Locations, Travel

The Shikoku Files – Seared Katsuo, Inkstone Craftsmen, and Bathtub Sake

From Tokushima prefecture we cut down through the middle of the island and drove straight to Kochi prefecture, the southern-most in Shikoku, where we found ourselves in the lovely town of Shimanto. Kochi is apparently famous for the high quality of katsuo, or bonito, that is caught in the waters around there, and so our first port of call the next morning was the Kuroshio Ichibankan – a restaurant where you can not only eat the local specialty katsuo tataki (seared bonito), but you can also enjoy the rare experience of being taught how to fillet and sear it by yourself. A grizzled old fisherman will expertly guide your knife as he shows you how to slice three triangular fillets off the freshly caught bonito, and you get to sear the fish over an open fire yourself. A little bit of sea salt, green onion, lemon juice and sliced garlic, and you’ve got yourself an amazing regional delicacy that’s seriously quite yummy, do yourself a favor and eat it. Enjoy some photos here of a nervous looking Rod Walters of Shikoku Tours being taught how to do it. I’m glad he washed his hands first!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (11)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (12)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (14)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (9)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (10)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (7)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (5)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (4)

The Inkstone Craftsmen

Next up we went across town to a workshop where they make inkstones for kanji calligraphers. If you’re a long time follower of me (I’m sure there has to be at least one), you’ll know that craftsmanship and artisans are things that get me extremely excited, and this was no exception. Each stone is meticulously shaped out of chunks of volcanic rock dug from the surrounding hillside, before being inscribed with decorations and polished to a lustrous jet black sheen. Each inkstone is unique – the design is decided according to the natural shape of the harvested rock and is yet another example of functional, simplistic beauty that is a hallmark of traditional Japanese crafts.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (41)

Then the craftsman uses a circular saw to cut the stone roughly to a design sketched directly onto the surface.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (16)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (15)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (42)

A little bit of sanding to make the top and bottom surfaces completely flat – this is possibly the most important step, as a wobbly inkstone is about as useless as a asshole on your elbow. I guess it would be called an elbowhole then. huh.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (39)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (38)

Next up the outline for the inkwell is drawn onto the rock and then roughly cut out using power tools. Later it will be hand-carved and polished but for now the the rough outline is all that’s needed.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (36)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (34)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (33)

Once the inkstone has started to take shape then it’s back to the workbench where various specialized types of chisels are used to refine and smooth the edges, as well as deepen the inkwell. As you can imagine this is painstakingly precise work, as any overuse of force could result in unwanted chips, rendering all of the work up until now worthless. Any intricate designs are also added at this point.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (29)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (28)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (27)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (26)

One of the last steps involves polishing the inkstone with a variety of sanding implements. There is apparently a final step in order to finish the inkstones before they are put in the showroom window but I wasn’t allowed to see that part. Some trade secrets need to be protected I guess!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (24)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (23)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (20)

Doburoku – AKA Homebrew Sake

After a long long day we just had one last item on the list, and luckily it turned out to also be the place we were staying the night. Guest House Kuro Usagi is located in the spectacular countryside of Kochi, surrounded by pristine rivers, mountains and rice fields. It’s a clean, cosy and spacious place run by a husband and wife team that’s a perfect place to let your stress just evaporate. The other notable thing about this place is that they have a license to brew Doburoku, which is kind of like sake, but without having gone through the koji process. So basically it’s fermented rice porridge booze, and it’s very potent, I can attest. Doburoku used to be brewed all over the place in Kochi apparently, until regulation stepped in and officially banned anyone from making it without a license. The proprietors at Kuro Usagi have a nice side operation brewing this delicious but dangerous beverage, and are more than happy to let you drink it alongside the delicious home-cooked meals they serve up to guests. My night at Kuro Usagi Guest House was one of the most memorable I have had all year, drinking home-brew sake with delicious tempura and sashimi made with local ingredients, and chatting with the owners and my companions about all things late into the night. Things must have gotten rather silly because I don’t remember bathing or going to bed, but that’s what happens when you drink Doburoku, I guess.