More to Sakata than rice crack­ers

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - PHIL SMYTHE

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: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. 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.

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