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Kyushu region Kagoshima prefecture | Our Regional Cuisines


Local cuisine unique to Kagoshima, a fusion of cultures of the southern and continental regions

Located in the southern part of Kyushu, Kagoshima Prefecture consists of the Satsuma Peninsula, the Osumi Peninsula, and several remote islands. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the East China Sea, the prefectural land stretches about 600 kilometers from north to south. Its 2,643-kilometer coastline is popular for commercial fishing and as a marine sport destination.

Home to 11 active volcanoes, Kagoshima Prefecture is traversed by the Kirishima volcanic zone that includes “Mt. Kirishima,” “Sakurajima,” and Mt. Kaimon.” As a result, most of the area is covered by a thick layer of shirasu, or volcanic ejecta. Looking east across the Kagoshima Bay (Kinko Bay) from downtown Kagoshima, Sakurajima looms majestically in the distance. The sight of Sakurajima with its towering smoke has become a daily sight for the locals.

Video provided in part by: “SHUN GATE,” a website for the transmission of information on Japanese food culture
Stores interviewed: Higashi Shuzo and Satsumaji

A major maritime transportation hub with an influx of cultures

Taking advantage of its geographical location at the southernmost tip of the mainland, Kagoshima has traditionally traded with China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Foreign trade supported the domain’s finances and enabled the local clan to keep trade outposts in coastal areas such as the Bounotsu district in Minamisatsuma City, Yamakawa district in Ibusuki City and Nejime district in Minami-Osumi Town even after the Middle Ages.

Trade with southern regions and the continent resulted in the introduction of sugar cane, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and Moso bamboo, among others. Over time, people began to use these plant products in their cooking, which became established as part of Kagoshima’s food culture. The well-known satsuma-age (tsukeage), or fried fishcake, is said to have its roots in the Okinawan dish “chikiagi”. A pork dish that resembles the one that is known across Kagoshima is also eaten in China. During the Ritsuryo period, the governments of Satsuma and Osumi provinces were set up and the culture of the capital was introduced. These influences merged with Kagoshima's unique culture to create a food culture with wide diversity.

The essence of this culture can be found in the local cuisine of Satsuma, Aira and Isa, Osumi, and the Satsunan Islands regions.

Satsuma region
Sakezushi, a cuisine that materialized from leftover party food for the Shimazu clan

The Satsuma region consists of Kagoshima City, Makurazaki City, Minamisatsuma City and Minamikyushu City. Satsuma has flourished as the center of Kagoshima Prefecture since ancient times as a meeting place for the mainland’s cultural sphere, as well as continental and southern cultures.

Kagoshima City, the capital of the prefecture, was once home to the castle town of the Satsuma Domain, which was ruled by the Shimazu clan. The city is dotted with places associated with Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi, famous political figures active in the Meiji Restoration. The astronomical observatory, or Tenmonkan, was located at the center of the city during the Edo period. Today, the area known as the largest downtown in southern Kyushu is crowded with locals and tourists every day. Also, the city has emerged as a culinary center with many restaurants serving delicacies such as “black pork” and “black beef” dishes.

The northern part of Satsuma is rich in seafood where visitors and locals can enjoy farmed yellowtail from Nagashima Town, the largest producer of yellowtail in Japan, as well as green tiger prawn from Izumi City that is used in the local cuisine, “Satsuma-ebi zoni,” a soup containing mochi rice cakes and other ingredients.
“Sakezushi” is a food for celebratory occasions that is popular in Kagoshima City and across the prefecture. It is a type of “nare-zushi,” or fermented fish pickled with rice, which draws out the flavor by lactic acid fermentation. This gourmet dish is made by putting cooked rice on the bottom of a mold and topping it with alternate layers of seafood such as sea bream, shrimp, squid and “satsuma-age” as well as butterbur, bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms and other spring delicacies.

The most distinctive feature of this dish is that the rice is richly laced with “akumochizake” (rice wine). “Akumochizake,” made by mixing moromi, or sake mash, with ashes, adds a unique sweet flavor and aroma and enhances the fermentation of sushi.
“Sakezushi” is said to have originated in the Shimazu clan, which ran the domain. The story has it that someone poured some leftover sake on the leftover food placed in a tub from a dinner party hosted by the Shimazu clan. The next day, people found the fermented concoction giving off a fragrant aroma.Since then, sakezushi has become a popular feast among the upper classes, which has been passed down to the present day. It is said that some daredevil locals would pour more sake on the dish right before eating it.

Aira and Isa region
Karaimo, the food that saved the lives of commoners during the Edo Period

Located at the northern central part of the prefecture, Aira and Isa region boasts many tourist destinations including Kirishima, designated as the first national park in Japan, a variety of hot springs, and “Kamou no Ookusu”, the largest tree in Japan that stands in Aira City.

Taking advantage of its geographical and climatic conditions, rice, tea, vegetables, beef cattle, and other crops are produced in the area. Its rice production accounts for about 30% of the prefecture's total and is shipped to destinations in and out of the prefecture.

Kagoshima Prefecture is the proud number one producer of sweet potatoes in Japan. Sweet potatoes are grown all over the prefecture, and Isa City is said to be the “birthplace of shochu,” a Japanese distilled beverage. Locals refer to sweet potatoes by the name “kara (Tang) imo” or “kaimo” in reference to their introduction from China via Ryukyu.

After its initial introduction to Bozu and other areas in the early Edo period, “karaimo” spread to Tanegashima in the Genroku period, and later to Ibusuki County. 

The volcanic ash plateau, which is suited to the cultivation of “karaimo,” has yielded a large quantity of sweet potatoes. Due to the low taxes levied on sweet potatoes, karaimo quickly became a staple food for the poor in the form of a rescue crop. 

As shown by its high production volume, “karaimo” continues to assume a solid place in the diet of people in Kagoshima Prefecture. The existence of a wide range of dishes that use sweet potatoes, such as karaimo gohan (rice cooked with karaimo) and nettabo (dumplings made of steamed glutinous rice and karaimo) is a testament to the traditional popularity of karaimo.

Osumi region
The flavor of a local delicacy interwoven by Sakurajima daikon radish and farmed yellowtail

Located to the southeast of Kagoshima Bay, the Osumi Peninsula faces Shibushi Bay and Kagoshima Bay to the east and west. A major eruption in the Taisho era joined the peninsula with Sakurajima in Kagoshima Bay.

The topography in the Osumi region is full of variations. The Soo district consists of coastal plains, undulating plateaus, and arable land. The Kimotsuki district is sandwiched between the Takakuma mountains in the northwest and the Kunimi mountains in the east. The central part of the district is covered with paddy fields and the Shirasu Plateau. Thanks to its location in the warm southwest, temperatures are relatively mild and the long hours of sunshine are ideal for growing crops. Sweet potatoes, strawberries, oranges, mangoes, Chinese cabbage, beef cattle, and a wide variety of other crops are grown in the region. The region is one of the nation's leading supply bases for livestock, mainly Kurobuta Berkshire pork and black wagyu beef.

The types of fishing adopted in some of these sea areas include purse seine fishing, the primary mode of fishing used to catch mainly horse mackerel, mackerel, and sardine, as well as pole and line fishing for red seabream and bottom trawling for flounder. Fishermen in the area also catch kanburi yellowtail, Indo-Pacific sailfish, and conger pike.

In recent years, Tarumizu City, Kanoya City and Minami-Osumi Town have become famous for cultivated yellowtail and amberjack. In the 1950s, Tarumi was one of the first cities in the prefecture to start aquaculture. The yellowtail raised by the local Ushine Fishery Cooperative is given the brand name “Buri Taisho,” or literally, king of the yellowtail. 

A popular dish in this area named “buri daikon” (radish cooked with yellowtail) uses “Sakurajima daikon,” which is a specialty of Sakurajima. Sakurajima daikon is one of the largest species of radish in the world, with the bigger ones growing up to 40 or 50 centimeters in diameter and weighing up to 30 kilograms. Contrary to its robust appearance, the radish has a tender and delicate taste. Buri daikon is a winter treat that merges the taste of yellowtail and the sweetness of radish. More recently, Sakurajima daikon has attracted attention as a health food due to a finding that it contains a component that improves blood vessel functions.

Satsunan Islands region
“Cuisine for the Lord,” served to officials of Satsuma Domain

Kagoshima Prefecture is a prefecture that has one of the largest number of inhabited remote islands in Japan. Some twenty-six islands spread out in the prefectural area that extends 600 kilometers from north to south. The Satsunan Islands is a general term that refers to a chain of islands that include the Osumi Islands, located in the northern half of the Nansei Islands, the Tokara Islands, Amami Islands, as well as the islands of Yakushima and Tanegashima. These islands offer a diverse natural environment from temperate to subtropical climate, with each island fostering a unique culture.

Amami Oshima is the largest island in the Amami Islands. The base city of Amami City, where Amami Airport and the port of Naze are located, functions as the center of politics, economy, and culture in the Amami Islands.
The Satsuma Domain used to hold cockfighting events to raise the morale of the samurai, which led to the establishment of a culture of eating chicken. “Keihan,” or chicken rice, which originated in the Kasari-cho district of Amami City, is made by topping rice with chicken strips, thinly sliced omelet, shiitake mushrooms and nori seaweed in a bowl and pouring chicken broth to be consumed in the style of ochazuke, cooked rice served with green tea poured on top. Due to its history as a dish served to the officials of the Satsuma clan, “keihan” is also known as “a dish for the lord.”

Keihan has made its way to areas outside Amami Oshima and is now served as school lunches in Kagoshima. Thanks to its popularity among tourists, Keihan has become a local specialty of Kagoshima Prefecture.
Kagoshima Prefecture has had early exchanges with the southern regions and the continent through its maritime transportation network. The fusion of domestic lifestyle and culture with foreign influences has led to the creation of a one-of-a-kind food culture. Many of the local dishes that emerged from it will be inherited as everyday food and also as a tourist resource.

Kagoshima prefecture's main local cuisine


Food Cultures Office, Overseas Market Development and Food Cultures Division, Food Industry Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries