Nestled deep in the mountains of south-west Tochigi and just minutes from Izurusan Mangan-ji Temple is this hidden gem of a traditional soba restaurant, serving fresh, handmade inaka soba. One of several soba shops in the surrounding soba "kaido" (road) area, Ishiyama stands out as a favourite among the locals.
Inaka soba means generally thicker (and shorter) noodles made from whole buckwheat flour. Zaru-soba is the main style served here, which equates to cold, fresh inaka soba served on a giant bamboo basket – the bonzaru, or zaru for short.
Established in 1970, Ishiyama have worked tirelessly to perfect their version of inaka soba, as they strive to deliver that authentic, traditional soba experience simply not found in most Japanese restaurants. They mill their own flour from gensoba (unhulled buckwheat) sourced from local producers in the Senba region of neighbouring Sano city. Boiled over firewood, the soba are then cooled and washed with local spring water.
Ishiyama also prepare a unique soba tsuyu, or dipping sauce, combining their own original hon-kaeshi (soba sauce), as well as katsuo (Skipjack tuna) and konbu seaweed. Needless to say, it makes for delicious soba noodles and combines greatly with soba-yu (warm soba cooking water) typically prepared as a drink towards the end of the meal with the remaining soba tsuyu.
The fundamentals available here have never changed: alongside soba you'll see tempura maitake which should definitely not be missed. It's also included with the generic tempura vegetables option (that alternate with the season), but good quality tempura maitake is worth a separate serving too.
Ishiyama can accommodate up to 80 customers, with parking available for up to 40 vehicles. Access is easiest by car, though there are buses that stop off at nearby Mangan-ji temple (just an 8 minute walk away). Details are available here (Japanese). The closest station is JR Tochigi Station on the Ryomo and Tobu Nikko Lines.