When talking about the Japanese food culture, you cannot leave out soba (buckwheat) noodles. Soba is a traditional noodle dish that’s widely consumed in Japan. However, it’s not well known that Japan’s soba has a strong connection with Nagano Prefecture.
The history of soba goes all the way back to the Jomon Period (14,000-300 B.C.). Back then, soba was consumed in non-noodle forms including sobagaki, which were like boiled dumplings, and in senbei crackers, which are now more typically made from rice. The unique form of soba eaten in Japan today, called soba kiri—where the soba is literally cut into noodles and consumed—was actually only developed during the Edo Period (1603-1868).
There are many theories regarding the details of soba‘s origin, but there is a record in a haiku collection from the Edo Period that says soba kiri was developed in Nagano Prefecture. This way of eating soba then spread to Edo (present-day Tokyo), and because it was easy to make, it was sold as a fast food at booths on the streets. Soba was a hit with the Edo commoners, and its popularity eventually spread nationwide, to the extent that it has become one of the outstanding dishes of Japan’s modern food culture.
The Shinshu soba noodles that are made in Nagano Prefecture are highly valued as one of the most notably delicious brands among the many produced all over Japan. One of the reasons for this popularity is that Nagano has natural features well-suited to soba production. Nagano’s land features plentiful volcanic ash soil, and because of its highland location, it also has an extreme difference in temperatures. Many famous soba production centers can be found across the prefecture, from the the Kurohime and Togakushi highlands in the north to the Kaida highlands in the south, and the prefecture boasts the second-highest production of soba in Japan. Many facilities are also engaged in integrated soba manufacturing, from cultivation to milling and cutting. Many of these facilities provide soba cutting courses for customers, forming one of the major leisure activities of Nagano.
As the source of Japan’s soba, making and eating soba noodles in Nagano would be a valuable step toward understanding Japan’s food culture.
Togakushi Soba Museum
3018 Togakushi Nagano City Nagano Prefecture
1018 Kurita Nagano City Nagano Prefecture