Category Archives: Local food

Yoshino’s Kunisu Shokudo

Located in the eastern part of Nara’s Yoshino Town, the area of Kuzu is full of legends, stories, and history that has been passed down for hundreds of years. This old community is centered around a road that winds down in the valley along the Yoshino River, long-known for its production of traditional Japanese washi paper. It is here in this community that a new arrival and experienced locals have come together to turn a vacant pharmacy into a delicious intersection of the old and the new.

Kunisu Shokudo is a cafe started by a young man new to the area, along with some older, experienced locals. The young man moved to this area through a national program to help revitalize rural areas, and renovating this former pharmacy into a cafe has been part of his work. He officially opened Kunisu Shokudo this month.

It was naturally born from the desire to have a place to eat lunch and drink coffee. Though there are fewer and fewer people and shops in this area, there was still a demand for this kind of space. Locals from nearby, people from neighboring towns and villages, and other visitors have made the effort to stop by.

The lunch special is written in friendly characters on a chalkboard in front of the cafe. Consisting of standard Japanese diner favorites, with a bit of local wisdom mixed in, you might see grilled pork, marinated and pickled vegetables, and their famous enoki mushroom and tofu miso soup. Kunisu Shokudo uses locally grown vegetables and does its best not to use any unnecessary additives.


But this place wasn’t just started to serve food to people. It was born from a desire for a space where people can eat lunch, drink coffee, and come together. With a selection of coffee and desserts, countless floor pillows, and warm stove heaters, Kunisu Shokudo has quickly become a favorite of many to take a break from the day-to-day and warm up with cake, coffee, and conversation.

We offer an experience just around the corner from Kunisu Shokudo that allows you feel the local culture with your own hands. As this area is well-known for its production of traditional Japanese washi paper, you can try making it yourself, and design your own “one and only” postcards. After enjoying the flavors and scents of the cafe, and the sights and sounds of the Yoshino River, how about feeling the texture of tradition passed down from generation to generation to your hands?

Please click here for more information on the program.

Little Ball of Nara

Have you had enough persimmons yet? If you’ve spent anytime in southern Nara, met someone from southern Nara, or even just heard about southern Nara in the past few months, there is a good chance that you’ve heard about our specialty, persimmons! If you haven’t received them or eaten them, you have probably at least seen them. While I am always happy to have a few more persimmons around, I was pleasantly surprised to find them transformed into a traditional snack at a local sweet shop.

The Kaki-an-dama, or “persimmon-bean paste-ball”, is a sweet little snack that brings together two of the foods that southern Nara is most famous for. In addition to persimmons, it uses the Yoshino region’s famous kudzu, powder ground from the roots of kudzu plants. Combined with white bean paste into small sugar-coated balls, they are soft and doughy like many traditional bean paste snacks, but perhaps a tad bit sweeter.

Just like persimmons, kudzu, and the numerous snacks they’re in, the Kaki-an-dama is a quick, delicious introduction to the traditional culture of southern Nara. Though they are made down here in Yoshino Town, you can probably find them in other parts of Nara too, so please keep an eye out!

Eating, Listening, and Coming Together in Shimoichi

Fields of persimmon trees. Farms. Big, slow clouds, and some nice wind. That was what I expected on my first visit to Shimoichi Town last weekend, and well, that was what we had. My only prior knowledge of this peaceful, mountain town was what I had translated for the Anpo Persimmon making experience. We will have the English version up soon, but for now, here is the Japanese page. On the drive up the windy roads, I finally saw Guesthouse Apricot!

My destination in Shimoichi Town was “Yoshino Hirohashi Smile Village”, a former school, now turned into a wonderful place to hold local events.  This time, the event was the Manabiya Music Festival 2019, with musical guest Nao Kodama.

Prior to the main event, many of us were nourished by the local vendors outside the building, serving up a perfected shrimp ajillo, fried chicken, konyaku, and local specialties like persimmon leaf sushi, chagayu rice porridge, and kusamochi.  As you can see in the photo above, I never pass up a chance to have some chagayu rice porridge. All in all, there must have been close to 100 people there, with many children participating in toy-making workshops before the concert.

Nao Kodama’s musical performance was superb. She soothed when she was soft, and she rocked when she rocked! Sun spilled in through the old school windows, and the smooth, sliding lap steel guitar must have beckoned neighborhood cats to come watch from outside. Sitting alone on the stage, she was a fresh, new presence in a school some might have considered forgotten. For me, the beauty of this event was how it found a new use (music) for a former school, and through this, introduced local food and culture to the many visitors who came that day. In addition to helping preserve the culture, it brought people together in an area with fewer and fewer residents. It was truly a pleasure to be a part of it.

If you’re interested in visiting Guesthouse Apricot, which is very close to this school, please feel free participate in one of their events, or contact them as well!

Making Anpo Persimmons and Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Picking Persimmons and Making Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Staying in the Mountains of Shimoichi and Making Persimmon Leaf Sushi

The Aroma of Miyataki

From where I live in the mountains, the nearest train station, grocery store, and even convenience store are all in Yoshino Town. To get to any of those place, I drive down Nat. Hwy 169 and pass through Yoshino Town’s community of Miyataki. As I approach the large Yoshino cedar barrel on the side of the road, I always roll down my window so I can smell the sweet, delicious aroma of soy sauce being brewed.

The aroma comes from the Umetani Soy Sauce brewery in Miyataki, Yoshino Town. Their soy sauce is recognizable in this area, as I see its distinct yellow label with the characters for “Miyataki” in both household and restaurant kitchens. As soy sauce is such a fundamental ingredient in many dishes, it’s fair to say that this Umetani Soy Sauce plays a large role in local culinary traditions for a long time. Mr. Umetani is the fourth generation to run his family’s brewery, and he still brews their famous soy sauce the old-fashioned way here in Yoshino cedar barrels.

Mr. Umetani gave me a personal introduction of the wide variety of soy sauces they offer. In addition to the familiar yellow label, they have lighter and stronger flavors, as well as dipping broths for noodles and ponzu for when eating from a large hot pot. Mr. Umetani seemed most proud of their strong-flavored, natural soy sauce, so I decided to buy a bottle to take home.

It is autumn, and prime “mochi-maki” season. It is a season when many festivals end with the custom of tossing mochi into the air for people to catch or gather and take home. As a result, my freezer is full of mochi. I de-frosted a few, baked them in my oven, and dripped a bit of the strong-flavored, natural soy sauce over them. The flavor itself was warm, not too strong, and it was so delicious that I almost wanted to drink it.  Living here in the mountains, surrounded by cedar trees, it is nice to know that this rich flavor comes from the hard work of many local people across a variety of industries, going back many generations. I can eat this mochi with soy sauce everyday, which might make my freezer a little easier to organize.

Are you interested in learning about making soy sauce? We offer experiences that allow you to see first-hand how soy sauce is made, being wrapped in the aroma of the brewery, and having a chance to taste it fresh.

Tasting Tour: Soy Sauce and Tofu in Gose (Local Food Experience)

See Organic Soy Sauce Made by a Woman Master Brewer

Seasonal Flavors of Southern Nara

It’s persimmon season, and you’ll see these small, orange globes of sweetness for sale along the sides of roads and highways throughout southern Nara Prefecture. While I am happy enough to eat these almost everyday, their presence also means that the season of persimmon leaf sushi will soon be coming to an end. I wanted to enjoy this local specialty while I still could, and stopped by Matsuya in Kawakami Village yesterday.

Though there were plenty of persimmons for sale in front of the shop, the kind owner brought me a plate of figs from their personal tree. “The monkeys ate most of them last night, but we still had some good ones left,” he laughed as he walked back to the kitchen. I sipped my tea and took my time eating them while I waited for my chagayu rice porridge lunch.

My colorful lunch arrived after a few minutes. Included with its namesake chagayu rice porridge was the famous persimmon leaf sushi, ayu fish, local Nara pickles, and a variety of local wild vegetables. In addition to being delicious, I love this meal because it is a combination you can only find in southern Nara.

The persimmon leaves are still green, but they will soon be vibrant colors of red, yellow, and orange. While I love the beauty that this season brings to this delicious food, it unfortunately means we will soon have a long winter without sushi, and have to wait until the leaves are once again ready in spring.

We offer many programs that allow you to make local specialties, such as persimmon leaf sushi and chagayu rice porridge. Please feel free to ask us for more information!

Picking Persimmons and Making Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Staying in a Mountain Village and Making Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Making Anpo Persimmons and Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Stay in a Temple and Experience Yoga and Making Sushi

Yummy Yoshino: Hungry at Yamato Kami-ichi Station

Around this time of year, many people visit Odaigahara and other parts of Yoshino to see the beautiful reds and yellows of leaves. I see many people get off at Kintetsu Yamato Kami-ichi Station and wait for their bus deeper into the mountains. Just in case you are hungry, I want to share a little wisdom I received from the locals, as I think you too will enjoy eating where “everyone around here” eats.

Hikari Shokudo is a traditional Japanese diner located in front of the station. I took off my shoes, and stepped up and sat on a floor pillow next to the window.

Across the Yoshino River, the layers of mountains zigzagged over one another to Yoshinoyama and beyond. The busy sounds of the lumber across the river were a pleasant reminder of the Yoshino cedar this area is famous for. Locals recommend the maki-zushi sushi roll at Hikari Shokudo, but I felt like warming up with the Kayaku Udon today.


Filled with meat, fried crisp, and other fixing, eating here felt less like a restaurant and more like a home. The flowers, Eto animal decorations, and local photographs give it a warmth not found in chain diners. I know people who eat here many times a month, so I feel this place is essential for the local experience.

If you are short on time, or want something you can take with you, I recommend walking down the hill and around the corner to Kuninaka Meats.

This place is a popular stop for locals, thanks to the freshly fried beef-potato croquettes! At 60 yen a piece, you can easily buy a bag of them for you and your friends.

Take them with you on a hike to the mountains, or back to the city as a warm memory of Yoshino. I am lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of these beef-potato croquettes a few times, and they always make my day.

Cooking rice in the “Kamado”

Have you ever eaten the rice cooked by “Kamado”?

It is a most delicious way to taste Japnanese rice!

“Kamado” is Japanese traditional oven with firewood. It is usually used for cooking rice. But nowadays you rarely see it in Japan.

“Kamado” had been popular in our daily life until electronic rice-cooker and gas-range appeared.The heat can be controlled by adjusting the amount or positioning of firewood. The heating power is weak firstly , and then going on high.  At the end of cooking, the power is going on low again.  The series of the heating power brings out the flavor of rice. That’s why rice cooked by “Kamado” is more delicious and tasty.

Recently, electronic rice-cooker companies develop their products to close Kamado taste, however it is a bit difficult to reproduce the taste perfectly in the household.

“Shika no fune Kamado” offers you the opportunity to eat Kamado rice and make Japanese rice ball.

Please visit “Shika no fune kamado” and try tasty Japanese rice!

* Please check our hands-on experience program
Cooking Japanese rice in traditional oven at “Shikano-fune, Kamado” (Local food experience)