Friday, May 1, 2009

Culinary Travel to the Uontana Arcade (魚の棚商店街 - Uontana Shouten-gai), Japan

The Uontana Arcade (i.e., a covered market place) is one of the oldest arcades in Japan. It is located in the city of Akashi, Hyogo prefecture of Japan. It is operating for nearly 400 years. They say when the Akashi castle was built in 1619, the Arcade was created to provide fresh supplies to the people living around the castle. It is incredible that this Arcade still actively supports the daily life of the local population. The overall length of this Arcade is about 350 meters and there are about 110 stores selling everything from fresh fish, vegetables, fruits, freshly cooked/processed food, kimonos and traditional kitchenware, and so on. The city of Akashi is one of the primary fishing locations in Japan and especially the Akashi octopus and red snapper are well known all over Japan for their big size and delicate taste.

Since the fishing areas and the Arcade are very close to each other, fresh fish is brought from the sea twice a day, in early morning and afternoon. It is a very unique place while most of the Japanese fish markets have only one shipment in early morning. As result, this promotes the high quality of fishes in the Uontana Arcade. Although this is a very historical and attractive spot, many of the guidebooks for travelers in English, sadly, do not mention about this exciting tourist attraction.

One early summer day, when my husband and I visited my hometown of Takarazuka in Japan, we visited the Uontana Arcade along with my family. When my sisters told my husband, whose native country is Greece, that they would take us to a great fish market, he was very excited. Especially he was thrilled that the famous Akashi octopuses were in season. He immediately suggested cooking Greek food with the famous octopus for my family.
When we arrived at the Arcade , it was before noon. There were already many people looking around and shopping. People at the stores were energetically calling at us to attract our attention and trying to sell us their newly arrived fish, selfish, squid, and of course, the famous Akashi octopus. My husband said with high excitement that the fish markets reminded him of the fish markets in Greece where also fresh fish, selfish, and octopus are available. That is when he discovered the similarity between Japanese and Mediterranean cuisines, which mainly use fresh seafood and local vegetables. I also realized that people in Greece and Japan prefer to purchase a whole fish rather than buying a piece of fish fillet because with the fillet it is difficult to tell if it is fresh or not.
Before buying some fish for dinner, we decided to have lunch at one of the many sushi restaurants in the Arcade . It was an old traditional-looking restaurant. They let us sit on a traditional Japanese floor, or tatami, which is made of rice straws, and brought us oshibori, which is a wet hand towel usually offered in not only sushi restaurants but also in many restaurants in Japan. Each of us ordered a deluxe sushi set and some pieces of nigiri-sushi.
Big pieces of extremely fresh and delicious fish were used to make this sushi, which satisfied us in great deal. Particularly all of the sights and details fascinated my husband since it was the very first time for him to be in such a restaurant. “I feel like I am in a movie directed by Akira Kurosawa!” he said. Please do not forget to click on the slide shows about the Uontana Arcade and the Himeji Castle to the right of this blog.
After lunch, we went for shopping. We purchased an ultra fresh large octopus, some rockfishes and tuna sashimi. Of course, my husband cooked a delicious Greek food with them at that night.
Actually the world renowned Himeji Castle was the main spot we visited that day, which is the most visited castle in Japan. It is a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site and become internationally even more famous after it appeared in a James Bond film “You Only Live Twice” and also at two of Akira Kurosawa’s films, namely “Ran” and “Kagemusha”. The recent film ” The Last Samurai” had also scenes from this castle. This has been my most favorite castle in Japan and we enjoyed the many buildings, views from the castle and the stories behind this castle (including some stories about hunted places in the castle). The Himeji Castle is located only a few station stops away from the Uontana Arcade. If you are going to visit the Himeji Castle, you should definitely consider stopping by the Uontana Arcade. I bet you will have an amazing experience that most of tourists visiting in Japan are missing.

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