Two Food Cultures along the 200 Miles of the Joetsu Shinkansen Line－ Takasaki-shi, Minakami-machi, Yuzawa-machi , Niigata-shi and Sado-shi
The Joetsu Shinkansen runs across the main island of Japan from Tokyo on the Pacific Ocean to Niigata-shi on the Japan Sea.
Along this Shinkansen route spreads two large plains – the Echigo Plain to the northwest of the Echigo Mountains and the Kanto Plain to the southeast. During wintertime, seasonal winds from the northwest hit the mountains; and the air that is pushed upwards cools and brings a large amount of snow to the Echigo Plain. Afterwards, this dry and strong wind, which is called karakkaze in Japanese, blows across the Kanto Plain. These contrasting weathers which can be seen in a range extending for 200 miles across the mountains has given rise to two completely different food cultures, one centering on rice and the other on wheat.
Minakami-machi and Takasaki-shi are located on the Kanto Plain, surrounded by the Echigo Mountains to their west and north. The climate in this area has long hours of sunlight during winter with dry air due to the karakkaze. The volcanic ash-covered soil drains water well and creates good soil conditions for the cultivation of wheat. This has resulted in a food culture focusing on wheat from the beginning of its history.
To the northwest of the Echigo Mountains are Yuzawa-machi and Niigata-shi on the Echigo Plain, and Sado-shi on an island in the Japan Sea. This region is blessed with fertile land and abundant water from melted snow. The significant difference in day and nighttime temperatures from summer to autumn is perfect for growing delicious rice. This has influenced the formation of a culture centering on rice. Furthermore, Sado-shi offers local cuisine and fruit unique to the island, a food culture different from the mainland.
In these five areas located along the Joetsu Shinkansen Line, different climates have brought about different food cultures within an approximate 200-mile distance. It is a very distinguished region in which you can experience two different Japanese food cultures.
Food Culture Centering on Rice
This region is one of the most famous rice-producing areas in Japan, where rice cracker makers and sake breweries thrive. Niigata and Sado face the Japan Sea, and the freshest seafood is available in these areas. Not only food, visitors can also enjoy skiing and hot spas in Yuzawa, and experience taraibune, or the tub boats, at Sado.
Food Culture with a Focus on Wheat
The Takasaki and Minakami areas have long cultivated wheat and many wheat dishes have long been a part of the diet of the local people. Representing these areas are pasta and udon noodles, made by kneading flour with small amounts of salt and water, as well as the local dish, yaki manju. Many different fruits are grown in the Minakami area, and harvests take place throughout the year.
Images provided by: the official site of the Bureau of Tourism, Gunma Prefectural Government, “Tourist Guide of Gunma Prefecture”