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Saturday, March 15, 2003

PREFECTURAL FARE

Pork, potatoes, pottery Kagoshima's mainstays


Staff writer

Kagoshima Yurakukan, a local-specialities complex taking up three floors of a building in Tokyo's Yurakucho district, has been attracting health-conscious consumers with its products from Kagoshima Prefecture.

News photo
A clerk at Kagoshima Yurakukan in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward displays "shochu" (distilled spirits) and "satsuma-age" fried fish cakes from Kagoshima Prefecture.

Takuro Matsunami, manager of the food shop on the first floor, said consumer trends regarding food have changed since the shop opened eight years ago.

"At the time of the store's opening, customers loved something rare and cheap. But now, they care about their health and buy food that is good for them," Matsunami said.

Stress is a mounting problem amid the prolonged economic stagnation, he said, so an increasing number of customers seek relaxation and good, healthy food.

The store offers about 600 food items, including "kurobuta" (black pig) pork, which has been a Kagoshima-area product ever since the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the Shimazu clan ruled the region.

Boasting an excellent flavor and containing a lot of vitamins, the pork has grown in popularity in recent years, Matsunami said, though with ribs selling at 650 yen per 200 grams, it is more expensive than ordinary pork.

"Even though the pork is expensive, it often sells out, and some customers reserve the meat in advance," Matsunami said.

A "shabu shabu" dish with Kurobuta pork is available in the restaurant on the second floor.

Local "shochu" spirits, distilled from sweet potato and other ingredients, have also become popular in recent years, according to the shop.

Sweet potatoes are a Kagoshima specialty, known as "satsumaimo," or potato of Satsuma, the domain that became Kagoshima Prefecture.

Legend has it the potato was brought from China to the area sometime between the 16th and 17th centuries and later grown in other parts of the country, Matsunami said.

According to Atsuko Kakegami, an official of the complex, Kagoshima shochu causes less of a hangover and has health benefits.

"Many shoppers say they have gotten used to the liquor's aroma of potato and love it," Kakegami said.

There are about 100 kinds of shochu for sale in the food section.

A shop on the third floor sells handicrafts from the prefecture. Traditional crafts include Satsuma pottery and woodcraft made of 1,000-year-old Yaku cedar from Yakushima Island.

More modern products are also available, including cosmetics made from ash from the Sakurajima volcano.

The active volcano in Kinko Bay, just 4 km away from the city of Kagoshima, is considered a symbol of the prefecture.

The tourist information section on the first floor provides information on sightseeing spots.

This year Kagoshima is promoting travel to the Amami Islands to mark the 50th anniversary of their return to Japan from the United States, which had occupied them after World War II. The islands, 380 km southwest of Kagoshima, are known for their nature and subtropical beauty.

Kagoshima Yurakukan is a two-minute walk from JR Yurakucho Station. The food shop is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays), the craft shop from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m, and the restaurant from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m (until 9:30 p.m. weekends and holidays). The shops are closed over New Year's. Call the food shop at (03) 3580-8821 and the craft shop at (03) 3506-9171.


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The Japan Times

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