Ibaraki Prefecture is located just north of Tokyo, and can be reached by express train in just under a 1 hour and a half journey. It is also home to a number of artisanal factories that are still using traditional fermentation methods for producing food and drink products.
Fermented products—like soy sauce, miso and sake—play a fundamental role in Japan's cooking and are increasingly being recognised for their associated health benefits as well as unique flavor profiles.
Here we introduce some of the local factories and shops around Ibaraki's Oarai that will make for an authentic food- and fermentation-themed tour.
Nousanbutsu Kakou Konya
One of Ibaraki’s popular local delicacies is hoshi imo (dried sweet potato) that is enjoyed by people all over the country. Ibaraki is the largest producer of hoshi imo in Japan.
Nousanbutsu Kakou Konya is located along the Hinuma River in the town of Oarai. They have a farm that grows sweet potatoes during the summer months, harvests them in the fall in preparation for drying and packaging them in winter to sell.
Visiting Nousanbutsu Kakou Konya you can tour the farm and during the winter months catch the process of the entire hoshi imo production cycle.
Kurosawa Shouyuten is a fourth-generation run soy sauce manufacturing company founded in 1905. The company started off from humble beginnings on a grain farm and later into a grain distribution company then into the soy sauce manufacturing company it is today.
The tradition of the production process has been carried on through a natural brewing process, using the same wooden barrels they have from the very beginning. They say it is a result of the yeast and bacteria built up over the years that adds the traditional flavor to their products. While soy sauce is their primary business they also produce many other products such as soup stock, dressings, sweets, and drinks.
Kurosawa Shouyuten offers tours of their facility and there is even an area for tasting some of their soy sauce flavored desserts like soft cream and pudding.
A family-run sake brewery with over 150 years in business, Tsukinoi Shuzoten was the first to make sake in the Oarai area of Ibaraki. They continue to use the traditional methods for producing their sake to this day.
In the fall months, once the rice is harvested the sake production begins, the busiest season is during the winter months when production is at its peak. Once spring rolls around the sake brewing comes to an end and the newly produced sake is ready to drink.
At Tsukinoi Shuzoten you can tour the facilities and taste their selection of sake that even includes organic varieties and plum wine. The shop on site is selling a number of sake and sake related goods.
Satoumitei Kinparou Hontei
The coastal town Oarai is a great place to rest for the night, famous for its fresh seafood and sandy beaches. There is also the Isosaki Shrine and Kamiiso-no-Torii, one of its three torii gates located on a rocky outcrop in the ocean and is said to be the symbol of Oarai. The Kamiiso-no-Torii faces east so you can catch the sunrise beautifully aligned just behind the gate.
Satoumitei is a contemporary Japanese-style inn located in the coastal town of Oarai just 30 meters from the ocean. The concept of Satoumitei is to provide a calm and relaxing stay that stimulates all five senses and heals your mind, body, and soul. The inn has only 8 rooms, all with their own unique layout and all with ocean views. Throughout the inn there are a number of lounge areas where you can sit quietly with a complimentary coffee or tea while you read or just enjoy the sounds of the waves.
Guests staying at Satoumitei can enjoy two meals, dinner and breakfast. Being close to the ocean the inn specializes in seafood dishes using fresh fish sourced locally from the area’s seafood market. Even in the dining area, you can feel relaxed while enjoying views of the ocean.
The inn has two large public baths, also with ocean views for guests staying in rooms without baths. After a soak in the public bath, you can visit the lounge for a warm drink before turning into bed.
The minimalist Japanese traditional design of the inn as well as the connection with nature and use of natural materials, has an influence of zen. With nothing to distract in the environment, time stands still and you leave with your mind feeling cleansed and refreshed.
As an alternative place to stay, Oarai Hotel is a large hotel with a number of different style Japanese and Western rooms to meet every need. The hotel is located just steps away from the beach with many rooms featuring ocean views. In the ocean view rooms they all have baths within the room where you can soak to the sound of the ocean nearby. Even though each room features a shower and bath, the hotel also has a public bath you can enjoy.
The dinner is a kaiseki style meal using fresh local seafood and produce. The meal is served in the dining room where you can observe the details of the food being prepared by the hotel’s chef. Breakfast is also served in the dining room, and is a buffet serving both Japanese and Western options.
During the summer months, the hotel opens its ocean-side swimming pool for all ages to enjoy. Overall the hotel is rather family friendly and even accommodating for your littlest one’s needs.