Katsuo No Tenpaku, Katsuo Ibushi Goya in Shima city Mie prefecture, Bonito flakes with a one of a kind story.

Katsuo No Tenpaku, Katsuo Ibushi Goya in Shima city Mie prefecture, Bonito flakes with a one of a kind story.

Meticulous production process, historical significance, spiritual weight, unique connection to the region, and delicious taste “katsuobushi”!

Written by Kevin Jackson

-Author's Introduction
California, USA, 14 years in Japan. I love Japan! I naturally have an interest in history and geography, and try to spend a fair amount of my free time exploring Japan and delving into those aforementioned interests to find out what makes this country so interesting. The more curious you are the more interesting life becomes. I have spent the last 14 years here doing just that, and plan to continue to explore.

Known in the west as “bonito flakes”, katsuobushi is dried, fermented, and smoked Bonito. 

The history of katsuobushi date back to before the 16th century. Katsuobushi is one of the main ingredients of a Japanese broth called dashi which is the base of many soups and sauces in Japanese cuisine. 

Katsuobushi is also used as stuffing for balls of rice known as onigiri, as topping for ramen dishes, and as a topping for the much loved takoyaki and okonomiyaki dishes from the Osaka area in western Japan.

I love food, and Japanese food is a particular favorite. I have tried katsuobushi before as a topping on some of my favorite Japanese dishes.
I have always looked at the flakes as a simple condiment.

While visiting this particular area in Mie prefecture I was pleasantly surprised to learn that katsuobushi is in fact a major part of traditional Japanese cuisine. Also, it has a fascinating history and rather painstaking method of production. 

My curiosity got the better of me, and there was no telling when I’d have a chance to come back to this unique corner of Japan.

Multiple cycles of drying, smoking, and fermentation are required to produce the perfect batch of katsuobushi. If done right, the natural fat of the fish produces an “umami” taste. A savory experience that is nearly impossible to forget.

I decided to visit Katsuo No Tenpaku and learn a bit more about the history behind this treat, how it’s made, and hopefully taste some freshly made flakes.
Katsuo No Tenpaku has a very long history of making katsuobushi. The brand is one of a few remaining brands that produce bonito flakes.
Local craftsman Yukiaki Tenpaku is the fourth generation owner and takes pride in the quality and production of katsuobushi.

I made my way to the Katsuo Ibushi Goya.
The location alongside a narrow road atop of a cliff overlooking the pacific ocean was straight out of a scene from an old Kurosawa film. The views of the ocean were breathtaking, but the actual building that housed the Katsu Ibushi Goya was not to be outdone by mother nature.

Every step closer to the entrance felt like a step further back in time.
The simple dirt floor, facade of the building, the traditional Japanese curtains known as Noren that hung at the entranceway, and smell, stacks of firewood, crates of bonito, I can go on and on.
The atmosphere in this place was absolutely awesome. A craftsman’s paradise.
A place where on can simply focus on each and every detail associated with producing the finest quality katsuobushi.

After getting lost in the decor for a few minutes, I was directed to sit in a small chair near the center of the structure.
Here, I was given a very detailed explanation of what exactly katsuobushi is, the production process, history behind the making of katsuobushi, and the unique relationship that the flakes, and in particular katsuobushi produced in this region share with the all important grand Shinto shrine, Ise Jingu.

As I stated before, I have tried katsuobushi before as a condiment on various dishes from the Osaka favorite Okonomiyaki to simple tofu topped with katsuobushi and a dash of soy sauce.
I only know the finished product and seeing the charred black jagged blocks atop what seemed like a centuries old furnace was a big surprise.

I was extremely curious to know how they take these lumps of charcoal, excuse me, smoked Bonito and turn them into the pretty and tasty pink flakes that I am so accustomed to seeing.
Just by looking at the stacks of firewood, furnaces and crates of katsuobushi I could tell that the production process had a lot of moving parts.
I would come to learn that each individual part most more important than the next, and that the people in charge of the process are extremely detailed and nuanced in the production process.

The Bonito are first cut into predetermined dimensions and boiled to soften the fish and cook through the flesh.
The boiled pieces are then wood smoked for an extended period of time.
It is not a continuous smoke, yet professionals determine the rate at which each individual batch needs to be smoked.
The position of the Bonito atop the furnace are periodically rotated and the temperature of the furnace is adjusted to make sure that the process is maturing along at an appropriate rate.
In certain instances the fish may also be sun dried or dried in separate spaces outside of the main room where the Bonito are smoked.

This is process can take months to be completed.
Once completed to Bonito are extremely dry and resemble jagged blocks of hard wood.
The blocks are then moved to another room where the fermentation process takes place.
This room was off limits due to the sensitive nature of the fermentation process and how air quality can affect how certain funguses react.

The hardened pieces are later sliced into thin pieces that have a very pleasant and pronounced fishy flavor and aroma.
The mild and smoky taste of the flakes can be an amazing complement to a number of popular Japanese dishes.
I over simplified the process a bit, but this is generally hoe they go about make these delicious treats.

Another interesting aspect of the tour was learning about the spiritual connection to the Ise Jingu(grand shrine at ise).
This region and production of Katsuobushi was designated and commissioned by the imperial court.
The very katsuobushi that are being produced here are taken to the grand shrine at Ise for offering annually.
It was during the presentation of the history behind katsuobushi in the region and relies significance that I learned the phrase Shinjinkyoshoku.

A rough translation of the Japanese phrase “神人共食Shinjinkyoshoku” depicted in the picture above concludes that this phrase simply means communal dining.
What I learned here today is that this phrase has a deeper meaning.
Traditionally the emperor presents an offering to the gods with the harvest.
The people come together to celebrate this with a big feast where it is thought that people together dine with the gods.
Katsuobushi is not just something you eat. It not only brings people together, it connects the common man to the gods.

Lastly I had the opportunity to try some bonito flakes before I left.
First in the form of a broth with was very warm and tasty.
The taste was not too strong and the subtle aroma of the Bonito was a very delightful.
Next was a very simple dish.
White rice topped with katsuobushi and a dash of soy sauce. So simple yet so delicious!
I asked for a couple of more bowls.
The light taste of the katsuobushi coupled with the white rice and accented by soy sauce was magnificent.

English guidance is limited

Tour information
◎Tour times AM11:00~PM12:00
◎Reservations are required
◎Admission is not free of charge
Contact information
Tel. 0599-72-0007
Address: Mie-ken, Shima-shi, Daiocho-Nakiri 2545-15

Tenpaku Bonito Flakes

Tourist attractions covered by this article