichi Notake explains.

“Over four days we boil 230 liters of saltwater in wood-fired, redbrick kilns to extract roughly 40 kilograms of salt. For that we use red pine rather than gas or oil, as that gives a slower reduction that allows the salt to retain more minerals – that’s the Sanriku way of making salt, a technique used for more than 400 years,” Mr. Notake says, as several open-top kilns of cloudy water bubble around him. “The result is a rich, sweet flavor, very different to typical salt, that goes very well as a tempura dip or in an onigiri.”

If you want to see the Noda Shio process yourself, you can stop by for a quick factory tour and salt-making workshop. You might also see Yuji Shisaku demonstrating his konbu shaving technique at food events along the coast. And if you fancy trying some hoya—or just need somewhere to refill a water bottle while hiking the trail—Ms. Niwa and the rest of the family at Hanamasu-tei are always happy when hikers stop by.