Located in Japan in Kochi Prefecture, on Shikoku Island, the charming fishing village of Nakatosa is a recognized gastronomic destination for the people of the archipelago. Its main asset? The succulent Katsuo bonito, a cousin of tuna fish, caught off the coast facing the Pacific Ocean. Gastronomy being inseparable from any stay in Japan, this off the beaten track destination is definitely a stopover to keep in mind in order to enjoy an exotic, lively and sincere experience.
The port of Nakatosa, called Kure, has been registered by the Japanese Ministry of Culture as a significant cultural property. This recognition underlines the major role of the port in the history of the region, since the 13th century.century. The situation of Kure and its maritime activities, as well as the timber merchants, who thrived on the nearby mountains, allowed Nakatosa to develop. We still find today old fishermen’s houses, witnesses of the flourishing activity of Kure, as well as the Nishioka sake brewery dating from 1781. The latter is also the oldest brewery in Kochi prefecture. And the bonito in all this? Although it is difficult to date with exactness the beginning of its fishing, certain old documents mention it precisely. The province of Tosa, formerly Kochi, was designated by the emperor’s government at the time as an import area for Katsuo, of which Kure was a part. It then took 25 days by boat to reach the ancient capital of Kyoto. The fish, which could not arrive fresh, was then simmered to make soup and the flesh was dried.
Skipjack, a migratory fish, returns to Tosa Bay, thanks to the Kuroshio sea current, twice a year: in spring and in autumn. Since the Edo period, locals have been fishing it with a giant wooden rod called ipponzuri , a sustainable technique that uses live sardines. For centuries, Katsuo bonito has been an essential product of Tosa province and Japanese cuisine. It is thanks to this ancestral fishing that the method of katsuobushi (dried and smoked bonito) was born. The master of Japanese printmaking Hiroshige Utagawa even drew inspiration from it for one of the works in his series The Views of Famous Sites in Sixty-some Provinces of Japan .
A cooking story
A technique for preparing fish, tataki is perfect for Katsuo. In ancient times, when it was impossible to keep skipjack fresh for a long time, the Japanese would beat it with salt, tatakumeaning to hit, beat or hit. In the Edo period, Katsuo was eaten as sashimi, but an epidemic is said to have prompted the governor of the province to ban this type of meal. The inhabitants, who accepted this order, then found a solution to keep the taste of the raw meat: tap the bonito with salt, grill it on the surface over high heat and thus avoid cooking the flesh to the core. The boats consisted of a stove for cooking meals. But freshly caught Katsuo has a very thick flesh that is not recommended for sashimi. That’s why the fishermen roasted it. To keep the flesh in the heart, it was necessary to use a high heat and the fishermen knew how to obtain it. Thus was born this technique of tataki cookingstill used today. He said to himself, unequivocally, that this is the best way to taste this fish.
Wearing sacred Kure
Religion plays an important role for the fishermen of the region, who are very religious. Before each departure at sea for a long period, the fishermen baptize their boat with sake, considered the holy water of Shintoism. When the fishing is successful, they sacrifice ema, wooden votive plaques, to thank the gods. The visitor can admire these ancient frames dating from the Edo period in the city’s shrine, the Kure Hachimangu. You can see representations of the Katsuo who inhabit Tosa Bay. Shikoku obliges, it is impossible not to mention the pilgrimage route of the 88 temples initiated by Kūkai (774-835), the founder of the Shingon sect. Although the village of Nakatosa is home to none, the traveler has the pleasure of walking an ancient pilgrimage route for about five kilometers, in the heart of the surrounding mountains.
An endearing local life
Daily life in Nakatosa is punctuated by skipjack. Many inhabitants work with it from near or far, whether they are the fishermen, the employees of the market or the various suppliers. It is said that only typhoons prevent locals from tasting fresh Katsuo every day. The larger boats go out to sea for a long time, but the smaller boats leave in the early morning and return in the early afternoon. The stay of visitors becomes very exciting! At the end of the morning, the Kure Taishomachi market comes alive. The inhabitants, like the visitors, take advantage of the old-fashioned atmosphere of the place, buy fresh fish or taste it directly on the spot, in tataki.or in sashimi, accompanied, as it should be, by sake. The immersion is total and we experience an authentic, pleasant and friendly Japan. We enjoy tasting a ” katsuo no tataki ” in the midst of the local population.
The context of the XXI th century threat unfortunately the peaceful daily lives. The competitive aspect of fishing in the world and the fact that the younger generations are gradually abandoning manual trades and leaving the village represent a real sword of Damocles for Nakatosa. Katsuo tuna, also known as Katsuwonus pelamis, is the ingredient that can be found in cans of tuna. It is in this particular economic context that the village wishes to offer international visitors a taste of the region’s excellent bonito. For 20 years now, the quantity of Katsuo caught has been steadily decreasing. For the inhabitants of the village, it is impossible to predict until when this ancestral activity will last. According to them, its end is unfortunately inevitable. This is why, more than ever, they want to introduce visitors to the Nakatosa skipjack as a sign of omotenashi , Japanese hospitality. And for the traveler looking for a unique experience, this stopover promises to have a good time in a charming community. in Japan: come and admire the local fishermen and taste the best Katsuo tataki in the archipelago.
When to go. To taste Nakatosa Katsuo, it is recommended to go there in spring and autumn. During these two periods of the year, fishermen go out to sea in Tosa Bay in the early morning. The market stalls fill up with fresh fish from 11am thanks to the fishing the day before. In addition, these two seasons are quite simply the most beautiful in Japan with, for one, the cherry blossoms, and, for the other, the shimmering foliage of the trees.
How to get there . From Tokyo and Osaka Airports (Jetstar, JAL and ANA), visitors can fly to Kochi Ryoma Airport via domestic flight, then take a shuttle bus to Kochi Station. From there, a direct train takes the traveler, in one hour, to Tosakure station, in the heart of the village. This train is accessible to holders of the Japan Rail Pass. It takes two hours to reach Nakatosa from the airport.