Today on the blog I host Veronica, author of the Italian blog Fuji dal Giappone, who in recent days took part in a tour to Obama, in the Japanese prefecture of Fukui, to discover the Saiba Kaido, the ancient way of mackerel!
A trip to the saba kaido will take you to know a more authentic Japan.
Obama is less than two hours by train from Kyoto and is an enchanting coastal destination in the prefecture of Fukui, famous above all for the breeding of the saba – “mackerel” – and fishing-related activities.
But … There is much more to discover!
Saba Kaido, the ancient path of Saba
Saba kaido – literally “the mackerel route” – was a path through which food was transported from the Wakasa and Obama area – in the prefecture of Fukui, north of Kyoto – to the ancient capital precisely to what is today the Demachi market.
Among the most transported foods, there was mackerel, which currently continues to be the most important product in the Obama area.
Maritime activities to Obama
In Obama you can do many activities related to the sea, fish farming and fishing (especially saba) and can you can book simply calling the Obama Destination Management Association (in English or Japanese) at + 81-0770-56-3366.
Fish auction in Obama’s harbor
Going out at seven in the morning to see to the fish auction at Obama’s port is certainly an unusual experience. You can understand the different roles of people by the color of the hats, like the red one for visitors and you can observe the particular way of buyer relaunch offers.
This short experience was really very curious. During the cold seasons cover yourself well: in the early morning the temperatures are really low.
The mackerel farming and fishing system for Obama
North of Obama, in the area called Tagarasu, you can get on a small motorboat and go closely observe a unique fishing system so that it is also the subject of study by the University of Fukui.
In offshore nets, approximately 1500 sabas grow, for a total of about 20000 sabas bred at the same time. Going up on the structure formed by wooden planks, the breeder reaches the center of the net and feeds the fish, with cadence and quantities that depend on the growth phase of the fish.
Saba fermentation: heshiko
Moving a few kilometers you can reach small structures where the saba is fermented through a process called heshiko. The fisherman showed us two fish, one fermented for about a year and a half and the other for … thirteen years!
Obama, a beautiful Japanese landscape
What struck me most about Obama was the landscape. Woods and field end directly in the ocean.
See the Obama coast from a fishing boat
It was planned to do kayaking activity, but due to the cold we switched into a ride on a motor fishing boat.
The Obama coast seen off the sea is truly beautiful: the wooded landscape comes directly to touch the irregular edges of this strip of coast.
Not far from the coast is Kaminegori, a very small mountain village that was an important point in ancient times for those who walked the Saba Kaido. Currently, only some of the typical ancient houses remain. If you love nature walks, I recommend you to come here.
Obama shrines and temples
Obama was once considered the gateway to Japan, thanks to its proximity to China and Korea, from which it received an influence that is still reflected today in the culture of the country of the rising sun.
The two Shinto shrines of Wakasahime and Wakasahiko Jinja, if visited both, are a good omen for future childbirth. Hime means “princess”, so Wakasahime is dedicated to the “female part”; hiko means “prince” so Wakasahiko is dedicated to the “male part”.
Jinguji, on the other hand, is a very special place, where Shinto and Buddhist worship are simultaneously worshipped. For this reason, the guardian of this place defines himself neither a monk nor a priest. Originally, together with the previous two times, it was part of a very very large complex.
Listening to the guardian’s stories was for me one of the most interesting experiences of the whole trip.
The first temple where they introduced us to meditation is called Mantokuji, where we were greeted by a nice Buddhist monk who illustrated the peculiarity of this temple surrounded by gardens which shows us the wonderful images of the autumn and spring season. During flowering the large central stone, together with the statues and flowers, forms a mandala.
The next day we went to Myotsuji temple, a very large complex dating back to the Kamakura era and where you will also find a beautiful pagoda.
After going through the surrounding area – I advise you to stay at least an hour to enjoy the whole area – and listening to the history of the temple, we made a short meditation experience, helped by the silence of nature.
In this temple we attend tea ceremony.
Our last meditation experience was in the Bukkokuji monastery: inside a room with raised tatami, the monk explained that it is necessary to enter first with the left foot then the right foot, bow and then reach one’s position.
In this place there are people from different corners of the world who have come here to learn this particular Zen meditation technique.
Sake production in the Obama area
Whether you are a sake lover or not, a jump to the Obama Brewery is recommended. Dating back to 1830 but then rebuilt, the current management of the activity is the seventh generation. He told us about it was the son-in-law of the owner, who facilitated our understanding thanks to an excellent command of the English language.
We were able to visit the different environments where the rice preparation stages take place, from washing to fermentation.
At the end of the mini-tour, a glass of delicious sake convinced us to buy a bottle each.
If you want to have fun with artisan experiences, I suggest you go to the second floor of the Wakasa Obama Food Culture Museum, which is located very close to Obama’s port. You can choose different workshops, such as making Japanese paper, making stone pendants or learning the technique of making sampuru, the Japanese fake food on display in restaurants!
On the new English-language website Experience Obama you can find all the activities that you can do in the area.
Nishigumi, the old Obama neighborhood
We had the pleasure of going through the streets of the ancient Obama neighborhood called Nishigumi, where the dark wood, typical of Japan of the past, is the highlight.
Here you can find many ancient ryotei (the luxurious restaurants / hotels where the geishas entertained their customers) with beautiful decorations and delightful internal gardens and some homestays where you can stay overnight, some more modern while and others faithfully retain the original style. It is possible to book the accommodations through the portal managed by the Obama Machya Stay.
Where to eat in Obama
During our stay we ate in several local restaurants, where fish – mainly saba – was the king.
In Tagarasu we had lunch in a totally saba-based restaurant, whose name is Sabar (and it tore us more than a smile).
Another restaurant to try is definitely Suigetsu, in the heart of the old Obama neighborhood. The restaurant is located in a building dating back to the beginning of the Meiji era and specializes in kaiseki cuisine based on seasonal local ingredients. I recommend elegant clothing.
On the last evening we had dinner inside the minshuku Kawahara (essentially a traditional B&B with furnishings and typical local cuisine) where we then stayed overnight. Here you can taste the fugu, or puffer fish, for the preparation of which a specific patent is required, given the concentration of poison inside some parts of the fish. Fugu is considered an absolutely exclusive dish.
How to get to Obama from Kyoto
You can rent a car or use the railway line from Kyoto Station to Omi-Imazu Station and then take a bus to Obama. With both options, it will take you about two hours.
Saba kaido: Kumagawa Juku
Among the most important saba-kaido there was the Wakasa Kaido: one of the places where it is worth making a stop if you are by car is Kumagawa Juku, an ancient post station created in the deviation of the main road, which still preserves the original buildings today .