Tottori Prefecture, facing the Sea of Japan, is part of the Chugoku Region. For people from the Kanto Region and other parts of eastern Japan, it’s an unfamiliar place. But Tottori has a long history and is mentioned in the Nihon Shoki,one of the firstbooks of classical Japanese history, completed in AD 720. It’s also an area rich in mythology.
We travelled to Tottori in search of two things: the prefecture’s wonderful foodstuffs, and its tradition of craftsmanship or monozukuri. In this installment, we’ll focus on two foodstuffs that have a particularly important place at Restaurant Hiramatsu Hiroo.
Busy bees among the sand dunes
To most people in Japan, Tottori means sand dunes, so when we heard that people were keeping bees on the dunes, we just had to go and see for ourselves.The acacia blossom was late this year, so we couldn’t harvest any honey among the dunes, but we were able to collect some made from Japanese clover, which blooms before the rice-planting season.
At Fukuta Apiary, the bees were busy among the clover, concentrating the wonderful perfume of its flowers into delicious honey.
Fukuta Apiary is set in rich natural surroundings at the foot of Mt Imaki, one of the three Inaba mountains whose beauty is praised in the Manyoshu, Japan’s oldest surviving poetry anthology.Its clover fields cover 50 hectares, 10 times the areaof Tokyo Dome baseball stadium. Fukuta Apiary is unique in producing honey from a variety of specially cultivated flowers.
All the Fukuta family are involved in honey production. Mr Kunihiro Fukuta said, “The bees are like family to us. Pure Japanese honey is rare these days, so we insist on producing only Japanese honey, and use no agricultural chemicals.”
The Fukutas’ insistence on quality results in outstandingly smooth and mellow honeys, the delicious nectar of flowers in concentrated form.
“That’s why it goes so well with cheese, and has become a vital ingredient in our French cuisine,” said Chef Hiroki Hiramatsu, amazed by the gentle sweetness that is the end product of this tale of bees and Mother Nature.
We head deep into the mountains tovisit a game butchery
Wakasacho lies in a mountainous area in the eastern part of Tottori Prefecture, near the border with Hyogo Prefecture. The deer that inhabit this area have multiplied in recent years, causing widespread damage to local farming, but rather than just culling them, the municipal council launched an experiment to see if effective use could be made of their meat, by selling it as game.
To handle this work, a meat-processing factory known as Wakasa 20 Kobo (Youth 29 Workshop), meeting Tottori Prefecture’s food safety standards, was established. It handles every stage of meat processing, from butchery to the selection of cuts for human consumption, freezing and shipping.
“Because we’re able to preserve the freshness and quality of the venison, we can supply game which satisfies the high standards that chefs demand,” said Mr Ken Kawado, who manages Wakasa 29 Kobo. Mr Kawado is one of Japan’s top game butchers, anddivides the deer carcass into cuts of meat with a flowing dexterity that is far removed from the usual image of butchery.
“Freshness is everything. You can’t take your time over it,” said Mr Kawado, laughing. Chef Hiramatsu was impressed: “This kind of freshness is sure to open up new possibilities for our cuisine.”
This experiment in opening up new possibilities for the peaceful coexistence of nature and humanity, deep in the mountains of Tottori, gave us a new appreciation of the bounties of nature.