The Japanese are often said to be in tune with the seasons. But even more so, I’d say they’re in tune with the season’s food. Autumn is called the season for eating, since so many foods come into season then. If you are traveling in Japan in autumn, don’t miss the autumn delicacies! But you’ll need to know what they are so that you don’t miss out:
Crabs are available throughout the year in Japan, but autumn is considered the best season for them, when they are at their most flavorful. Crab specials abound in specialty crab restaurants as well as in traditional Japanese restaurants. Try any place in Hokkaido, or on the Japan Sea coast in Honshu, and eat crabs as big as a dinner plate!
Mushrooms are also available any time of the year throughout Japan, but Matsutake mushrooms are a harbinger of autumn. The price of matsutake mushrooms is very high this year, but that somehow only serves to make them more exclusive. Hint: There are many varieties of mushrooms in Japan and they are all called by their specific names. Only westerners refer to them all as mushrooms! Matsutake are matsutake, not mushrooms.
Sweet Potato (satsumaimo)
Sweet potato is a very seasonal vegetable in Japan that only makes an appearance in autumn. Vendors sell yaki imo (charcoaled sweet potato on a stick) on the street from their trucks. If you see a yaki imo vendor, be sure to partake in this seasonal eating activity.
Boiled and roasted chestnuts can be found hot and ready to eat even in train stations in autumn. They are also served in a special rice dish called kuri gohan, and in an amazing variety of sweets, which are referred to as marron, as in marron pie, marron cake, etc.
Pacific saury or mackerel pike (sanma)
This grilled fish is served with salt and grated radish. Youâ€™ll usually be served the entire fish, along with its intestines. You’re in Japan in autumnâ€”the season for eating. Go for it!
When you’re finished with your meal, clean your pallet with another autumn favorite: Nashi pears.
Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com