More to Sakata than rice crackers
MY wife and I needed to get from Aomori in the far north of Japan to Kanazawa, halfway down the main island of Honshu on the Sea of Japan coast. But that would take eight hours by train, so we decided upon a stopover. Akita and Niigata would be logical spots, but we’d been to both those big cities. About halfway is Sakata, a port town in Yamagata prefecture of about 113,000 residents, surrounded by ricefields and once home to rich merchants. Could it also be the birthplace of those famous rice crackers? Better go and find out.
At Sakata station there was a small visitors’ centre and pamphlets for a sake museum, which sounded promising. Visitors’ centres in Japan usually are staffed by attractive young women, but in Sakata it was a white-haired gentleman, somehow befitting the rustic location. Upon asking for directions to the Hatsumago Sake Exhibit Hall, we were told it was closed for the day. My wife, who is Japanese, explained how we’d come all the way from Australia and we’d only be in town that day and night. So the elderly chap phoned up the sake museum and magically it would be opened, just for us. Sakata was looking good.
After touring the sake exhibits we asked our taxi driver for a good place to have lunch. He said he’d take us to the best in Japan. And he may have been right. We arrived at a restaurant called Tobishima, perched on the second floor of a converted warehouse, overlooking the port. Judging by the queues, it was a popular spot. Tobishima specialises in seafood, with its produce delivered straight off the boats just outside. They had it all: tuna, snapper, eel, jellyfish, octopus, squid, sea urchins; you name it. It was delicious and we calculated it was about one-third the price of an equivalent meal in Tokyo.
But sake and sashimi aren’t the only things for which Sakata is famous. Apparently, it was the setting for the Japanese historical drama series Oshin, which aired on SBS in the late 1980s. But maybe you need to be of my vintage to remember that.
Sometimes when travelling you chance upon an unheralded destination that clicks and feels just right. Sakata is such a place. And yes, it really is where those welladvertised Sakata rice crackers originated. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: firstname.lastname@example.org. Columnists receive a Travelon Anti-Theft Classic Travel Bag featuring FRID blocking technology, metal mesh lining, detachable cut-proof shoulder strap and lockable zippers. $115. More: 1800 331 690; strandbags.com.au.