Shizuoka Prefecture, embraced by Mt Fuji and sustained by the rich fishing grounds of Suruga Bay, was an important national thoroughfare during the Edo Period. The old Tōkaidō coastal route that connected east and west Japan passed through what is now Shizuoka and weary travellers could look forward to food and accommodation at the post towns along the route. Satta Tōge Pass, one of the three most challenging passes of the Tōkaidō and now a hiking track, is here. So, just as our Edo Period forbears did so long ago, we set off, “up over that pass and on to the next post town!”

Yui-juku, Fuchū-shuku, Mariko-juku

Sun-drying sakura-ebi at the mouth of the Fujikawa River with Mt Fuji in the background. The shrimp are bought at the early morning auction and the drying, which takes place during the morning, has become a popular sightseeing attraction.

“They’re catching sakura-ebi in Suruga Bay!” Hearing this, we headed first for Yui fishing port in Shizuoka City, where most of Shizuoka Prefecture’s sakura-ebi catch is unloaded. In Japan, these little pink shrimp are only caught here in the extremely deep waters of Suruga Bay. There are two fishing seasons per year: the spring fishing season from late March through June, and the autumn fishing season from October through December.

Sakura-ebi spend the daytime scattered about at depths of between 200 and 500 metres, but at night they form schools and float up to depths of between 30 and 60 metres – shallow enough to be trawled up in fine mesh nets. The sakura-ebi boats set off just after sunset and are back at the wharf before midnight. The fresh shrimp is at auction first thing in the morning, and already in the fish shops by the time they open for business.

Yui-juku: Sakura-Ebi, the Eagerly-Awaited Taste of Spring

The cozy Yui Fishing Port, tucked between Route 1 and the bypass, is the home port for large numbers of sakura-ebi and shirasu (whitebait) fishing boats. Sakura-Ebi Dōri, the road that runs behind the harbour, is a great place for a walking tour, with a number of shops and restaurants specialising in Suruga Bay’s tiny bright pink shrimp.

The delicate sakura-ebi spoil easily, so can only be enjoyed raw as sashimi in the place where they are caught. Flavour-packed sun-dried sakura-ebi, dried as soon as they are caught, are a local delicacy.

Hama no Kakiageya is a particularly bustling food outlet in Yui Fishing Port. Run by the Yui Fisheries Cooperative, the restaurant specialises in moderately-priced dishes made from fresh sakura-ebi straight from the auction. The most popular menu item is the “Sakura-ebi Kakiage”, a shrimp fritter that you can eat on its own like a snack – and at only 350 yen each, why stop at one?

These freshly fried shrimp kakiage, with their fabulous aroma, are a real treat. The only ingredients are fresh raw shrimp, tempura flour and spring onions. The ingredients are lightly mixed using the moisture from the shrimp to bind them, gently pressed to an even thickness and then deep fried. The kakiage are used as toppings for donburi and udon. Another menu item is sakura-ebi donuts – deep-fried dough balls with shrimp inside.

Bottom left: The generously-portioned “Kakiage-don”, topped with two shrimp fritters. Bottom right: “Yui-don”, featuring sakura-ebi paired with another local delicacy, shirasu whitebait.  Seating is available at the outdoor tables next to the restaurant.

■ Hama no Kakiageya

Yui Imajuku Hama 1127, Shimizu Ku, Shizuoka City.  (In Japanese, but with photos and prices of menu items)
Phone: 054-376-0001 (in Japanese)

Fuchū-shuku (1): Sweet Treats in a Former Castle Town

Soft and very filling. Unusually, instead of being mixed with the kinako (roasted soy flour), the sugar is served on the side, so you can just sprinkle however much you want over the top.

Fuchū-shuku, a post town on the old Tōkaidō route, is nowadays an urban district wedged between Sunpu Castle Park and JR Shizuoka Station. Here, not far from the Abe river, sits a long-established teahouse specialising in Abekawa mochi, a soft delicacy made from glutinous rice. To sample their famous mochi, we visited the venerable Sekibeya – the perfect place for Edo Period travellers heading west to catch their breath before crossing the Abe River.

When Sekibeya first opened, Abekawa mochi consisted simply of freshly pounded mochi rice rolled in kinako (roasted soy flour). The story goes that it was sprinkled with gold dust from a nearby goldmine, and called “Kin-na-ko Mochi”. Over the years the menu has expanded to include mochi rolled in kinako and sprinkled with sugar and mochi covered in sweet bean anko paste. These days, a popular delicacy is “Karami Mochi”, served with wasabi and soy sauce.

Freshly pounded mochi is kept warm so that it always has that freshly-made flavour. Each mochi ball is shaped by hand.

■ Sekibeya

Miroku 2-5-24, Aoi-ku, Shizuoka City. (in Japanese but with good pictures)

Phone: 054-252-5698 (in Japanese)

Fuchū-shuku (2): Shizuoka Oden at a Popular “No-Frills Gourmet” Restaurant

Oden consists of a variety of ingredients including daikon, fishcakes and boiled eggs, simmered in a broth. Ō-yakiimo began life as a traditional candy store, selling oden as a snack for children – hence the low price of just 60 to 100 yen per piece. Their specialities are oden in a black soy-based sauce, and oden on a bamboo skewer. Incidentally, Shizuoka Oden is locally known as “Shizōka Oden”

Ōyakiimo (Restaurant)

Higashikusabukachō 5-12, Aoi-ku, Shizuoka City

Phone: 054-245-8862 (in Japanese)

Mariko-juku: Traditional Superfood – “Tororo Meshi”

On weekdays, the chefs at Chōjiya cook around 20 kg of jinenjo, a close relation of the yamaimo mountain yam, but this quantity jumps to 60 kg per day on weekends and public holidays. The consistency should be just thick enough to sit on top of the rice without soaking into it.

Crossing the Abe River and continuing west, we come to a thatched building that houses the restaurant, “Chōjiya”, and its renowned “Tororo Meshi” (grated yam on barley rice). This truly venerable restaurant was established in 1596 and has been popular ever since! It has been the subject of a painting by Hiroshige and a poem by Matsuo Bashō. It was even visited by Yaji and Kita, the two comic protagonists of Jippensha Ikku’s Edo Period novel, Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige (Foot Travellers on the Tōkaidō).

Kaoru Shibayama, the 13th generation head of the family, still makes “Tororo Meshi” just as it was made when the restaurant first opened. In the old days, white rice was a luxury so the much cheaper barley was added to supplement the quantity. Nowadays, barley rice is popular as a health food! The tororo (grated yam) is mixed to just the right consistency by adding miso soup made from home-made miso paste. The result is a mild-flavoured, rejuvenating dish – perfect for the weary traveller.

Jinenjo yam is grated into a suribachi (grinding bowl) and carefully stirred until smooth. Soy sauce, eggs and miso soup are stirred in, one by one. The miso is all homemade. Three batches of miso are made each week, using a rice-based miso starter from a traditional rice dealer. The miso is left to ferment in a purpose-built miso storehouse for around six months.

■ Chōjiya (Restaurant)

Mariko 7-10-10 Suruga-ku, Shizuoka City. Phone: 054-258-1066