Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sushi

To make this sushi, in addition to a kitchen, a woodshop is required! Masakazu Hatadan runs a bento and catering shop in the rural mountain village of Keihoku an hour drive up from the ancient capital. This is Kitayama Sugi (cedar) country and a station town on the old Saba-kaido (Mackerel Highway). Several years ago Hatadan-san decided to develop some unique food products that could really only be from the North Mountains (Kitayama) of Kyoto. Paper-thin slices of local Japanese cedar are used to wrap mackerel nigiri sushi, adding a wonderful woody fragrance.

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

Sugi Sushi: Cedar Wrapped Mackerel Sushi

You may recall that I introduced ‘lumberjack ramen‘ in the North Mountains of Kyoto on KyotoFoodie at the beginning of the summer. Actually, I just kind of made the lumberjack part up. But yesterday I was introduced to what is authentically lumberjack sushi! The chef has a planing machine in kitchen to ‘lumberjack’ cedar! And, the planing machine is essential to flavor this sushi.

The Product: Sugi Sushi, New Yet Authentic
As some of you may know, I love product design. This ‘product’ has become a meibutsu (famous or noted product of a region or town) of Kitayama. The village of Keihoku is located on the Saba Kaido ‘Mackerel Highway’ so using mackerel, even in this landlocked, mountain town is completely ‘on concept’. Sabazushi (mackerel sushi) is the representative sushi from Kyoto. It is wrapped in bamboo sheath and this imparts a wonderful aroma and subtle taste to the sushi. Other Kyoto-style sushi is wrapped with various kinds of seasonal leaves which give flavor. Therefore, wrapping mackerel sushi in cedar sheets make for a delightful little package and offers the natural aroma of cedar to the sushi. So, this is also ‘on concept’ for Kyoto. (More about the Mackerel Highway here and Kyoto-style sushi here.)

Article Update: The Saba Kaido (鯖街道) runs through the mountains of rural Fukui and Kyoto from the port of Obama on the Sea of Japan to Kyoto. For centuries, porters carried salted mackerel to the capital along this road, which in some areas was nothing but a path. I added English to this map which I scanned from the packaging of Suehiro’s grilled mackerel sushi.

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

Credit: Map Adapted from Suehiro Package

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

Sugi Sushi: Cedar Wrapped Mackerel Sushi Package

Package Design
Sugi Sushi includes the ubiquitous artful package design of Japan. A hillside of Kitayama sugi cedar trees next to a flowing river in brush and ink decorate the backgound of the wrapping paper. The two characters in the center say sugi (Japanese cedar) 杉 sushi 鮨.

A lot of Japanese packaging, while beautiful is not environmentally friendly and is wasteful of resources. This package is not excessive appears to use bleached paper. I thought it could benefit greatly from the use the cedar heartwood that cannot be used to wrap the sushi (see below).

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

Sugi Sushi: Cedar Wrapped Mackerel Sushi Package

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

Sugi Sushi: Cedar Wrapped Mackerel Sushi - Unwrapping

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

Sugi Sushi: Cedar Wrapped Mackerel Sushi - Unwrapping

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

Sugi Sushi: Cedar Wrapped Mackerel Sushi - Served

Here are a few shots of the kitchen at Keihoku Suehiro and the adjoining woodshop where the planing of the cedar is done.

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

Keihoku Suehiro Owner, Mr Hatadan and I

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

In the Kitchen

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

In the Kitchen - Sugi Sushi

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

In the Kitchen Workshop, Planing Wood for Sugi Sushi

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

In the Kitchen Workshop, Planed Wood for Sugi Sushi

The red heartwood cannot be used to wrap the sushi as it breaks easily, the outer lighter colored wood only is used for sugi sushi. I think that the red heart wood should also be incorporated into the package as it would make it more locally made and natural. It would also impart more cedar fragrance to the sushi.

In the photo below, the planed sheets of cedar are dampened and then pressed flat between two boards.

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

In the Kitchen Workshop, Planed Wood for Sugi Sushi

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

In the Kitchen Workshop, Planing Wood for Sugi Sushi

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

In the Kitchen Workshop, Kitayama Cedar Log

Kitayama Maruta
We went up to Keihoku to visit another Kitayama Maruta (log) producer for ‘Project Lumberjack’. Here are a few shots of that workshop and warehouse. These logs are prized for use as a column in a traditional Japanese tokonoma alcove. (See the last two images of this article for photos of the columns.)

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

Keihoku Meiboku-ya - Stripping Bark

Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sugi Sushi 京都京北 杉鮨

Keihoku Meiboku-ya - Kitayama Maruta Warehouse

One Response to “Kyoto Kitayama Lumberjack Sushi”

  1. akira says:

    Hello,
    I am building a traditional japanese restaurant here in london and I am looking for sukiya-daiku.
    I am coming to japan in july 2011 and if you could give me any information as were I can go to buy japanese wood and ship to uk as well as find japanese carpenters who would come to uk for this project would really help me.
    Thank you
    A

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