Located in Japan's Kochi prefecture on the island of Shikoku, the charming fishing village of Nakatosa is a well-known gastronomic destination for the inhabitants of the archipelago. Its main asset? The succulent Katsuo bonito, a fish related to the tuna, fished off the Pacific Ocean. Gastronomy is an integral part of any stay in Japan, and this off-the-beaten-track destination is definitely a place to keep in mind in order to enjoy a lively and sincere experience

The past of Nakatosa

The port of Nakatosa, known as Kure, has been registered by the Japanese Ministry of Culture as an important cultural property. This recognition underlines the major role of the port in the history of the region since the 13th century. The location of Kure and its maritime activities, as well as the timber merchants who prospered from the nearby mountains, enabled Nakatosa to develop. Old fishermen's houses are still to be found today, witnessing the flourishing activity of Kure, as well as the Nishioka sake brewery dating from 1781. The latter is the oldest brewery in Kochi prefecture. What about the bonito? Although it is difficult to date exactly the beginning of its fishing, some ancient documents mention it precisely. The province of Tosa, formerly Kochi, was designated by the Emperor's government as the import area for Katsuo, of which Kure was a part. It took 25 days by boat to reach the ancient capital of Kyoto. The fish, which could not arrive fresh, was then simmered to make soup and the flesh was dried

The bonito, a migratory fish, returns to Tosa Bay, thanks to the Kuroshio sea current, twice a year: in spring and in autumn. Since the Edo period, the locals have fished it with a giant wooden rod called ipponzuri, a sustainable technique that uses live sardines. For centuries, Katsuo bonito has been an essential product of the Tosa province and of Japanese gastronomy. It is thanks to this ancestral fishing that the katsuobushi method (dried and smoked bonito) was born. The master of Japanese prints, Hiroshige Utagawa, was even inspired by it for one of the works in his series Views of Famous Sites in the Sixty or So Provinces of Japan.

A history of cooking

Tataki is a technique for preparing fish, and it suits Katsuo perfectly. In ancient times, when it was impossible to keep bonito fresh for long, the Japanese used to beat it with salt, tataku meaning "to beat" or "to kick". In the Edo period, Katsuo was eaten as sashimi, but an epidemic is said to have prompted the provincial governor to ban this type of meal. The inhabitants, who accepted this order, then found a way to keep the taste of the raw meat: to tap the bonito with salt, to grill it on the surface over a high heat and thus avoid cooking the meat in the middle. The boats were equipped with a stove to cook the meals. But freshly caught Katsuo has a very thick flesh which is not recommended for sashimi. That's why the fishermen grilled it. In order to keep the flesh in the middle, it was necessary to use a high fire and the fishermen knew how to obtain it. Thus was born this technique of cooking tataki still used nowadays. It is said, unequivocally, that this is the best way to taste this fish

The sacred Kure port

Religion plays an important role for the fishermen of the region, who are very religious. Before each departure for a long period at sea, the fishermen baptize their boat with sake, considered as the holy water of Shintoism. When fishing is successful, they sacrifice ema, wooden votive plates, to thank the gods. Visitors can see these ancient frames from the Edo period in the city's shrine, the Kure Hachimangu. One can see representations of the Katsuo that inhabit Tosa Bay. Shikoku obliges, it is impossible not to evoke the pilgrimage path of the 88 temples initiated by Kūkai (774-835), the founder of the Shingon sect. Although the village of Nakatosa is not home to any of them, the traveller is treated to a walk along an ancient pilgrimage route for about five kilometres, deep in the surrounding mountains

An engaging local life

Daily life in Nakatosa is punctuated by the bonito. Many locals work in some capacity with the bonito, from fishermen to market workers to various suppliers. It is said that only typhoons prevent the inhabitants from tasting fresh Katsuo every day. The larger boats go out to sea for a long time, but the smaller boats leave in the early morning and return in the early afternoon. This makes for a very exciting time for visitors! In the late morning, the Kure Taishomachi market comes alive. The inhabitants, as well as the visitors, take advantage of the old atmosphere of the place, buy fresh fish or taste it directly on the spot, in tataki or in sashimi, accompanied, as it should be, by sake. The immersion is total and we experience an authentic, pleasant and friendly Japan. We enjoy tasting a"katsuo no tataki" in the middle of the local population

The context of the 21st century unfortunately threatens the peaceful daily life of the inhabitants. The competitive nature of the world's fishing industry and the fact that the younger generation is gradually abandoning the manual trades and leaving the village are a real sword of Damocles for Nakatosa. Katsuo tuna, also known as Katsuwonus pelamis, is the ingredient that can be found in cans of tuna. It is in this particular economic context that the village wishes to offer international visitors a taste of the region's excellent bonito. For 20 years now, the quantity of Katsuo caught has been constantly decreasing. For the inhabitants of the village, it is impossible to predict how long this ancestral activity will last. According to them, its end is unfortunately inevitable. This is why, more than ever, they want to introduce visitors to Nakatosa bonito as a sign ofomotenashi, Japanese hospitality. And for the traveler looking for a unique experience, this stop promises to be a great time in an engaging community. Visitors can now add to their to-do list in Japan: come and admire the local fishermen and taste the best Katsuo tataki in the archipelago.

Technical information

When to go To enjoy Nakatosa's Katsuo, it is recommended that you visit in the spring and autumn. During these two periods of the year, the fishermen go out to sea in Tosa Bay in the early morning. The market stalls are filled with fresh fish from 11am onwards, thanks to the previous day's fishing. Moreover, these two seasons are simply the most beautiful in Japan, with cherry blossoms in one season, and the shimmering foliage of the trees in the other.

How to get there. From Tokyo and Osaka airports (Jetstar, JAL and ANA), visitors can fly domestically to Kochi Ryoma Airport and take a shuttle bus to Kochi Station. From there, a direct train takes the traveler to Tosakure Station in the heart of the village in one hour. This train is accessible to Japan Rail Pass holders. It takes two hours to reach Nakatosa from the airport.

Where to stay There are two places to stay in Nakatosa: the modern Kuroshio Honjin Ryokan, with its hot baths and view of the bay, and the Shimanto Nature Hotel , with its location in the middle of nature.

Useful link:

Nakatosa michi no éki: https://www.nakatosa.com/en/